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Summoned Identification and Religious Life in a Jewish Neighborhood

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Date added: 19-02-05


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Iddo Tavory’s Summoned: identification and religious life in a Jewish neighborhood builds up on the understanding of readers regarding social life and interaction, culture, and mainly identity by studying one particular group- the Jewish orthodox living in the Beverly-La Brea, South east of Hollywood. It is an example of symbolic interactionist ethnography that express how the interaction of humans with their surrounding will help us understand human beings more. It can also be seen as an auto ethnography in which the author writes it from both field and personal experiences. One of the major strength of the book is how its construction engages well with its arrangement and coordination. This is clearly seen in the logically coordinated eight chapters of the book.

Even though the book is short, it consists of abundant evidences that are constructed professionally. It starts from the history of the neighborhood and continues to its current state focusing on organizational structure and current role in everyday summoning (p.13), to synagogue life in how religion gatherings and conventions help members get closer, to the distinction among the neighborhood Jews internally (p.79), to the differentiation of the non-Jewish people regarding work and other social life and finally to the way in which the Jews navigate their environment and its morally treacherous passages, such as button-operated crosswalks(p.127). Moreover, it emphasizes on how and when the orthodox Jews are summoned in everyday life and the unfolding of their interactions due to projects and summons of others (p.7). Their identity is constructed through their social life and experience.

Another Strength of the book lies in its auto ethnography nature in which Tavory takes the readers to the field by acting as a medium. This makes the unfamiliar place understandable and more relatable. He also provides an in depth analysis of the theme from interpersonal things like the furnishing and predictability of Judaism by cloth, manner and food (p.66-67, 82-84, 94-96, 139-140), to the changing of the neighborhood and the day-to-day practices regarding symbolic boundaries (37, 40, 129-132).Moreover, Tavory uses imagery and metaphor to make his writing delightful and to express how life was to the readers. In addition, his language usage and metaphors provides a better insight to readers and makes the book enjoyable and relatable. For instance, to explain the thickness of the life of the Jewish people while he was living there, he writes: “living an Orthodox life in the Beverly-LaBrea neighborhood was like swimming in honey” (p.3).According to Tavory, to be orthodox is not just a status, it requires a lot to be one. Tavory expresses life in the community as exhilarating but at the same time tiring and overbearing (p.3). He builds up on his argument by mentioning how people start their day early in the morning by praying and stay involved throughout their day in the Orthodox world; even the streets reminds them their identity.

The book’s main contribution is related with identity and social interaction within the clear boundaries as the setting. This is seen through Tavory’s unique building methods of his arguments and his setting choice. The main concentration of the analysis is that how the people live in a place with everything at opposite/odds regarding who they are both as an individual and collectively. The views of orthodox, a religious life that requires a lot, and Hollywood life, a life with fame and partying, is completely different. So how would it be possible to live in a neighborhood of 70%-80% of non-Jewish people and act as if this non-Jewish people are invisible to them? This is where summoning comes. Tavory explains the idea of summoning by relating it to Althusser’s juridical “interpellation” in which how the police officer in French shouts out telling you to turn around (p.6). This statement captures the idea in which people internalize culture and evoke them in our everyday life. Summoning can be both an emotional and labeling process. This idea of how the social environment affects our identity and the ethnographic genre is also studied under micro sociology, which studies about daily interactions of people at a social level and small scale and ethnographic genres including observation and interviews (you may ask yourself, 1). Even though tavory’s work was mainly on his observation, he also did 45 interviews as a way to support the ethnographic data regarding the neighborhood history and organizational structures.

Tavory used abductive analysis as his research method and he precisely explains it the appendix of the book. Abductive analysis is a way of “theorizing qualitative data from observation” (p.163). He applies this methodology by mentioning how he encountered surprises while observing and how the world would “normalize” the surprises (p.163). This involves induction (generalizing after empirical observation) and deduction (start with a theory then test and design empirical observations and the research) (you may ask your self,2). For example, he mentions how the Jews see and speak about the non-Jews, and how they avoided passing by a non-kosher food place but then a rabbi can pass by and moreover, the rabbi can also read what’s written. It is clearly seen how Tavory goes to generalizations by theorizing their chances of being related in intricate acts of meaning that occurs over a period of time.

I really enjoyed reading this book and was able to relate to most of the things since I come from an orthodox background. However, there were some things I hoped he included in his writing. Even though Tavory explained the summoning, culture, style social interaction, and ways of life, he didn’t stress the pain and resistance within the summoning. And also he didn’t mention the political conditions and history that made summoning possible. He refers back to an incident that happened while he was walking with a friend at Melrose. A passenger in the car pulled their middle finger out on them yelling “Jews!”(p.140). Tavor’s friend seemed really untroubled by this incident and he just thought of it as an ignorance. This might raise questions such as, “how did such kind of thinking and indifference came from?” in the reader’s mind. In addition, even if the setting is the most important part of the research, it has also it downs. Tavory only focused and analyzed summoning on a specific community making it homogenous even though the main occupiers of the neighborhood are the non-Jews people with different atmosphere vibe. This might have brought a slight change in the interpretation and analyzing of summoning.

In general it was a well written book in an interesting manner. It broadens ones point of view and perspectives regarding social life and interaction and how they shape an individual as well as a community. I believe its in depth analysis of summoning and the relationship between identities and communities in reference to space and personal practices will make it an interesting topic for students studying ethnography. Also, the book will help them built up on their theoretical skills.

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