Jacob's Reflections

I chose to conduct my field research in St. Louis Park because I was intrigued by the idea of chronicling the culture of a specific geographic area. While I had never been to St. Louis Park before beginning my research, I did arrive with preconceptions that I feel I should acknowledge. I was brought up in a very liberal strain of Judaism and thus started out more inclined to view Orthodox Jews (particularly ultra-Orthodox) with a critical eye. I was concerned at the beginning about how I would be received in the Orthodox community as a less observant member of the Jewish community. Since I had no previous experience studying religion, I had little frame of reference for studying the community beyond my own experiences with Judaism. However, I did my best to keep an open mind throughout my research for this project, and on balance, I believe I succeeded.

My goal in this project was to talk to a comprehensive group of people from the community and to get a sense of its past, understand the varying perspectives on what it means to those who live there and include the widest possible variety of voices in my analysis of its meaning. I am forced to conclude that I fell short of my objectives. I did not speak to as many people as I needed to in order to get a complete and accurate understanding of the nature and meaning of the community, and most of my work was concentrated in the Orthodox community, leaving other groups of residents with less of a voice in the final product. I intended to gather more information and many more voices, as well as more photographs and other media but was unable to expand further than I did. I also did not attend services at most of the congregations I wrote about (except for Beth El and Kenesseth Israel), which means that a significant part of Jewish life in the eruv is neglected. For these reasons, I view my project on the eruv as incomplete. My hope is that this project provides an overview of life in the eruv and gives the reader a general idea of what draws people to live there, what Jewish life is like there, and what challenges confront the community. This will hopefully serve as a framework for future researchers to conduct more comprehensive studies. I do believe I did a good job of gathering information about the history of the community and about how the eruv itself is run, which I believe will also be useful for researchers.

Work on this project gave me a better understanding of the different ways in which Judaism is viewed by different groups of people. While there were many aspects of Orthodox doctrine as it was described to me that I did not find appealing, I came to see some of the appeal of their focus on spirituality in their daily lives and of strict observance of a day of rest. All the people I talked to, whatever their approach to Jewish life, talked about the appeal of living in a community with such an active and vital Jewish presence, and to me this seemed to provide an element of culture and faith that is often missing from the lives of modern people, particularly Jews. On a more personal level, I was pleasantly surprised at how accommodating people were to my research and my questioning, and I felt I developed a rapport with people in all the communities I researched.

Creating this project taught me about the divisions within the Jewish community, which were explained to me in terms of local debates over religiosity in the community and the nature of Jewish education. However, it seemed to me that there was more that united the community than divided it. While there were differences among the congregations in their application of Jewish law, everyone in the community appeared committed to maintaining their faith; I didn’t see any obvious signs of the erosion of non-Orthodox Judaism that Rabbi Woolf and others predicted. Overall, as I wrote in the section on the community’s future, I believe it will continue to be a center for Jewish culture and attract more people who want Judaism to play an active role in their lives. Having heard about my classmates’ projects and after seeing some of their chosen sites in person, I believe that the strongest impression I got from the course as a whole would be of the sheer diversity of religious life in the Twin Cities. I find it fascinating that the pursuit of spirituality can take place in such diverse environments as a 3,000-seat megachurch, a temple complex on rural farmland and a set of trailers in a vacant lot (the original home of Bais Yisroel). I believe that further research on my site and the others in this website could shed even more light on the rich variety of religious life in Minnesota.