Jewish Counterculture Oral History Project

Students

2020
College

Faculty

Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History

Project Summary

The Jewish Counterculture Oral History Project explores and captures a period in the late sixties and early seventies that gave birth to a new wave of Judaism, known as the havurah movement. It emerged as a reaction against Conservative Judaism and the large, impersonal synagogues that had come to be accepted as normal within the religion. There were three major havurahs in three different locations — Havurat Shalom in Boston, the New York Havurah in New York City, and Fabrangen in Washington D.C. Despite being cultivated at separate times by diverse groups of individuals, they shared many recurring themes and promoted change in line with the social and political fervor of the era. The nature of the times allowed these communities to explore Judaism under a new, progressive lens, and push the boundaries of their prayer and the understanding of their faith.

There were twenty-five videos created for this project, all with oral testimonies from members of the three havurahs. Thirteen are from Havurat Shalom, seven are from the New York Havurah, and five are from Fabrangen. The interviews were conducted by Jayne K. Guberman and recorded by Noam Osband, and all of them have a written transcript to accompany the videos. Some of the narrators chose to add addendums to their transcripts to clarify what the meant to say or what they wanted to say in hindsight. One of the benefits of these interviews is that they record the commentary on the havurah movement in a natural way — oral testimony is not meant to read fluidly like an essay. If you watch all the videos, you will see that there is a general script — questions about prayer, gender, early life, education, and many more. While these themes occur in every interview, the order and length of each section is flexible and based around what the narrator was most receptive to.

My primary role in this project was that of a copy-editor — I went through each transcript with it’s corresponding video and double-checked the text to ensure that it matched what had been written. I also formatted each transcript so the project would have a uniform — this included changing all the “…” and “-” to “—”, as well as correcting the numbers and italics with the Hebrew words to reflect general transcription guidelines. The transcripts ranged from forty pages to one-hundred and ten, and the videos could be two hours or six. Another part of my role included taking the changes the narrators gave to us and putting those into the transcripts.

This project gave me valuable editing skills and enabled me to use my time wisely and complete the transcripts at my own pace. I also made a final video which allowed me to use video-editing software, and expand upon the project in a new and engaging medium.