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Number Our Days: A Triumph of Continuity and Culture Among Jewish Old People in an Urban Ghetto Paperback – May 9, 1980

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Charles Silberman The New York Times Book Review Professor Myerhoff is that rarity, a social scientist who writes with a novelist's eye and ear....She teaches us more about "the proper way to live" than all the self-help books combined.

Anne Sklar Los Angles Times Book Review An invigorating celebration of courage and stamina...a rich tapestry of love, sorrow, and rituals remembered and continued.

Maggie Kuhn Gray Panthers A compelling and compassionate account of elderly Jews who have much to teach us about surviving and aging with grace and wisdom.

About the Author

The chairperson of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California, Dr. Myerhoff collaborated on a film about her work while she was doing the research for Number Our Days. It won the 1977 Academy Award for best short documentary. Her last book, Peyote Hunt, was nominated for a National Book Award.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1st Touchstone ed edition (May 9, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671254308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671254308
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is an excellent study of the Jewish elderly living in Venice. I had to read it for an anthropology class at UCLA, and, considering it is an ethnography (which are usually dull and straight-forward) it is a really great book! Barbara Myerhoff makes her book extremely interesting to read, especially because of the comical episodes that happen within the context. Her book not only provides a study of the elderly, but also what it means to be a Jew who has survivor's guilt (from the holocaust). The book shows how the elderly are neglected, outcast members of society. A lot of mainstream media is focused towards our youth. Almost all of us will experience old age, and this book addresses that issue. I highly recommend this book, and to see the short film (which won an oscar).
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Format: Paperback
Myerhoff, who was a leading cultural anthropologist, led the way in moving anthropological studies from exotic far-off locations to the study of near-by and familiar cultures. In her case, Myerhoff, a Jew herself, studied an elderly East European immigrant Jewish community in Southern California. The book is a subtle and compassionate ethnographic portrayal of their struggles, relationships, and religious lives centered at a local Jewish Community Center. Though materially poor and burdened by old age, Myerhoff shows that the people's lives are rich in tradition and ceremony. An Academy Award winning documentary was also made of the community carrying the same title.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book amazing – truly life changing. It discusses many of life’s most important questions such as: Why do some people die young while others live to extreme old age? How can one cope with impending death? If God exists, why does he permit suffering? What must one do to feel a sense of integrity and completion in old age?

This book distills the wisdom of dozens of very elderly people who have experienced extreme hardship and suffering. (Many are concentration camp survivors, and all lost close relatives in the Holocaust.) I am a middle-aged woman with a life-threatening illness, and this book was exactly what I needed: a “crash course” on the meaning of life.

I also gained tremendous insight into my own Eastern European Jewish ancestors. In particular, my paternal grandmother, who was born around 1903 in Belarus, was affectionate when I was a child, but extremely harsh and critical when I became an adult. For decades after her death, I was convinced she just didn’t like me. This book has made me see her in a new light. I now believe her harsh, critical comments were simply an accepted way of communicating among adults in her culture, designed to help recipients improve themselves.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants insights into life, mortality, and old age. In other words, I recommend this book to any person who gains insight through reading. This recommendation stands even though I disagree with some of Dr. Meyerhoff’s interpretations. For example, she saw the elders at the senior center as being very argumentative and angry. The interpretation I have now made of my own grandmother’s behavior—that she wasn’t angry, and instead just communicated according to the norms of her culture—is not one that Dr. Meyerhoff considered.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful ethnography and worth the read. A little dense in the first chapter, so definitely academic, but don't let that put you off from reading it for enjoyment. Wonderful stories and perspective. This is not the type of dry ethnography you might have found in the earlier part of the last century. This is a collection of dialogue, stories, research, narration and introspection that highlights the contradictions of inherent in a subculture and in our own bias.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book a while ago and reread it every few years. It is wonderful and moving, unsparing but kind. I often buy it for friends.
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Format: Paperback
This is simply a wonderful book. Barbara Myerhoff turned her anthropological lense on those near to her, Jews who came from an Eastern European background similar to her own. She traces their way of relating to each other and the world. The group is a very special one. They are people born in Eastern Europe almost all of whom lost relatives in the Shoah and who might have been victims themselves. They are survivors who know the worlde is harsh and expect no easy favors. They are tough- minded and practical, passionate and intense. Myerhoff makes the point that these people do not live for happiness but rather for meaningfulness. Their quarrels are intense and every small thing means something to them. They are also at times humorous at other times not pleasant to each other. Myerhoff centers on the centrality of remembrance and leaving a memory of the life and world one has lived in it.Her method of having group sessions in which people speak of their memories to others works to provide a great deal of material. She shows too the great importance of ritualand religion in people's lives.She paints portraits of interesting characters, including one extremely likeable,Shmuel the Tailor. She too talks about relationships between the generations, and indicates how many elderly people feel starvewd if they donb't see their grandchildren. This book is filled with balanced judgments and wise teaching.
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