Purity, Charity, and Community: Food and Food Practices in an Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood

The intersection of Pico Boulevard and Robertson Boulevard in western Los Angeles has given its name to a lively and busy part of town whose Jewish residents commonly regard it as a neighborhood.   Pico Boulevard forms the main artery, and it consists of dozens of retail shops, synagogues, and religious schools whose service workers are overwhelmingly non-Jewish Hispanic Catholics.  Pico-Robertson is home to an Orthodox Jewish enclave of many divergent  congregations, including: Modern Orthodox, Young Israel, Chabad, groups that are loosely labeled “Yeshivish,” Persian Chabad; Moroccan, Iraqi, Yemenite and Persian traditionalists; Kabbalah Centre, and Breslaver.  Less stringently-practicing Jews, secular Jews, and non-Hispanics of all kinds are also part of the residential population that ranges from impoverished to upper-middle class.  No one has ever called it a pretty part of town, and its economic health has fluctuated, but today it is a lively and busy part of Los Angeles. 

I'm examining the intersection of food and community among American Orthodox Jews, using the diverse communities in the western L.A. neighborhood of Pico-Robertson as a case study. I have conducted qualitative interviews with Orthodox residents and the leading rabbis who live and work in the neighborhood (and I'm continuing to do more), and I have been doing participant-observation research there in homes, synagogues, stores, restaurants, schools, and on the street. I am doing content analysis on books, pamphlets, and internet resources produced by and for the larger cohort of American Orthodox Jews. I have interviewed a variety of Orthodox residents and rabbis across the religious spectrum to elicit their understandings of the mitzvot, and their practices and beliefs connected to buying food, hosting meals, and being part of a community.  In addition, I am drawing upon scholarship from anthropology, history, and sociology.