Abstract - Rachel Benun

The Jewish Syrians of Brooklyn are an insular and enclave-like community consisting of thousands of people. The women of the community have been particularly affected by its tight-knit qualities, resulting in their attempt to create constant connections to their community, yet still maintaining their own singular life within it. In essence, they are attempting to simultaneously “stay in,” by surrounding themselves with the community members and their similar values and ideals, and also to “stand out,” by finding their own voice with the larger scope of the community. This paper shows that the act of reading and participating in community book clubs directly correlates to this balance between community and identity.

The research methods were mainly observational, through attending a variety of community book clubs. Interviews were also conducted with Syrian women and utilized sources which shed light on similar insular communities, as well as other reading groups and reading practices. My research demonstrates that that reading and book clubs offer the opportunity to share and discuss the women’s similar value systems, as well as their social, familial and religious issues, all under the guise of literature. Through these discussions, the women are able to create stronger ties to their community members, and also help construct their own opinions and belief systems. The act of reading itself emerges as important in that it is a private, personal action where the women can formulate their own perceptions of the work. Reading is also a source for the women to join in on the global intellectual community. My research reveals that although the concepts of community and identity seem at tension with one another, in fact, they can be very much harmonious and complement one another.

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