Guide to the Riv-Ellen Prell Papers, 1970-1990, 2003


Processed by Adina Anflick. Additional processing by Nicole Greenhouse.

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



© 2019  American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Machine-readable finding aid created by Adina Anflick as MS Word document, May 22, 2003. Finding aid was encoded by Christine McEvilly on July 28, 2014. Description is in English.
December 2016 Processed 2013 accretion into the collection.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Prell, Riv-Ellen, 1947-
Title: Riv-Ellen Prell Papers
Dates:1970-1990, 2003
Abstract: The Papers of Riv-Ellen Prell contain research, fieldwork, and correspondence she conducted to fulfill her graduate work in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Prell later expanded on this work with further research and wrote a book on the Havurah Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The papers primarily encompass the field notes and interviews she engaged in while observing the Westwood Free Minyan in Los Angeles.
Languages: The collection is in English and Hebrew.
Quantity: 1 linear foot (2 manuscript boxes)
Identification: P-795
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Historical Note
Flier for Beit Havurah Legal Defense Fund Benefit (Box 1, Folder 6)

Flier for Beit Havurah Legal Defense Fund Benefit (Box 1, Folder 6)

The Havurah Movement (1968- )

Incorporated historically from religious communes and small study and prayer groups, the emergence of contemporary havurot in the early 1960s was originally pioneered by the Reconstructionist Movement. These small communities prayed, studied and socialized together creating an organic Judaism advocated by Mordecai Kaplan.1 In the Fall of 1968 a religious community in Somerville, Massachusetts formed, specifically appealing to the growing Jewish counterculture and leading to a proliferation of contemporary havurot.2 These small informal communities engaged those searching for Jewish involvement that acknowledged their liberal, feminist, egalitarian, participatory and religiously creative viewpoints. Strongly attracting students and young married couples, these havurot began as reactions against the institutional alienation of the American synagogue; in the 1970s, the popularity of havurot resulted in synagogues including havurot as alternative minyans to their main services.3

Havurot’s openness to individual self-expression reflected the social and political activism of the 60s and 70s generation of Americans while allowing young Jews to bond with religious tradition. In 1973, Riv-Ellen Prell, an anthropology graduate student in the University of Chicago, saw a unique opportunity to study the various forces affecting a havurah and based her dissertation on observing the Westwood Free Minyan at the University of California at Los Angeles. Prell studied religion as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California and was drawn to anthropological methods for her future work. As she writes:

Prell participated and observed the Westwood Minyan for eighteen months from 1973 to 1975. Her fieldwork encompassed attending the group’s formal prayer services, weekend retreats, evaluation meetings, and social events. She also conducted formal interviews with founding and significant minyan members.5 After finishing her dissertation, Prell, now Associate Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Anthropology, revisited her research in the late 1980s. She states; “...I felt it was important to understand that research in the context of American Jewish History...My re-training in American Jewish history was crucial to my understanding that the havurah movement was consistent with virtually every generation of American Jews. Worship and synagogue was reconfigured by each generation in relationship to issues within the larger society...” She completed additional interviews with founders of the havurah movement in Boston and New York,6 and in 1989, published her work in a book titled Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism. Called “the first major study of the havurah movement by an anthropologist”7 and the recipient of the 1990 National Jewish Book Award in Contemporary Jewish Life,8Prayer and Community examines how prayer reflects social forces and affects the worshiper’s experience and criticizes current secularization theories that tend to omit those seeking a significant religious experience. In her review of Prell’s book in the Anthropological Quarterly, Virginia R. Dominguez further explains:

Prell’s later work, manifested in articles and chapters published for Jewish studies and anthropologist publications, draws upon her graduate work at the Westwood Minyan. Prell currently serves as Professor in American Studies and as Adjunct Professor in Jewish Studies and in Women’s Studies at the University of Minnesota. She co-edited with the Personal Narratives Group Interpreting Women’s Lives: Theories of Personal Narratives and has authored Fighting to Become American: Jews, Gender, and the Anxiety of Assimilation. She has written numerous chapters and articles concerning American Jewish culture and its relationship with class, gender, ethnicity, and ritual. A complete list of her publications is available in her curriculum vitae within the collection.10

The allure of the havurah movement was limited to its generation. By the late 1980s, most havurot were replaced by more traditional yet egalitarian minyanim, frequently held within synagogues. Many of the former havurah members channeled their religious questioning into professional careers in Jewish academia and communal work.11 Therein lies their legacy. As Prell writes in Prayer and Community: “Their vision will not soon be forgotten...With or without their particular communities, they have used these ideas to shape the American Judaism of the 1980s and 1990s..."12

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Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Riv-Ellen Prell contain research, fieldwork, and correspondence she conducted to fulfill her graduate work in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. The papers primarily encompass the field notes and interviews she engaged in while observing the Westwood Free Minyan in Los Angeles. The collection also includes correspondence with her faculty and colleagues concerning her work, research she compiled on the Westwood Minyan and on the havurah movement, a bibliography card file, her curriculum vitae, and catalogues of the contents of her field notes and interviews.

Prell’s detailed descriptions of the Westwood Minyan and her interviews with members are valuable to those scholars searching for firsthand accounts of havurot. Her work is appealing to researchers studying the Jewish student counterculture that flourished during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as Jewish liberalism, feminism, and American Jewish identity. Of special interest is Prell’s compilation of articles on the havurah movement dating from 1970s to the 1990s and her collection of songs and prayers from the Westwood Minyan.

There is also a small amount of material likely compiled by Jay Greenspan, mostly from Havurah schools, New York Havurah, and the Beit Havurah, a bayit founded in 1975 in Norfolk, CT.

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The collection was arranged by Dr. Prell according to subject.

Arranged chronologically and alphabetically by name of interview subject.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from the Executive Director, who will consult with the donor, in order to quote, reproduce, or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Related Material

The Riv-Ellen Prell Papers is one individual collection within the Counter Culture collections located at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Other counter culture collections at AJHS include the Arthur Ocean Waskow Papers (P-152), Leonard Fein Papers (P-582), Shira Eve Epstein Papers (P-776), Ruth Abusch-Magder Papers (P-841), Virginia Levitt Snitow Papers (P-876), Goldie Milgram Papers (P-876), Jack Jacobs Papers (P-1020), Gerald Serotta Papers (P-1023), Jack Nusan Porter Papers (P-1024), Arthur J. Lelyveld Papers (P-1030), Jews for Urban Justice (Washington, D.C.) Records (I-159), Jewish Peace Fellowship Records (I-189), Jewish Student Press Service Records (I-248), Breira Records (I-250), American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (New York, New York) Records (I-326), North American Jewish Students Appeal Records (I-338), Jewish Labor Committee Records (I-377), New Jewish Agenda Records (I-393), Vermont Chapter of the New Jewish Agenda Records (I-449), Jewish Counter Culture Collection (I-504), Trees and Life for Vietnam Records (I-542), Lights in Action Records (I-560), Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace Records (I-587), and portions of the Jewish Student Organizations Collection (I-61).

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Riv-Ellen Prell Papers; P-795; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Acquisition Information

Donated by Riv-Ellen Prell in 2003. Materials in Box 1, Folders 6-11 was donated by Riv-Ellen Prell in 2013. The accession number associated with this accretion is 2013.021.

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Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Adina Anflick in 2003. In 2016, .5 linear feet of material (Box 1, Folders 6-11) was incorporated into the collection by Nicole Greenhouse.

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Access Points

This collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Riv-Ellen Prell Papers, 1970-1990, 2003

1 1 Bibliography, card file undated request_box
1 2 Curriculum Vitae 2003 request_box
1 3 Correspondence with faculty and colleagues about field notes 1973-1978 request_box
1 4 Membership lists, mimeographs of songs, prayers, and prayer study 1973-1975 request_box
1 5 Published and unpublished articles about havurot, countercultural forms of Jewish, worship 1970s-1990s request_box
1 6 Beit Havurah1975-1978request_box
1 7 Beit Havurah1979-1980request_box
1 8 Beit Havurah1982request_box
1 9 Havurah1978-1979request_box
1 10 Havurah Schools Alternative Community1978-1980request_box
1 11 New York Havurah1970-1984request_box
2 1 Catalogue of contents of field notes 1973 August-1974 Januaryrequest_box
2 2 Field Notes—Westwood Free Minyan 1973 August-Octoberrequest_box
2 3 Field Notes—Field report focused on leadership 1973 November 3-December 22,request_box
2 4 Field Notes—A tally of who assumes leadership by gender 1974 January 5-May 26request_box
2 5 Field Notes—General 1974 June 1-October 13request_box
2 6 Interviews—Typed and raw notes with Havurah founders 1982 request_box
2 7 Interviews—Catalogue of interviews 1973-1975 request_box
2 8 Interviews—Bill and Isa Aron 1973 request_box
2 9 Interviews—Peter Gordon 1973 request_box
2 10 Interviews—Seth Schulweis 1973-1974 request_box
2 11 Interviews—Elaine Machtiger, including information about founding minyan circa 1973-1975 request_box
2 12 Interviews—Richard Levy 1973-1974 request_box
2 13 Interviews—Teddi Layton 1974 request_box
2 14 Interviews—Roz Gold and Shoshana Gerson circa 1973-1975 request_box
2 15 Interviews—David Jacobson 1974-1975 request_box
2 16 Interviews—Yosi Gordon circa 1973-1975 request_box
2 17 Interviews—Roz Gold circa 1973-1975 request_box
2 18 Interviews—Bob Golub circa 1973-1975 request_box
2 19 Interviews—Michael Goldberg 1973 request_box
2 20 Interviews—Shoshana Gerson 1974-1975 request_box
2 21 Interviews—Roy Furman 1975 request_box
2 22 Interviews—Fred Bogin 1972 request_box
2 23 Interviews—Bob and Gloria Blumenthal 1972 request_box
2 24 Interviews—David Berner 1973-1975 request_box
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