Newly discovered photographs shed light on daily existence in the Pale of Settlement
In 1914, a Russian Jew writing under the name S. An-sky wrote a play called The Dybbuk. It concerns a young bride-to-be possessed by the spirit of her former lover, and it would go on to become one of the most popular plays in the Jewish- and Yiddish-theater repertoire. But An-sky’s pre-Dybbuk work might be his most valuable contribution to Jewish culture: from 1912 to 1914, the playwright led ethnographic expeditions throughout Russia’s Pale of Settlement, collecting Jewish folk tales, rituals, music, and other artifacts of daily and religious life. An-sky’s research has been an invaluable resource to students of Jewish history and culture. Now, a new body of material from those expeditions has come to light: approximately 350 photographs, comprising perhaps the most comprehensive visual record available of these small towns and the people who inhabited them. The photos are remarkable not only for the wealth of detail they offer about a way of life in transition, but also for the immediacy of the subjects themselves.
A collection of nearly 200 of these newly discovered photos is now available in a volume titled Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions. Vox Tablet spoke to two of the book’s editors, Eugene Avrutin and Harriet Murav, both professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about the importance of this collection for anyone interested in shtetl life in the Russian Empire. A gallery of photos from the book appears below.
Your browser does not support the audio element.
- Vox TabletSo Long, FarewellAfter 11 years and 500 episodes, Vox Tablet signs off for good
- Vox TabletTanya’s StoryHow a young woman learned the painful lesson that there are times when trying to do what’s ‘right’ can go very, very wrong
- Vox TabletA New Kind of Prayer BookThe Conservative movement’s latest siddur goes way beyond traditional liturgy
- Vox TabletHey, Mister DJ: Put a (Diaspora-Blending, Genre-Bending) Record OnBooty-shaking new music from A-Wa, Sandaraa, and Schizophonia
- Vox TabletWhat’s Free Will Got To Do With It?Especially in election season, we love talking about the moral fiber (or lack thereof) of our candidates. But when it comes to ethics, no man—or woman—is an island.
- Vox TabletBuilders of a New JerusalemIn a new book, Adina Hoffman brings to life three architects who transformed the city in the days of the British Mandate
- Vox TabletBathe in the WatersA radio documentary asks: Is there a way for women to dunk ritually that doesn’t conflict with their feminism?
- Vox TabletBeyond DrakeA handful of personalities come to mind when we think of African-American Jews. Let’s change that.
- Vox TabletThe Saddlemaker, the Schindler, and the Miller of WlodowaGolems, messiahs, tradesmen, Nazis, and townspeople converge in the story collection ‘In the Land of Armadillos’
- Vox TabletA Year of FirstsAn audio portrait of Luzer Twersky, just after he quit his life as a Hasid, and long before he played one in films
- Vox TabletFor the Love of Suzie Louise: A Christmas StoryIn middle-century Skokie, a young Jewish boy searches for a stolen Jesus to comfort his bereft Christian girlfriend
- Vox TabletThe Most Haunted Leading ManIn ‘Son of Saul,’ actor Géza Röhrig defies our every expectation of a Holocaust movie hero
- Vox TabletGirlhood, InterruptedCynthia Kaplan Shamash fled Iraq 40-odd years ago, when she was just a kid. Her flight foreshadowed that of young refugees fleeing Syria now. Where did she land? Where will they?
- Vox TabletLet ‘Freedom’ Ring: A Flutist Gives Life to Musical Celebrations of LiberationsMimi Stillman’s new album features works inspired by upheaval in Europe and the Middle East
- Vox TabletPuzzle MasterFor years, scholars dismissed the Arabic on text fragments from Cairo’s genizah as unimportant scribbling. Then along came Marina Rustow, bona fide ‘genius.’
- Vox TabletMy Grandfather, the Secret PolicemanRita Gabis knew only that her mother’s Catholic family came from Lithuania after the Holocaust. Then she started asking hard questions.
- Vox TabletBeyond the PulpitWhat does a rabbi do in late August when he no longer needs to prep for High Holidays?
- Vox TabletAndré Aciman, Sarah Wildman, and Others Build a Summer Reading ListLooking for a good book to sink into at the beach in these waning dog days? Friends share what they’ve loved lately.