The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry

Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-sky's Ethnographic Expeditions

Eugene M. Avrutin, Valerii Dymshits, Alexander Lvov, Harriet Murav and Alla Sokolova, editors

Cover of "Photographing the Jewish Nation" with historic photo of 2 sistersOver 170 amazing photographs of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement, from S. An-sky’s ethnographic expeditions

From 1912 to 1914, S. An-sky and the photographer Solomon Iudovin gathered materials and took photographs of Jewish daily life in pre-Revolutionary Russia’s Pale of Settlement. Photographing the Jewish Nation offers English-language readers their first look at over 170 extraordinary, recently rediscovered photographs from their expeditions. The pictures provide visual texture—in remarkable detail—that rarely appears in written sources. This volume includes a critical introduction and five chapters that document all aspects of Jewish life inside the Pale, including work, education,and religious and cultural traditions.

“Here, recovered and recorded at the last conceivable moment, is the living shtetl, those market towns large and small that were once home to the majority of Jews in the world: a bucolic landscape amidst the poverty and mud; school children posing with their nattily dressed teachers; mug shots of potential nannies; Jews of every age engaged in all manner of trade; a huge outdoor wedding; beautiful synagogue interiors, complete with chandeliers and signs of the zodiac; ritual objects and sacred graves; the Rabbi’s house and the local church. Here, also, is the story of the intrepid explorers, children of the shtetl themselves, who tried to salvage this Yiddish-speaking civilization for future generations. No less miraculous are their spiritual offspring, who authored this superb collection of essays and discovered these remarkable photographs.”—David G. Roskies, author of “Yiddishlands: A Memoir”

“A veritable treasure! These precious photographs offer a unique visual record of Jewish life in the provinces of Volynia, Podolia and Kiev on the eve of World War I. They are accompanied by fascinating essays that tell the story of these photographs. They were taken during the pioneering ethnographic expeditions organized by S. An-sky, most famous for his play "The Dybbuk." An indispensable addition not only to the photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, but also to the history of Jewish folklore and ethnography.”—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of “Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage”

About the Authors

  • Eugene M. Avrutin is Assistant Professor of History and Tobor Scholar in Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois.

  • Valerii Dymshits is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Interdepartmental Center, “Petersburg Judaica,” at the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia.

  • Alexander Ivanov is Senior Researcher at the European University at St. Petersburg.

  • Alexander Lvov is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at the European University at St. Petersburg.

  • Harriet Murav is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois.

  • Alla Sokolova is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at the European University at St. Petersburg.