The Lost World of Russia's Jews
Ethnography and Folklore in the Pale of Settlement
Published by: Indiana University Press
In 1913, Abraham Rechtman journeyed through the Russian Pale of Settlement on a mission to record its Jewish folk traditions before they disappeared forever. The Lost World of Russia's Jews is the first English translation of his extraordinary experiences, originally published in Yiddish, documenting a culture best known until now through romanticized works like Life Is with People and Fiddler on the Roof.
In the last years of the Russian Empire, Abraham Rechtman joined S. An-sky's Jewish Ethnographic Expedition to explore and document daily life in the centuries old Jewish communities of the Pale of Settlement. Rechtman described the key places where Jewish life and death were experienced and connected these sites to local folklore and customary practices. Among the many unique contributions of his memoir are riveting descriptions of traditional Jewish healers and exorcists—many of them women—and their methods and incantations.
Rather than a nostalgic portrait of an imagined shtetl, Rechtman succeeded in producing an intimate account of Jewish life and death that is highly nuanced and richly detailed. The Lost World of Russia's Jews powerfully illuminates traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe on the eve of its transformation and, ultimately, destruction.
A Note on Transliteration
1. Sh. An-sky and the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition: The Participants in the Expedition
2. Synagogues and Prayerhouses
3. Headstones, Graves, and Tombs
4. Communal Pinkesim
5. Tales About Nigunim [Melodies] and Prayers
6. Exorcisms, Charms, and Remedies
7. Scribes and Scribal Writing
Fragment by fragment, scholars such as Rechtman, Deutsch and Barrera restore to us some sense of the astonishing vitality of that time and place Simon Dubnow called "the Jewish dark continent." What a wonderful journey, and what a special gift.~Jonathan Boyarin, Cornell University, author of Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side
This translation of Abraham Rechtman's 1958 Yidishe etnografiye un folklor is a marvelous resource for people interested in Jewish Eastern Europe, whether scholars or lay readers. With its introduction, this volume is a unique and important contribution to three scholarly fields: Eastern European Jewish studies, Russian history, and the history of anthropology. Because it is so well written and, frankly, so entertaining, it is also likely to appeal to general readers.~Gabriella Safran, Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies, Stanford University