I recently attended an Educators meeting at the Jewish Federation building in Beachwood. The meeting centered on a fascinating exhibit of old photographs from shtetls or Jewish Villages before World War I. Titled “The Way We Looked,” the Beachwood exhibit marks the first time these photographs have been shown in North America. The collection was loaned to Cleveland by the Center for Judaica Studies from St. Petersburg, Russia. The co-curators of this exhibit, two scholars from the Center, Drs. Alexander Ivanov and Valery Dymshitz, presented an exciting lecture/slide show based on their in-depth research.
The photographs, taken between 1912 and 1914, captured people and their everyday life in the Pale of Settlement, a territory set aside by deeply anti-Semitic Russian Tsars for the permanent residency of the Jews. The world these people inhabited was almost entirely destroyed, first by the Communists and then by the Nazis. Hearing Drs. Ivanov’s and Dymshitz’s stories and seeing their photographs taken during 1995-2005 of the several still remaining Jewish villages was a powerful addition to the exhibit.
My husband Alex and I are originally from St. Petersburg or Leningrad, as the city was called when we immigrated to the US in 1982. We left the city where just the idea of an official entity dedicated to scholarly research of Jewish history would seem totally insane. Now it seems that the European University of St. Petersburg Center for Judaica Research and its museum should become a “Must” on the “bucket” list for every Jewish history pilgrim.
The Center’s website: http://judaica.spb.ru/en/index.html