FIELD SCHOOL-EXPEDITION ON JEWISH ETHNOGRPAHY AND EPIGRAPHICS IN SMOLENSKAYA OBLAST' (August 4th - 12th, 2015)

Center Sefer in partnership with the Institute of Slavic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences) organized the field school-expedition in Smolenskaya oblast', with financial supportGenesisPhilanthropy Group (Charities Aid Foundation "Jewish Communities"), UJAFederation of NY and Russian Science Foundation.


School program (in Russian)

The main goals of the school were:

  • studying of the Jewish history and traditional culture in the Western parts of Russia
  • cataloging of the Jewish cemeteries
  • collecting of interviews about oral history, folklore, traditional culture
  • searching for materials in archives

30 participants from Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Minsk, Kiev, Riga, Kazan, Smolensk, Hildesheim, Jerusalem, New York took part in the expedition: 11 people in the ethnographic group (including the leaders of the group: Maria Kaspina and Svetlana Amosova) and 13 people in the epigraphic group (lead by Tamara Solomatina and Motl Gordon). There were also 3 lecturers: Victoria Mochalova, Vladimit Levin, Krzysztof Belawski), 1 coordinator (Anna Shayevich), 1 operator (Ekaterina Orlova) and 1 volunteer (Dmitry Tsuryev).

During the expedition our group worked in 6 locations of Smolenskaya oblast': Smolensk, Roslavl, Monastyrshchina, Lubavichi, Shumyachi, Petrovichi and in the place called Klimovichi on the border with Belarus. Ethnographic group managed to record 50 interviews, including the ones with the eldest members of Jewish community in the district. These interviews iclude memories about the Jewish life before World War II, evacuation, life in ghetto and Jewish traditions that people could save during the Soviet time. There were also recorded the interviews with non-Jews about the Jewish life before the war and about the Holocaust.

Epigraphists worked on 4 objects: Jewish cemeteries of Lubavichi, Monastyrshchina, Shumyachi, Petrovichi. More than 500 tombstones were described and written down. The oldest tombstone was found in Lubavichi, it was a matseva from 1794. The tombstones that served as the stones for houses' foundations before WWII were found and described in Petrovichi.

Every working day ended up with the seminar and discussion in both of the groups. The participants could share their feedback on these meeting, discuss the actual problems and difficulties and so on.

The participants also attended several plenary lectures:
  • Victoria Mochalova "Smolensk in the History", "Katyn"
  • Vladimir Levin "Chabad's Leaders Struggling for Hegemony", "Alternative Geography: Russia? Poland? Lithuania? Belarus? - Raysn!", "Women and Synagogues: Social History of Architecture"
  • Maria Kaspina and Svetlana Amosova "The Cult of Righteous Men's Graves in Jewish and Slavic Traditions"
  • Tamara Solomatina and Motl Gordon "Jewish Personal Names in Belarus and Lithuania in the 19-20th Centuries (based on the expeditions 2012-2015)"
  • Krzysztof Belawski "The Burial Places of Famous Rabbis and Tsadikim in Poland"


The participants spent Shabbat in the community centre "Beit Malkin". There was also a walking tour "Jewish Smolensk" and visiting of Katyn memorial in the day-off.

Sefer Center is very thankful to the Jewish community of Smolensk, that helped a lot in the organization and work of the expedition, especially to Z.G. Agranat and G. Tsuryeva, to Vladimir Levin (The Center for Jewish Art, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) who not only read very interesting lectures but also helped to epigraphists' work. Our colleague from Warsaw Krzysztof Belawski took an active part in the expedition and wrote anarticlein Polish about it.

Sefer Center plans to publish expedition's materials.

The photos can be found on ourFacebook page.