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Conversations on Lenin Street:
Jewish Tulchin, Field Records of 2005-2006

An InterActive Exhibiton at the «Petersburg Judaica» Center
From November 30, 2006 to February 20, 2007

Address: European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP) 3 Gagarinskaya St.,
St. Petersburg 191187 Russia

An exhibit designed to highlight both present day Jewish life in Ukrainian shtetls, as well as those elements of tradition and history which have continued. It is the first exhibition of our new project entitled «Museum of the Jewish Oral History». It is dedicated to the town of Tulchin - a provincial center of the Vinnitsa region - which in the past was one of the capitals of Hasidism, the residence of well-known tsadikim. Today Tulchin is one of the few former shtetls where Jews continue to live. Their present-day life is not completely destroyed as people use to think, nor has it been "revived", as some people say, but namely - the Jews continue to live there.

Certainly, much has changed. The cataclysms of the 20th century have separated the Jewish society from the Jewish learning, having destroyed the system of traditional Jewish education and scattered educated people all over the world. In some respects, a "decapitated" Jewish community remained - a collective body with its own habits, old and new, «Soviet» and «Jewish», with its memory, desires, and hopes.

Soviet times have been usually mentally connected with suppression, if not with utter annihilation of the Jewish communal life. But Tulchiner Jews recall these times in a different way: «There were many Jews here». The post-Soviet revival of Jewish communities has coincided with especially sharp reduction of number of the Jewish population √ by a factor of 5 from 1990 till 2005. Therefore, probably, for inhabitants of Tulchin "their real Jewish life" is connected not only with the "revival" of Jewish communities, but also with their own Soviet past as well.

In Tulchin, Jewish life has been connected with the Lenin Street, i.e. - Glavne-gos. Here the Jews, as people say, «gathered in small groups - 'kuchki'»: they concluded agreements, exchanged news and gossip, simply walked hand in hand in the evenings. This is the street where our expedition did its field work. "Conversations in the Lenin Street" contain our impressions from the town whose life we had joined in for a short time. Our exhibition reproduces exactly the Jewish conversations recorded on Tulchin's streets. These are conversations concerning houses and people of the old "Kaptsanovka" district, talks about stereotypical notions on the Jewish-Ukrainian relations, descriptions of Jewish weddings in Tulchin, debates on what people were considered "decent" - mitn ikhes and what trades were considered Jewish, and many other things. Excerpts from these talks can be seen on the Web

We believe that the search for new meanings in the past and the present should be done not only in libraries and archives, but also in the "field" by talking with people, listening attentively to their words, trying to understand them. We hope, that our research and exhibitions will be interesting not only for the experts, but they will open one more way to (self)understanding of Russian-speaking Jewry, to a comprehension of its recent Soviet past and post-Soviet present, to restoration of a continuity with its proceeding history.

e-mail: judaica@eu.spb.ru (Alexander Lvov, Alla Sokolova, Alexander Ivanov)

The work of the "Museum of the Jewish Oral History" became possible due to financial support of the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, West Palm Beach Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Cleveland (USA), Jewish Community Development Fund in Russia and Ukraine (New York, USA), the Euro-Asian Jewish congress (Moscow).
The organization of expeditions (so called - "Field schools") to the former shtetls of the Ukraine was carried out in cooperation with the Center "Sefer" (Moscow).

Alexander Lvov (Coordinator, Center "Petersburg Judaica")