Ethnographic Field School in Rybnitsa


From August 1 to 10, an ethnographic expedition was held in Rybnitsa and Chisinau, devoted to the study of the theme: “Ribnitser Rebbe and the town of Rybnitsa (History of the Rybnitsa Jewish community in the Soviet and post-Soviet times)”. It was a joint project of the Center Sefer and the grant program of the Research Center of the Private Institution of Culture Jewish Museum and the Center for Tolerance (Moscow) with the financial support of A.I. Klyachin


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After the war, the last Hasidic tzaddik of Eastern Europe, Rabbi Haim-Zanvl Abramovich (1902 - 1995), a student of the Stefanesti rabbi, one of the rabbis of the Ruzhin Hasidic dynasty, lived for several decades in Rybnitsa. Chaim Zanvl Abramovich was deported to Rybnitsa from neighboring Bessarabia when the Romanian ghetto was formed in Rybnitsa in 1941. He remained here until 1973. His spiritual influence was significant not only for the small Moldavian city, but also for many people in the former Soviet Union. The Jewish religious leader in the city was also known to the non-Jewish inhabitants of Rybnitsa. According to our interviews, non-Jews also turned to him for advice or healing.


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This was the third field season for the group of researchers to the town of Rybnitsa. In 2017and 2018 two ethnographic expeditions in Rybnitsa were conducted by the Center Sefer. The research were directed by Valery Dymshits and Maria Kaspina. A lot of material was collected on oral Jewish hagiographic tradition, about 70 interviews were recorded in Russian and, partially, in Yiddish (more than 100 hours of audio recordings in total).


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Prof. Dov-Ber Kerler (Indiana University) participated in the expeditions of 2018 and 2019. He had previously recorded several interview in Yiddish in Rybnitsa back in 2005. In 2019, a group of 14 researchers worked in the town under the leadership of Dov-Ber Kerler, M. Kaspina and V. Dymshits. The expedition worked for a week in Rybnitsa itself and its environs, and for the last two days we met with former residents of Rybnitsa, living in Chisinau now.


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This new field season was very important for revealing the geography of spreading the stories about the Rybnitser rabbi. For example, in the large cities of Transnistria, in Bender, Tiraspol and Dubossary, despite our interrogations, not a single member of the Jewish community could tell anything about Chaim Zanvl. At the same time, in Kamenka, in Rashkov and Rybnitsa there was not a single local informant older than 50 years who would not hear anything about the Rybnitser rabbi.


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Methods of working with Jewish informants were many times tested during the expeditions of the Sefer Center. They were used to for realization of this project, as well as materials from an archive of historical and ethnographic memory in Yiddish (AHEYM). We have developed questionnaires, in Russian and Yiddish, covering the main topics that are significant for the traditional culture of the region and specifically the town of Rybnitsa. In addition, last year Maria Kaspina and Valery Dymshits developed a questionnaire about the identity of the Rybnitsky Rebbe.



On August 1-11, 2019, a field expedition school will be held in Rybnitsa (Transnistria), organized by the center "Sefer" and with the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group and the research group "RybnitsaRebbe and the city of Rybnitsa" (Ph. D. N. M. Kaspina, prof. DovberKerler, prof. V. Dymshits) with the support of the Jewish Museum and tolerance center grant for research activities in the framework of the charitable program "Research of history and culture of Jews in Russia (pre-Petrine Russia, the Russian Empire, the USSR and the post-Soviet space)".

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The field school in Rybnitsa will be a continuation of the research of the center "Sefer", which took place in this region in2008,2011,2017,2018. As the results of the previous activities here very interesting materials and memories of the famous RybnitsaRebbe, Chaim Zanvl Abramovich, who lived in the city from 1941 to 1972were collected. The presence of a bright religious leader in the city influenced not only the Jewish community of the city, the Rebbe was also known to non-Jewish residents of Rybnitsa, which gave rise to a large layer of non-Jewish folklore about Jews and their rabbis.

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The uniqueness of Rybnitsa lies in its location in the disputed political region, in which many phenomena of the Soviet era were preserved. Being between Ukraine and Moldova, Transnistria remained committed to the Russian language and Soviet culture. In the context of Jewish history for Transnistria is significant, the intersection of two historic regions of Podolia and Bessarabia, with their different folklore and ethnographic traditions, and in Transnistria preserved elements of the traditional Jewish culture, which is characteristic for both regions.
In 2019, we plan to work not only in Rybnitsa itself, but also in the surrounding cities: Rezina, Kolbasna, Dubossary, Grigoriopol, Kamenka, as well as in the former Jewish agricultural colony Gershunovka, and in a number of villages of Rybnitsa district.

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We invite those researchers who already have experience in field research (anthropology, ethnography, folklore, oral history) to participate in the school. The use of your own equipment (voice recorders, cameras, camcorders, laptops) is mandatory; knowledge of Yiddish will be an advantage in the selection procedure.

To participate in the school, pleasecomplete the application formbefore May 15. The selection will be made until May 25. For new participants, a personal Skype interview will be a mandatory qualifying stage after submitting the questionnaire.