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Last modified on 2012-05-31 19:32:32 GMT. 0 comments. Top.
Medfield Reads Presents:
Exploring Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Jewish Pale of Settlement
Exhibit thru September 30, 2012
Until 1917, most Jews of the Russian Empire were restricted to a region called the Pale of Settlement, where they created their own distinctive folk culture. In 1914, the writer, socialist revolutionary, and ethnographer, Sh. An-sky, produced a massive Yiddish ethnographic questionnaire to document this culture, including many questions concerning Jewish customs and beliefs connected to pregnancy and childbirth. In The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement
(Harvard University Press), UCSC professor Nathaniel Deutsch has translated An-sky’s questionnaire into English for the first time, placing it within a rich historical context. Collaborating with Deutsch and inspired by her deep interest in Jewish women’s folk traditions, Debra Olin has created illuminating artworks that represent and explore the dangerous, magical, and above all, powerful experience of pregnancy and childbirth in the Pale of Settlement. – Nathaniel Deutsch, Professor of Literature and History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For many years my experimental prints have been steeped in the exploration of Yiddish immigrant culture and my own personal history. The iconography I have used has come to include beliefs and superstitions in a number of seemingly disparate cultures. Using the Yiddish language, literature and folklore as a springboard, I have found commonalities between Eastern European Jews, Ancient Egyptians and Chinese Healers. From the first handprints, to alphabet and language, these distinct civilizations arrived at similar explorations and solutions to life’s daily challenges; including ideas about death and higher powers, healing the body, and games and rituals.
In the fall of 2008, I read Professor Nathaniel Deutsch’s article entitled, “A Total Account, S. An-sky and the Jewish Ethnographic Program” in Pakn Treger
, the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center. The article examines a questionnaire that An-sky had created to gather information on the lives of the Jews living in the Russian Pale of Settlement in1914. I was immediately captivated by the project and contacted Deutsch in search of more of these questions which covered every aspect of life from birth to death and beyond. My particular interest was in those questions concerning pregnancy and childbirth. There are superstitions and precautions taken in every society to guard the pregnant woman and the newborn. An-sky’s research included 283 queries on this topic alone. Some of them contained provocative phrasing such as “Is there a belief that one must not place a child in front of a mirror until he gets his first teeth?” An-sky’s questionnaire reveals a familiarity and breadth of knowledge which charged my imagination and inspired me to create this body of work called “Every Protection”.