Exhibit Affords Close Look at Everyday Life in the Shtetl
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Exhibit Affords Close Look at Everyday Life in the Shtetl

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At first glance the former shtetl of Luboml, Poland, appears to be little more than a small town destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

Dating back to the 14th century, the town had all the trappings of any other Eastern European community of that period: a “Great Synagogue”; shtiebels, or smaller, cozier synagogue; and houses of study, where men would spend hours poring over Talmudic texts.

But a deeper examination reveals the vibrancy of Jewish life in the shtetl. From the joyousness of a local wedding to the somberness of a rabbi’s funeral, the Luboml community embraced all its inhabitants.

Luboml was the Yiddish name for the shtetl.

Like many other shtetls of the time, religious and social tensions were prevalent, as movements such as Enlightenment’s and Zionism began to ripple through even the far-flung corners of Europe.

It is both this richness and tension that Fred Wasserman hopes to capture with his new exhibit, “Remembering Libivne : The Jewish community of Luboml.”

Wasserman, an accomplished curator and author of “Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience,” is negotiating with several museums to house the exhibit.

The exhibit traces the historical development of town, from its inconspicuous genesis in the Middle Ages to its development into a full-blown hub of Jewish activity.

The display also shows the shtetl’s demise in 1941, when the Nazis occupied the town and destroyed it. Of thousands of residents, only 51 who were in Luboml at the start of the war survived.

Luboml can be viewed as a model for other shtetls of the period.

“The significance of this exhibit transcends Luboml itself,” Wasserman said, adding that Luboml is representative of the shtetlekh – small Jewish market towns – in the area that now constitutes eastern Poland, Ukraine and part of western Russia.

The exhibit places tremendous importance on conveying the feel of Jewish life, displaying countless quotations and photographs.

“What we’re trying to do is listen to the people of the town itself. We want to us their words, their experiences, their objects, to prepare an inside view of life in the shtetl,” Wasserman said.

Many portions of the display reflect the notion that, rabid anti-Semitism and poverty notwithstanding, the more things change in Jewish life, the more they stay the same.

“I remember there was a confrontation between the pious Jews and the more modern ones,” said Ben-Zion Bokser in a quote to be posted in the exhibit.

“In the shtiebel men revealed the details of their worries,” said Menachem Ehrlich in another quote. “Men tried to determine the future course of events in world politics.”

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