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School Program

The school was organized by Sefer Center and the Center for Slavic-Jewish studies of the Institute of Slavic studies of the Russian Academy of Science. The project was implemented with the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group and other sponsors, as well as the grant of the President of the Russian Federation for the development of civil society, provided by the presidential grants Fund.

This year the expedition to Bryansk continued the Jewish field research of this region conducted by the center "Sefer". The experience of past expeditions gave the participants of the 2018 trip an opportunity to learn more about the local Jewish tradition, to clarify a number of issues that arose in connection with the new information. We worked on questionnaires, which were adjusted in accordance with the materials obtained in previous expeditions in the Bryansk region.

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The ethnographic research team of 13 people for conducted in a week period 43 interviews with Jewish old-timers of Bryansk and 6 interview in Starodub. Oral narratives about the war and post-war years were recorded on video and audio.


We received descriptions of holidays, majority of the informants recalled the Passover associated with the baking of matzah and the change of dishes in the house. Materials from Bezhitsa, which is now a district of Bryansk, are clearly distinguished, but until 1956 it was a separate city. The Jews of Bejica had their meeting places in the city, secret prayer meetings, places where matzah was baked. In Bryansk, Jewish life revolved around Uritsky street, where an underground synagogue operated and there were many Jewish houses. One of the rare successes of the expedition was an interview with several members of the same family. Thus, the transformation of tradition in several generations is recorded. The head of the expedition Maria Kaspina stressed the importance of her meeting with the 90-year-old daughter of Rabbi Shimon Trebnik, who lives in Bryansk and remembers a lot of stories of her father. In Bryansk in general, surprisingly many centenarians, the oldest informant, Abba Moiseevich Henkin, was born in 1916, and he is now 102 years old.


The result of epigraphic section of the expedition was the cataloguing of the Jewish cemetery in Starodub, which ended on August 12. The research group included 12 students and young scientists from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Israel under the leadership of Ekaterina Karaseva and Mikhail Vasiliev. Significant assistance in clearing the cemetery was also provided by the residents of Starodub and the city administration.


The work on the description of the cemetery included an inventory of the preserved monuments, fixation of gravestones, photography of gravestones, as well as determination of their size, shape and material. In addition, a detailed map of the cemetery with the location of each monument was compiled.


As a part of the the field work the expedition participants found and documented about 800 stone tombstones in the form of steles, gravestones and sarcophagi. At the same time, it was possible to record more than 400 gravestones and their fragments (in Hebrew and Russian) with the names and dates of life of the members of the Starodub Jewish community.


The earliest of the found monuments date back to 1830-40, the latest burial was made in 2011.
On the materials of the expedition, it is planned to prepare an electronic catalogue of the cemetery, which will be available at SFIRA database website.
We express our deep gratitude to the Bryansk Regional Jewish Community-Charitable Center "Hesed Tikva" and personally Executive Director Irina Chernyak and program coordinator Igor B. Salzburg and administration of the city of Starodub and personally the head of administration Dmitry V. Vinokurov, Press Secretary of administration Elena Malyarenko.for assistance in the preparation and conduct of the expedition in Bryansk and Starodub.

In the upcoming summer season, the SEFER Center continues expeditions to the places of residence of Jews in the interior provinces of the Russian Empire (Nevel, 2008, Smolenskaya oblast,2015,2016, Bryanskaya oblast,2016,2017). This year the goals of the expedition is to catalogue the Jewish cemetery in Starodub, as well as to collect ethnographic material on Jewish history and culture in Bryansk and some other former towns of the Bryanskaya oblast (Klintsy, Novozybkov).

The field school is organized by SEFER Center with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a grant from the President of the Russian Federation for the development of civil society provided by the Foundation for Presidential Grants, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and other sponsors.

The Jewish history of the Bryanskaya oblast is interesting for the researcher of traditional culture primarily because this region was historically at the crossroads of cultural traditions: the borders of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian lands overlapped here. Because of such a colorful neighborhood, the local Jewish tradition acquired a unique color. The uniqueness of these places is not only in the rich Jewish history, but also in the fact that small Jewish communities still exist here. Ethnographers can collect material from both Jewish and non-Jewish populations.


Starodub Jewish cemetery is one of the largest Jewish necropolises in this region, on which more than 400 stone tombstones of the 19th-20th centuries were preserved. The task of the epigraphic team of the expedition will be the cataloging of the cemetery, including photographing gravestones, fixing the epigraphs on the gravestones, and drawing up a map of the cemetery.
It is also planned to work in local archives in order to identify and describe archival documents related to the history of local Jews during the expeditions.


We invite students and young scientists with experience in field research, as well as those who study history, culture and material heritage of Jews in the region.

For the members of the ethnographic team, it is necessaryto use their own equipment(recorders, laptops), to havea photo and video camerais an advantage.
When selecting members of the epigraphic team, the advantage is given to participants who know Hebrew and have fieldwork experience in epigraphy. To process collected materials, epigraphistsneed to take a laptop with them, a camerais also preferable.

The knowledge of the Russian language is necessary (native speakers or the level close to native speakers).

To participate in the school please fill in thequestionnairebeforeMay, 10. We will let you know the results of selection of participants onMay, 20.