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Field School – Expedition on Jewish Ethnography and Epigraphy in Tula

Field School Expedition on Jewish Ethnography and Epigraphy in Tula took place in August, 16 24. The school was organized by “Sefer” Center in collaboration with Center for Slavic-Judaic Studies (RAS) with the financial support by Genesis Philanthropy Group, Russian Jewish Congress and Claims Conference.

The main goals of our expedition were as follows: research in history and traditional culture of the Jewish population in central Russia, collecting the video and audio interview on oral history, folklore and traditional culture, study of commemorative practices, structure and organization of Jewish community.

28 researchers took part in the Field School program.

Field School program


The epigraphic track was attended by students, graduate students and young researchers from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Brest and Tula. A group of 14 people, led by Mikhail Vasilyev and Ekaterina Karaseva worked on cataloging the old Jewish cemetery in Tula. The cemetery was founded in the middle of the 19th century next to the Chulkovskaya Sloboda in the Northern part of the city. Currently it is situated on the territory of Tula cartridge-manufacturing plant. The Chulkovo cemetery in Tula is one of the largest old Jewish and well preserved Jewish necropolises in Central Russia. More than 930 tombstones and their fragments were found in the cemetery site of about 1 hectare.

Despite the relatively low preservation quality of many monuments constructed mainly of soft limestone and sandstone, our team managed to write down and decipher (in whole or partly) over 700 gravestone inscriptions in Hebrew and Russian. The main specificity of Tula cemetery is a large number of bilingual epitaphs.There are a lot of long inscriptions including quotations from the Bible and liturgic texts . Highly artistic, ustom-made inscriptions with acrostics and rhyme are also presented. The external design of the monuments is characterized by the great variety of forms and rich decoration , as well as the grave fences with multiple elements of artistic forging. Several huge tents (ohels) made of iron have also been preserved in the cemetery.

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Field work on cataloging the cemetery included photographing and measuring each monument, transcribing epitaphs, and making a detailed map of the cemetery with GPS coordinates of every tombstone. After processing and digitization of the collected field materials, the preparation of the electronic catalog will begin. The catalog will then be uploaded to the SFIRA online database of the Sefer Center. The complete catalog is scheduled for release in the spring 2022.

The ethnographic track was attended by 14 people. Students and graduate students - anthropologists and ethnographers from various universities in Russia (NRU HSE, Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow State University, OmSU, St. Petersburg University) worked under the guidance of Olga Belova and Maria Kaspina. For most of the students, Tula school turned out to be the first experience of Jewish field research. However, regular participants of Sefer's expeditions also took part in the expedition.

During the field school, 66 interviews (of almost 100 hours of audio recording) were conducted and plenty of materials from the local Jewish community museum were studied.

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Oral histories about semi-legal prayer houses that functioned during the post-war period present the main interest. Currently, there are two Jewish communities in Tula, which independently began to develop in the 2000s. The parishioners spoke in detail on their involvement in the improvement and construction of new community buildings, about the customs and traditions established in their prayer houses in the 1970s - 1990s.

Interviews were conducted with descendants and relatives of synagogue employees , cantors, ritual service specialists, and other religious leaders. Informants described in detail the functions of traditional Jewish professionals.

Stories by religious meetings’ participants present valuable evidence of the communitys economic structure in the late Soviet period.

On the day off, field school participants visited Yasnaya Polyana and attended a guided walk around Tula.

The Tula Charitable Center "Hasdey Neshama" provided great assistance in organizing the school. We would like to express our special gratitude to Faina Peretsovna Sanevich for her lively participation and warm welcome. We also thank Grigory Sanevich, Erukhom Shalmiyev and Shimshon Romanovsky for their help, as well as all the Tula people who gave us interviews and welcomed us warmly.

Field school photos


Field School Expedition on Jewish Ethnography and Epigraphy in Tula


We invite researchers who already have experience in field research (anthropology, ethnography, folklore studies, oral history, epigraphy) to take part in the expedition. You also will have to use your own equipment (voice recorders, cameras, laptops).

Application deadline is July, 15.

Working language of the field school is Russian.