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A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard

A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard

Author(s): Jill Culiner

Location(s): Ukraine, Romania, Turkey

Genre(s): Biography, Historical, Travelogue

Era(s): 1800s

In nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, Jewish life was ruled by Hasidic rebbes or the traditional Mitnagdim, and religious law dictated every aspect of daily life. Secular books were forbidden; independent thinkers were threatened with moral rebuke, magical retribution, and expulsion. But the Maskilim, the proponents of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment, were determined to create a modern Jew, to found schools where children could learn science, geography, languages, and history.

Velvel Zbarzher, rebel and glittering star of fusty inns, spent his life singing his enlightened poems to a loyal audience of poor workers and craftsmen, but his attacks condemning the religious stronghold resulted in banishment and itinerancy.

Armed with a useless nineteenth-century map, a warm lumpy coat, and a healthy dose of curiosity Jill Culiner trudged through the snow in former Galicia, the Russian Pale, and Romania searching for Velvel, the houses where he lived, and the bars where he sang. But she was also on the lookout for a vanished way of life in Austria, Turkey, and Canada.

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