slutsk sash

Our next day trip out of Minsk took us south, to the shtetl of Slutsk. The city is still famous in Belarus for its history of embroidery: starting during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, local Jewish artisans were commissioned to create special sashes for the Polish aristocracy. Today, these noble sashes are only found in museums, but embroidered linens are still made for both everyday and ceremonial purposes.

Since not much of old Slutsk remains, we spent our time there practicing to be “zamler,” or collectors, of objects we encountered in our exploration. Helixers turned up everything from flowers (both plastic and organic), fresh berries from the market, a pair of Nikes, and, of course, some souvenir Slutsk sashes.

Slutsk, oh Slutsk, my little shtetl,

How I long for you!

Deep in my heart, home of mine,

You are here with me!

A cradle on a little string,

And a broken little bed —

You are so dear to me,

Slutsk, oh Slutsk, my little shtetl!

,סלוצק, אוי סלוצק מייַן שטעטעלע
!ווי איך בענק נאָך דיר
,טיף אין האַרצן, היים דו מייַן
!ליגסט דו דאָ ביי מיר
אַ וויגל אויף אַ שטריקעלע
און אַ צעבראָכן בעטעלע
,טייַער ביסטו דאָך בייַ מיר

!סלוצק, אוי סלוצק מייַן שטעטעלע

  • dom-kulturny
  • slutzk-dance-1
  • slutzk-dance-2
  • slutzk-dance-3
  • zamling
  • uzda-historian
  • erin-reading-monument
  • tatar-tree-of-life
  • looking-into-bath
  • emma-by-bath-house
  • inspecting-coin
  • benny’s-coin
  • chance-and-spoon

The cultural archaeology skills we’d been gaining would come in handy in Uzda, hometown of the Yiddish and Hebrew story writer Dvora Baron. A local historian volunteered to be our guide, showing us the Jewish and Muslim Tatar cemeteries. In their geographical and stylistic proximities, these graveyards bore witness to centuries of cultural coexistence and exchange between various religious and ethnic groups in the region. In a mound by the town’s old bath house, Helixers discovered, among other treasures, an ancient spoon, mother-of-pearl buttons, and a coin dating from the seventeenth century, when most of Belarus was still part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

And here we are — at the graveyard.
Tall trees, black and white stones sunk in a sea of grass. Birds take flight.
Here too is the open grave, filled to the top with books.
Father is standing right by the grave. He speaks, his voice tremulous:
“Friends, today we bury our Torah scroll…these torn prayer shawls, these holy books…but do not imagine for a moment that they will stay buried forever…For surely the day will come…when our Redeemer arrives (and here Father gestures toward one grave and then another) and then…and then…we will take our leave of this place, and with us…we will carry these books along with us too…”
—Dvora Baron, “Burying the Books”
translated by Naomi Seidman with Chana Kronfeld


Here, in this isolated place, my Muse — the beloved of my youth, from the time when I sat in yeshives with other poor youths, my beloved, whom I had lost hope of every seeing again — reappeared. She revealed herself to me in all her glory, and with the charm of her lips, talked me into following her into the forest to be together in sweet bliss under a young tree.

At her urging, I made a covenant with the trees int he countryside, with the birds and the fruits of the earth. She taught me to understand their language and observe their mode of life. My heart was drawn to these friends of mine. They told me about the mysteries and the events of their world, about the greatness of God, who had created them and watched over them, and I told them about my feelings.

—Mendele Mokher Sforim, “Notes for My Biography”
translated by Gerald Stillman