Neighborhood as a Marker of Lublin’s Jewish Geography

Jews were a highly visible presence in the cities of Poland, where they usually comprised a third or more of the population. In the modern period they constructed a variety of novel institutions – including schools, theaters, factories, and housing complexes – that reflected their vision of Jews as an integral part of the Polish urban landscape. While the high rates of Jewish urbanization in Europe have been long noted and while some Jewish Studies scholars have recently turned their attention to issues of space, most works on these topics have relied overwhelmingly on written textual representations of Jewish sites. I argue, however, that the streets and neighborhoods where Jews lived and worked can themselves be read as “texts” where Jews asserted their presence despite their lack of political power. A close examination of such spaces than thus reveal much about Jews’ vision of their community and its place in Polish society.

In my presentation I plan to focus on the city of Lublin and its “Jewish geography.” I will discuss the Jewish neighborhood centered on the commercial thoroughfare of Lubartowska Street and the institutions found there including the Jewish hospital (built 1886) and two buildings constructed in the interwar period: the the Yeshivas Hakhme Lublin [Rabbinical Academy of the Sages of Lublin] and the I.L. Peretz Folkshoyz [People’s House]. The siting of these structures along or near Lubartowska Street, at a distance from the medieval city center and surrounded by open space, presents a more modern and healthful image of Jewish life. Their style and decoration, I argue, are also notable as reflections of the various Jewish, Polish, and internationalist identities of their sponsors. The Yeshiva and Folkshoyz in particular were built by groups with very different ideological orientations –for the former Orthodox Judaism, for the latter socialism. Yet both bespoke a commitment to a Jewish future on Polish soil, even in the worsening conditions of the late 1930s.

I will also try to present comparative examples drawn from other cities (certainly Vilna/Wilno but if time allows Krakow as well) in order to demonstrate that such patterns of Jewish settlement offer important insights into how Jews constructed – literally – a modern identity in the cities of Poland