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A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard
Jill Culiner, author
In 19th-century Eastern Europe, religious law dictated every aspect of Jewish life. Secular books were forbidden; independent thinkers were threatened with moral rebuke, magical retribution and expulsion. But the Maskilim, proponents of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment, were determined to create a modern Jew. Velvel Zbarzher, rebel, Maskil, and glittering star of fusty inns, spent his life singing his poems to loyal audiences of poor workers and craftsmen, and his attacks condemning the religious stronghold resulted in banishment and itinerancy. Armed with a useless nineteenth-century map, a lumpy second-hand coat, and an unhealthy dose of curiosity Jill Culiner trudged through the snow in former Galicia, the Russian Pale, and Romania searching for Velvel. But she was also on the lookout for a vanished way of life in Austria, Turkey and Canada.

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