Through objects of spiritual significance, through photographs and documentary films, and through a rich display of clothing traditions, this exhibition opens a window onto the life of the Hasidim – a Hebrew word meaning “devout ones” – members of a religious movement that began to spread across Eastern Europe two and a half centuries ago and continues to thrive in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.
Today, communities of Hasidic Jews live in the midst of modern secular society while maintaining a distinct, separate way of life. Yet their nearness and their highly visible presence do not always mean that those around them are familiar with their beliefs, recognize different Hasidic groups – for there are many – or understand what distinguishes Hasidim from other types of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
A World Apart Next Door focuses on some of the most typical features of Hasidic life: the unique role of the charismatic leader, the Rebbe; customs and celebrations; and, especially, the many forms of dress that distinguish the Hasidim. Usually by birth and at times by choice, Hasidim are grouped around their Rebbes into tight-knit social structures known as “courts.” Some courts have tens of thousands of members worldwide; others are extremely small. Because of its high birthrate, the community as a whole grows quickly. Yiddish continues to be a spoken language, one of the many ways in which Hasidim uphold traditions of the past and withstand unwanted influences.
To those outside the community, differences between Hasidic courts are not immediately obvious. But a great diversity – in dress, in customs, and also in profound questions such as openness to the outside world or recognition of the State of Israel – does exist. This exhibition offers a glimpse of the many facets of a vibrant society living apart, yet very nearby.
Read more about the exhibition here.