Book Explores Jewish Diversity
On Dec. 8, Bryan Schwartz released Scattered among the Nations, a collection of photos and stories from the world’s most isolated Jewish communities. The book, which took Schwartz more than 16 years to complete, features captivating images of Jewish communities and their stories of maintaining connections to Jewish culture and customs. The book’s collaborators, Jay Sand and Sandy Carter, helped Schwartz with photography and content
“Our hope is that through these pages you will realize that no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic stereotype defines all Jewish people, but that many values and traditions do,” said Schwartz.
The book features communities in, among other places, Peru, Mexico, India, Ghana and Azerbaijan. The diversity of the Jewish people in the book is truly fascinating and exemplifies the community’s uniqueness. In his time traveling, Schwartz came to realize the tenacious commitment to Jewish culture and customs is what kept these communities alive and thriving. Many reside in regions where being Jewish was likely unacceptable, or even punishable.
“Some of the communities were emerging from oppression and they are just now able to openly embrace Judaism,” said Schwartz.
Since the beginning of the book’s development, which began shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the documented communities have dramatically shifted from isolated people to being globally connected by the internet. Many of the people Schwartz visited didn’t know about other thriving Jewish communities, or about the establishment of Israel.
Now, many of the communities have access to Jewish education that they did not have before, and some are even immigrating to Israel or the United States to deepen their connections with the global Jewish population.
Seeing the book’s powerful images and reading the stories of the people who held on so passionately to their Jewish identity demonstrates how traditions and values overcome skin color, language and, especially, location.
When asked about what he learned most from his travels, Schwartz referred to a Talmudic verse: “The son of Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: From all those who taught me I gained understanding,” (Psalms 119:33).
“I recommend traveling the world with an attitude that everyone has something to teach and this attitude, and those people, can really change and improve your life, Schwartz said.
Schwartz works in Oakland as a civil rights attorney representing workers facing discrimination or unjust payment policies. He lives with his family in Alameda.
To learn more about the book, visit: www.scatteredamongthenations.com.