Ethnographic research that focused mainly on agrarian groups living at the lower level of society did not really seek or find a handle to approach Jewish culture in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the same time, for its part, the Hungarian Jewry made no effort to deal with its own culture from the viewpoint of ethnography. Although ethnographic and anthropological research has been conducted since then, and important results have been achieved, it cannot be claimed that the subject has been exhausted. That is why the Ethnography Museum’s exhibition Picking up the Pieces: Fragments of Rural Hungarian Jewish Culture was an important, unique and timely opportunity for both experts and audience. The exhibition aimed to conjure up an image of rural Hungarian Jewish life before the Holocaust based the materials in the museum. For the first time, the exhibition presented the Museum’s small but important collection of Judaica, Jewish implements, objects that entered the collection through art dealers and private collectors, not to mention the rich photographic material. In addition, local “case studies” were utilized to grasp the distinctive culture of the everyday life of the Jewish population, their position within the majority society, and the possible paths (mazes) of modernity. Various issues were discussed, not in general but through concrete examples (family histories, specific communities, local characteristics, etc.), and in this spirit, several specific themes were presented, such as weekdays and festive days, various situations, occupations and social strata. In the second part of the study, special mention is made of a few highlighted objects from the exhibition through the eyes of visiting American students.
The paper investigates the symbolical and real borders in the areas of contact between the Jews of the Hungarian countryside and the peasants between the two world wars. The symbolical borders are created principally by differences in mentality. These are the borders which for the most part and inherently separate. Tradition, culture, religion, way of life, in many cases the language, and the minority or majority status all separate. Most of these raise an insuperable barrier between the two social groups although - as we shall see - there are cases when some of these borders can be crossed. In contrast, economic interests and the need for social contacts generally make the Jewish and peasant communities dependent on each other, and here the borders also open up more often.