A shtetl called Orla

by Arnold Zable

My book Jewels and Ashes, published by Scribe in Melbourne, 1991 and by Harcourt Brace in the US and Canada, in 1993, is an account of my three-month journey to Poland in 1986. I travelled alone. As I journeyed I recorded the history and fate of my family and the Jewish communities they had lived in for many generations. I also depicted my encounters with the last remaining Jews in Bialystok and its surrounding towns and villages.

  Two of my grandparents came from the shtetl of Orla and several chapters are dedicated to my travels there. I depict the people I met, the streets I walked, and the tales I heard from my parents about this border shtetl. I walked the roads that my great grandfather Shmuel Dovid Zabludowski regularly walked a century ago as the postman, delivering mail to remote hamlets at a time when Jewish life was at its zenith. Back in 1986, the beautiful synagogue was in ruins, but the restoration work had begun. The building, both inside and out, was covered in scaffolding, and the cavernous main hall was covered in pigeon feathers and droppings.

   I returned to Orla twenty years later, in 2006, this time with my son, Alexander, who was about to turn thirteen.  The synagogue is now fully restored. It was haunting to be walking those streets yet again. Orla was a beautiful shtetl, and it is great to have it remembered in this website, which is dedicated to its past and its present.  If you wish to know more about the book and my other works, you can access my website: arnoldzable.com


From the publishers, about Jewels and Ashes

Do you ever think about those you left behind? I ask father.

"Not often," he says. "Such memories are a luxury I can't afford."

First his parents made a journey to the New World. It was the 1930s, and Europe was seething. As he grew up, Arnold Zable heard tales, songs, fragments of the world they had left behind. He had inherited a fractured, vibrant past which both fascinated and disturbed him. Finally, he had to confront the mystery: he had to travel back to the Old World, to his parents' home, to his grandparents' birthplace, and to a land pervaded by ancestral ghosts.

Jewels and Ashes is the result of that journey of discovery. Moving effortlessly between centuries and continents, and across inner and outer landscapes, it is an astonishing achievement. In one stroke, the Jewish historical experience has become a gift to the world.

  The book won five literary rewards and has become a classic. In 2011, the original publishers, Scribe, celebrated the book’s twenty years in print.

Marek Chmielewski

Wojciech Konończuk

Eli Rabinowitz

with Eli’s copy of Jewels & Ashes in the Orla Synagogue, May 2011

Darius Horodecki, centre, director of the Orla elementary school

Orla councillor

grandfather was born in Orla

researcher, writing a book on Jewish Orla