Life Is with People: The Jewish Little-Town of Eastern Europe

Life Is with People: The Jewish Little-Town of Eastern Europe

Life Is with People: The Jewish Little-Town of Eastern Europe

Life Is with People: The Jewish Little-Town of Eastern Europe

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to present a study of a culture: the culture of the shtetl, the small-town Jewish community of Eastern Europe. It is an attempt to show the special ways in which these people have met the problems common to all mankind.

It is a culture that is not remote. On the contrary, it is one with which many have had direct or indirect contact, through its representatives or their descendants. Therefore the bringing together and interrelating of its features and details--those that are familiar, those that have been dimly sensed, those that were unknown--may have a special significance for many people. Brought together so that main culture themes and patterns can be perceived, these heretofore scattered items permit an understanding that for many feels fresh and new. This has been so for the authors themselves and for those who have read or heard about the material presented here.

"Now I understand--" is a very frequent response to this material. It may be an understanding of one's own parents, of one's friends and neighbors. Or it may be an understanding of the ways of a people known only through literary or historical appreciation, through casual or second-hand contacts, or through stereotypes. The aim has not been an understanding of individuals, but since the individual is the carrier of the culture an integrated portrayal of the culture may also illuminate the individuals who, directly or indirectly, have been affected by it.

For its inhabitants, the shtetl is less the physical town than the people who live in it. "My shtetl" means my community, and community means the Jewish community. Traditionally, the human rather than the physical environment has always been given primary importance. Emphasis on the Jewish portion of the community was inevitable, for historical developments had . . .

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