Posts tagged shtetl.

Within another generation this culture of Eastern European Jews, who lived in the small towns and enclaves within the area stretching from the eastern borders of Germany to the western regions of Tzarist Russia (embracing Poland, Galicia, Lithuania, White Russia, the Ukraine, Bessarabia, Slovakia, and the northeastern regions of Hungary) will no longer be represented perfectly in any single human being. There will be rich historical records, stories and plays and folklore, learned commentaries and exhaustive compilations of data, but the people will be gone, their children will be making their lives of new stuff. With the traditional capacity of the Jews to preserve the past, while transmutating it into a breathing relationship with the present, much of the faith and hope which lived in the shtetl will inform the lives of the descendants of the shtetl in other lands. But the laughter will change, has already changed in Iowa or Israel or Queensland. Perhaps not soon again will there be Jewish communities of which a personal God is so much a living reality that people can say, with the smile one has for the very cherished, ‘If God lived in the shtetl, He’d have His windows broken.’

Margaret Mead in her introduction to Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl, 1951. (via broletariat)

In [Seth] Wolitz's opinion, Chagall’s standout piece of graphic art appears in “Troyer” (“Grief,” or “Mourning”), an art book published in Kiev in 1922. A collaboration between Chagall and Yiddish poet Dovid Hofshteyn, “Troyer” is a cry of outrage against the ruthless destruction of Jewish shtetls in Ukraine during the Civil War pogroms of 1919 and 1920. Proceeds from sales benefited Jewish children orphaned in the pogroms.

The Chagall of “Troyer” is decidedly not the Chagall of floating lovers and errant violins. He depicts the murderous violence bitterly decried in Hofshteyn’s narrative poems, in images of swords, axes, mutilations and blood, done in spare graphics and representational Yiddish lettering. Most notable, according to Wolitz, is Chagall’s use of diagonal lines, characteristic of the suprematist school of art founded by his Russian rival, Kazimir Malevich. Suprematism represented the best of new Russian culture, but in “Troyer,” Chagall co-opted it to mock that culture and display its brutality. “This is protest in the highest style,” Wolitz said. He notes that Chagall never again used his art for polemic purposes. (via The Jewish Daily Forward)

  August 12, 2012 at 01:13pm

Di Kupe. Poema (The Pile: A Poem) by Peretz Markish
Kiev: Kultur Lige, 1922.
Design: Chaikov, Iosef

(via isotype75)

"Markish’s most important poetic achievement at that point was his long poem Di kupe (The Heap; 1921 [Warsaw], 1922 [Kiev]). Its horrifying opening image is a pile of corpses laid out in the middle of the marketplace of a shtetl in Ukraine after a pogrom. The poet gives voice both to the unburied and to himself in a series of poetic monologues whose intent is to shock with their blasphemy while expressing the desire to freeze time in an apocalyptic desecration of God and death. The sharply expressionistic language and extensive use of Slavicisms create an ostensibly low stylistic register. At the same time, the poem features such classic stanza forms as the sonnet, a form well represented in Markish’s work in his later years. The assonant rhymes, which Markish introduced in Di kupe and in his other works from that period, became one of the hallmarks of his poetics.” (via YIVO)

  August 11, 2012 at 08:59pm
Title: A Gutn Ovnt Brayne = Good Evening, Brayne Artist: Mikveh 20 plays

“A Gutn Ovnt, Brayne / Good Night, Brayne” by Mikveh

The images in the song are stark, vivid, and we can’t turn away. We, like the neighbor, are called to witness the loneliness and to hear the desperate declarations. We see the shame, we witness the loss of control over the simple tasks of daily life, and we see a final image of descent — a battered body sinking to the street and lying still. How many women suffered behind the apartment doors of Warsaw and Krakow? How many women carried bruises in the shtetlekh, the towns of Poland and Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine?

via “He Beat Me Black and Blue: Yiddish Songs of Family Violence, Part One” By Adrienne Cooper and Sarah Mina Gordon (The Jewish Daily Forward’s Arty Semite Blog)

  May 28, 2012 at 03:16pm


Selections from Yingl tsingl khvat by Mani Leib, illustrated by El Lissitzky.
Yingl tsingl khvat images from YIVO microfilm printout 00004383.

From the Norton Jewish American Literature Anthology: “The most famous of [Mani Leib’s] ballads was Yingl tsingl khvat, a narrative about a boy who, stuck in the shtetl mud, persuades a nobleman to give him the magic ring and flying horse that allow him to escape and bring beauty—a snowstorm—to the world.”

Translation by Jeffrey Shandler (of the text in the images):

I have a story here to tell
To all my children – you as well.
Hush, dear friends, be very still –
Hear my story, if you will.


Jews are running everywhere,
Selling here and buying there,
Faces shining as they say,
“What a splendid market day!”

(Source number: AJHS PJ5129.B71513)


About Mani Leib:

From Encyclopedia Judaica: “Largely eschewing social concerns, he crafted formally unified poems that affirmed a belief in the ability of art to compensate for human suffering. His ‘sound poems’ drew renewed attention to the Yiddish language through their skillful use of alliteration and repetition.”

Submitted by David P. Rosenberg, Center for Jewish History.

  April 23, 2012 at 01:35am via 16thstreet

On today’s Ekh Lyuli Lyuli, I’ll be exploring Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated; contemporary shtetl-fantasy; the appropriation, romanticization, and fetishization of Russian-Jewish stories and experiences; and satirical responses from real Russian Jews (like author Anya Ulinich)! Tune in to CFRC 101.9fm (streaming live on the web!) at 6pm EST.

  February 08, 2012 at 01:00pm


Roman Vishniac (August 19, 1897 – January 22, 1990) was a Russian-American photographer, best known for capturing on film the culture of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Roman Vishniac did not just want to preserve the memories of the Jews; he actively fought to increase awareness in the West of the worsening situation in Eastern Europe. “Through his photographs, he sought to alert the rest of the world to the horrors [of the Nazi persecution].”

Vishniac is best known for his dramatic photographs of poor and pious Jews in cities and shtetlach of Eastern Europe. He was first commissioned to take these pictures by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee as part of a fundraising initiative, but Vishniac took a personal interest in this photography. He traveled back and forth from Berlin to the ghettos of Russia, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania for years after he worked for the Committee.


Vishniac captured thousands of impoverished Jews on film, “[…] to preserve — in pictures, at least — a world that might soon cease to exist”.

(via Wikipedia)

Oh, and the photo is The Old Ghetto, Wilno, Poland, ca. 1935-38.

(via ashleigh-jarvis-deactivated2013)

  December 10, 2011 at 10:44pm

The stereotypical shtetl, which the media have reproduced time and time again, is actually based on such non-shtetl works as Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman (turned into Fiddler on the Roof), set in a Ukrainian village, and Mark Chagall’s avant-gardist portrayals of his Belorussian hometown of Vitebsk. The imagery, generated by Isaac Bashevis Singer’s prose, also complements the canonized idyll of pious, poor but industrious wise men and eccentrics, humming a klezmer song; the idyll which was from time to time interrupted by pogroms, pushing out of Russia millions of shtetl-dwellers.

Of course, these stereotypes cannot satisfy serious academic dealing with various aspects of Jewish history and culture. For instance, without a clear understanding of the East European shtetl it is impossible to interpret the life of immigrant communities who reproduced many forms of the shtetl life. Significantly, for contemporary Jewish scholars, the shtetl is not their place of birth; moreover, it is often not the place of birth of their parents or, in general, their ancestors. In other words, the shtetl is a terra incognita not only for young students but often also for their lecturers. As a result, things which are obvious to any person with first-hand experience must become a subject of painstaking research.

Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, 2000. (via emilylam)
  August 18, 2011 at 10:42am via emilylam

Eastern Europe represents the romanticized birthplace of American Jewish folklore as imagined through Fiddler on the Roof, kitchen Yiddish, and tales of shtetl life while simultaneously evoking fears of persecution and the geographic center of genocidal anti-Semitism.

Caryn Aviv & David Shneer, New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora (2005)
  April 15, 2011 at 12:13am