This course offers a view of Jewish history in Eastern Europe that takes us beyond the (legendary) shtetl and into a complex, more textured world of Jews living among Christians from the beginnings of Jewish settlement in the thirteenth century to the contemporary period and Poland’s small Jewish community, trying to reinvent Jewish life in Poland in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the 1968 forced migrations.
Descendants of East European Jews are now the largest demographic group among Jews in the United States. Until the Second World War, Jews in Eastern Europe were the largest Jewish community in the world. From the 16th century, their impact on Jewish culture and society has been tremendous, from shaping one of the most important codes of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, in the 16th/17th centuries, to shaping the ideology of the Zionist movement at the turn of the 20th century. Yet, the history of this important Jewish community has been vastly misunderstood, largely due to the devastating legacy of the Holocaust and the persistence of imagery of “the shtetl” created by 19th-century writers of Yiddish fiction, later popularized through Broadway plays and films such as “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Films and additional lectures will be part of the class.
This is a “service-learning” course. One of the assignments will be related to the collection of Judaica from eastern Europe at the Adath Israel Congregation in Middletown. Students will be part of a workshop on Jewish art and material culture and will investigate the material aspects of Jewish culture.
See this website for some of the work accomplished by students in past years.