A Yiddish World Remembered (film discussion)

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from The Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and co-sponsored by Temple Sinai of Saratoga Springs, is pleased to present a Zoom panel discussion of A Yiddish World Remembered on April 11, 2021 at 7 P.M.

Long before the Holocaust, anti-Semitism threatened Eastern European Jews. Many Jews immigrated to this region after having been expelled from Western Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, and their communities only became more concentrated when the Russian government confined them to the area, specifically the days of modern-day Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, and parts of northern Hungary. Once they were settled, the Jews still were not safe.

Pogroms, violent riots aimed at the massacre or expulsion of an ethnic or religious group, particularly Jews, regularly occurred where Cossacks tore through Jewish neighborhoods, raping, maiming, killing, and looting. However, terror and hostility unified the Jewish community by forcing them to rely on one another. A Yiddish World Remembered, a 2002 Emmy-award winning documentary by Andrew Goldberg, was originally aired on Connecticut PBS. It interviews elderly survivors who remember the shtetls from their childhood and includes vintage photos and archival films from various sources.

The vibrant cultural life of the time and place may be familiar, as are the political and religious rivalries among Chasidim, Bundists, and Zionists. Still, it gives one pause to learn that there were no less than 24 competing Yiddish dailies in Poland at the turn of the century.

This documentary takes a realistic and enlightening look at this unique and all-but-vanished way of life, both the wistful memories and the abject poverty and peril. For those in rural communities, there was often no running water or electricity. For many, anti-Semitism was a part of daily life. But for everyone, crowded conditions and poverty seemed to prevail. Despite these trials, through the eyes of individuals interviewed, we learn that Jewish communities were close-knit and often even joyous places to live.

As the world was changing during a rapid period of modernization and industrialization in the late 19th century, says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Jewish Community Arts, “the political and economic climate became gravely impactful and their shtetl world began to break apart. Close to two million Jews left Eastern Europe and went to the U.S. and other places in search of opportunity. However, for many others, who could not or would not abandon the old country, the fragile shtetl life continued, finally disintegrating in the throes of the Holocaust.”

The Zoom discussion of A Yiddish World Remembered will be on April 11, at 7 P.M. and can be seen on YouTube or other platforms. Registration required for Zoom discussion at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com.

Please look for us at saratogajewishculturalfestival.org, and Facebook.

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