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Shtetl Stories

From the Iberian Peninsula to the shores of the Black Sea, Jewish communities have existed in Europe for centuries. These communities often established cultural, economic, and religious hubs for Jewish life in order to maintain their traditions while surrounded by non-Jewish neighbors. These Jewish hubs became known as shtetle or shtetls (from the Yiddish word for ‘town’ or ‘city’) with the word most commonly used to refer to the Jewish towns scattered across pre-World War II Eastern Europe.

From these shtetls emerged a number of influential Jewish figures including writers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and artists like Marc Chagall (whose 1964 painting titled Ceiling of the Paris Opera House is hanging in the lower level of GPL), and even served as a home for the birth of the Hasidic movement which was founded in the 18th century in present-day Poland. Whether or not you are familiar with the history of these shtetls or their fictional depictions such as Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, you can explore more stories, real and imagined, with these titles from GPL. You can also learn more about what life was like in these shtetls by visiting the Jewish Virtual Library or YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. and if you are working on your genealogy research for these shtetls, check out JewishGen under our genealogy databases to aid in your search.

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