The shtetl has often been recreated in a way that challenges the facts by those who deny and reject it and those who view it through a nostalgic haze. Nostalgia and rejection reproduced a world with a limited horizon by those who left it when they were children and youths. Nostalgia is responsible for a simple and superficial picture of family activities and holiday observances; rejection is responsible for an untrue picture of a superstitious world whose members spoke about shallow concerns in a "bastard" tongue. Together nostalgia and rejection have been exploited by commercial interests to create a quaint and amusing world which never existed. Thus, even those who presumed to reproduce the world of the shtetl did so from the perspective of their own times and have presented a false picture that may unfortunately become the prevailing view of a most significant period in Jewish history.
The shtetl is gone, destroyed by Nazism. But its vitality lives on in a new generation of Jews. These Jews resist nostalgia and refuse to reject and disparage the shtetl. They recognize that the period of the shtetl was a time of major religious, philosophical, social, and political changes. The shtetl was a small, enclosed world of real people, doubly oppressed by class and nation. It was a traditional world coming in contact with new intellectual, scientific, cultural, and political ideas, and the turbulence of this contact caused many shock waves in the shtetl and made it exciting and dynamic. It rose above the limitations imposed upon it and produced giants in every aspect of science and culture.
Through the years there were those who knew the shtetl from having lived in it and loved it. In addition they studied it and portrayed it in art and literature. We have come to a period in Jewish history when those who were born in the shtetl are passing from the scene. With them are passing the scholars and artists who knew the shtetl and studied it and portrayed it. Thus there is a danger that the period of the shtetl will not be studied properly and known correctly by future generations of Jews and by the world at large.
It is therefore inspiring to see signs that such forgetting will not occur. All over the world young Jews who are generations removed from the shtetl are expressing a vigorous interest in its life and culture. Young American Jews are studying the shtetl, learning its language, its institutions, religious life, political movements, folklore, and other elements of its culture. They are trying to understand its historical development, its place in Jewish history, and its significance as the source of values which motivate many contemporary Jews in the modern world.
This portfolio of graphics depicts aspects of the life of Eastern European Jews in the shtetl. It simultaneously presents some of the creative activity of artists who arose from the shtetl and offers glimpses into its daily existence. Through the artists' interpretation of the life about them they enable us to appreciate the World that Vanished.
This portfolio is an expression of love for and identification with the people of the shtetl by a group of American Jewish youth. It is a project of Davka, a journal published with funds made available of the Jewish Federation-Council of Greater Los Angeles. It is a link between third generation American born Jews and their grandparents and great grandparents.
This portfolio is presented at this time to commemorate thirty years since the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. Its purpose is to make more people aware of the creative expression of the shtetl and to give them a picture of the way of life from which they have sprung. This portfolio is in itself a product of American Jewish youth who are developing a greater interest in their roots and is also an inspiration for deeper investigation and identification with these roots. May their labors be blessed
Nathan Hurvitz, Ph. D.