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The Golden Age Shtetl

The Golden Age Shtetl

A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe

Sunday, February 22, 2015 - 2:00 pm

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The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe's Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries, yet today it is vastly misunderstood.

In his new book, The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe, scholar and author Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern uses untapped archival sources to challenge our popular and romantic notions of the shtetl as a backward village of Jewish poverty. Instead, he unearths why the shtetl was a place where Jews proudly enjoyed prosperity and stability.

“a moving feat of cultural reclamation and even, in its way, an act of quiet heroism”
— The New York Times

“tells a history that has rarely been transmitted in scholarly books, around the dinner table, or even in Yiddish literature"
— Moment Magazine

Dr. Yohanan Petrovsky-ShternDr. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies at Northwestern University and a member of the Spertus Institute faculty. Dr. Petrovsky-Shtern has served as a Fulbright Specialist on Eastern Europe, a Fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, and a Visiting Professor at the Free Ukrainian University in Munich and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The Golden-Age Shtetl was awarded the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in the History category and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the general non-fiction category.


World of Our Great-Grandfathers
By Jonathan Rosen for the New York Times Sunday Book Review

Back in the days when Jews could travel without having to go anywhere — one minute a house was in Poland, the next in Russia — they lived in places called shtetls, defined neither by physical size nor population, possessing mysterious features both urban and rural. Though Christians lived there too, the shtetl tilted spiritually toward Jerusalem, while performing economic services for the Slavic society to which it also belonged, giving it an Eastern European character all its own. Its amorphous nature has made it the subject of easy mythologizing, so that it often pops up in the American imagination as a kind of Jewish Brigadoon where all the villagers are singing, unless they are running from a pogrom. MORE>


This program is the 2014 Norman Asher Memorial Lecture.