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Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl Paperback – October 3, 1995

12 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken Books; 5th Revised edition edition (October 3, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805210547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805210545
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,730,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By John E. Flynt on May 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have read this book several times--as well as parts of it at least a half dozen times--and have never failed to glean an enormous amount of information about the incredible lives of Eastern European Jews before World War II. The authors (all of whom are highly trained in their respective fields) have opened up to their readers a beautiful and yet painful world which those of us who live in freedom and prosperity probably never knew existed before.
The writing is clear and precise and the reader is offered many direct quotes as well as regional aphorisms and Yiddish terms used by the Eastern European Jews to describe their friends, family and surroundings. At times I was filled with laughter, other times brought to tears by the words of those who lived in the shtetleh of Poland and Russia.
The Jews of Eastern Europe were a simple people of faith---in their God, in their little run-down communities, in their family and friends---but they also lived in a world which evoked a constant sense of fear knowing that anytime day or night they were subject to the violent whims of their Gentile neighbors. During the worst pogroms, Jews were attacked and sometimes murdered in front of family members and friends. And yet, because of the social conditions in Eastern Europe, those who witnessed the horrors of a pogrom might actually come face to face the very next day with those same Gentile attackers in the marketplace, and they were expected to act as if nothing at all had happened. We of democratic laws and justice would not fair so well in such a society; they had no such choice, for to complain was to risk one's life and bring down further destruction on their shtetl.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 13, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me as something every Jewish person from Eastern Europe who is at all interested about their past should read. Since I fit the description, I decided to give it a try. It was not disappointing. This book is written as a work of anthropology, where the authors make an attempt to describe the worldview of the shtetl as fully as possible, and to describe what it was like to live in the shtetl. Some parts of the book read like a primer on Judaism, which is necessary to understand the context behind the shtetl life. But, it is by no means a primer on Judaism. It is a description of the main aspects of shtetl life, such as religious celebrations, marriage, education, men's and women's roles, etc. The book is written in a lively voice that shows the enthusiasm and interest of the authors. The best part of reading this book for me was recognizing the "voices" of my grandparents in quotes from interviews with former shtetl residents, which were a main source for this book. Apparently, classic gems such as "Woe is me, you're out without a hat again! You'll put me into an early grave!" and "No evil eye!" have a long shtetl pedigree. I also think that it let me better understand certain parts of the American Jewish culture, particularly Jewish political preferences and attitudes towards charity and education. One thing that I think the authors could've done better is to differentiate between uniquely Jewish aspects of the culture and the non-Jewish culture of Eastern Europe. Some cultural aspects described as Jewish actually belonged just as easily to the Ukrainians or the Poles, or so I understand from living in that part of the world.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lucky1 on August 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
If you are Jewish this book is one of top 5 books you should read in your lifetime. Non-Jews can place this book
on the Top 10 to read in their lifetime. How to live a life of purpose, value and gratification especially under
the most cruel circumstances is explained with with clarity and good writing. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on September 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is a remarkable idealized portrait of Jewish collective life in the Pale of Settlement. It does not name names and focus on individuals. But rather gives a generalized picture of areas of life , of attitudes and perceptions. The central idea is that the Jews of the Shtetl lived in intimate connection with each other, and shared a system of values and a way of life which had despite the background in poverty a special sanctity and beauty. The authors claim that the people of the Shtetl had a shared ethos and were at home living traditional Jewish lives.

This masterwork describes Jewish communal life in the small villages of 'The Pale of Settlement' those areas in which Jews were confined to live in in Tsarist Russia. It presents an idealized portrait of a society in which there was a special closeness and intimacy between people, and too a special sanctity. It depicts a traditional Jewish world in which values were shared. There is an innocence about such a world and a special beauty. The authors do not focus on individual cases but draw their portrait as a generalized picture of the ideas, attitudes, customs , patterns of behavior of this society.
They too make it clear that this is the world destroyed by the Shoah, the Holocaust. It is a world for which many Jews might still be nostalgic about.
As a young man this book had a great positive influence on me. It was the basis of a Ph.D. thesis in which I tried to understand just how 'Jewish' the emerging American- Jewish Literature of the fifties truly was. Measured against the standard of 'Life is with People' Bellow , Malamud and Philip Roth did not seem tremendously Jewish.
Only one writer in America seemed to me to be truly understanding of the kind of Shtetl world presented in this book i.e. Isaac Singer himself.
In any case this is a most highly recommended look at the world 'of our mothers and our fathers' and is certainly worth knowing about it.
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