Preface / Ruth R. Wisse
Introduction / Goldie Sigal
The Collection
Historical Background
Joe Fishtein and his Milieu
The Yiddish Language
Soviet Orthography
The Flowering of Yiddish Literature
The Catalogue
The Indices
Archival Items in the Collection
Technical Aspects
Table of Name Equivalents

The Catalogue Entries
Search the Catalogue
Browse by Topic
Browse by Index
(Author, Title, Illustrator, Periodical, Series)


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Historical Background

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a time of intellectual ferment, flux and physical upheaval for Jews in Eastern Europe. Religious orthodoxy was still strong, but not monolithic. In addition to the rationalist Misnagdik stream, stressing erudition and study, there was popular mystical Hasidism, which spoke joyfully - in Yiddish - to the heart of the common man. The ethical Mussar movement of Israel Salanter had also won adherents. Moreover, cross currents of new secular ideas and ideals were challenging the young: Haskalah (Enlightenment), with its beckoning windows to the knowledge and culture of the Western world, the Bund and other forms of socialism, Zionism, and various combinations of these ideologies.

All this intellectual ferment was taking place against a background of shtetl (townlet) poverty, economic persecution, dislocation, and recurrent pogroms under the czarist regime. In the New World, wave upon wave of immigrants poured onto American shores, where new traumas of exploitation and grinding urban poverty frequently awaited.

Such was the turbulent but fertile soil out of which new shoots in Jewish creativity were to sprout in the arts and in literature, including Yiddish poetry. It was as if these currents and upheavals aerated and nurtured the roots of creative expression in the Yiddish speaking world.

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Goldie Sigal
Jewish Studies Librarian
McGill University Libraries