11.09.2022 - online

POLIN Book Talks: The Dark Side of the Shtetl

Natan Meir will discuss his new book, "Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939", in conversation with Eva Hoffman and Glenn Dynner.

Natan Meir’s "Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939" explores the margins of small town Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Drawing on folklore, memoirs, newspaper articles, and the works of Mendele, Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, An-sky and I. B. Singer, he analyzes how the Jewish elite dealt with the destitute, mentally disturbed, and physically disadvantaged, including the hekdesh, the Jewish almshouse and hospice, charity, and such traditions as the "cholera wedding" to avert the plague by marrying two indigent or disabled individuals as a way of atoning for the sins of the community thought to be responsible for the plague. Join the discussion of this striking and controversial account of the underside of Jewish life.


Natan Meir is the Lorry I. Lokey Chair in Judaic Studies at Portland State University. He is the author of "Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914", which was translated into Ukrainian in 2016, and co-author with Jonathan Dekel-Chen and David Gaunt of "Anti-Jewish Violence: Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History." He has also served as a consultant to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow. 

Eva Hoffman grew up in Kraków before emigrating in her teens to Canada and then the United States. After receiving her Ph.D. in literature from Harvard University, she worked as senior editor and literary critic at "The New York Times", and has taught at various British and American universities. Her books, which have been translated widely, include "Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language"; "Exit into History: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe"; "The Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews"; "After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust"; "Time: Big Ideas, Small Books", and two novels. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, holds an honorary doctorate from Warwick University, and teaches at University College, London, where she lives today. 

Glenn Dynner is Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Sarah Lawrence College. He is author of "‘Men of Silk’: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society", winner of the Koret Publication Prize; and "Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor and Life in the Kingdom of Poland". He is a Fulbright scholar, member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, and co-editor of the journal "Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies". He is on the editorial board of East European Jewish Affairs. His new book project, "Exile of the Spirit: Hasidism in Interwar and Nazi-occupied Poland" (working title) will chart hasidism’s emergence in early 20th-century Poland as both a political force and a culture of resistance in a context of acculturation, antisemitism, and, ultimately, Nazi-sponsored genocide.


Antony Polonsky is Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University. Expertise: East European Jewish history and Holocaust studies. A founder and vice-president of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford and of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies, Cambridge, MA. Graduate and doctor of the University of Oxford, member of the British Royal Historical Society, honorary doctorate of the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University.


POLIN Book Talks are organized within the Global Education Outreach Program.

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This program was made possible thanks to Taube Philanthropies, the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.

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