Tracing Yiddish civilization from its roots in the Diaspora to the present, Paul Kriwaczek combines intimate family anecdote, travelogue, historical research, and interviews with scholars to give us a rich portrait of a nearly extinguished culture as it survived across the centuries. He begins his chronicle in Jerusalem, with the destruction of the Jewish temple at the hands of the Romans in the year 70. We see the burgeoning exile population disperse, moving outward and northward throughout the following centuries, making their mark in more far flung cities under Roman rule. As these communities settle and coalesce, a self-governing Yiddish world takes root, spreading from the Rhineland and Bavaria to Western Russia and the Ukraine. By its late-medieval heyday, this economically successful, intellectually adventurous, and largely self-ruling Yiddish society is a presence from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kriwaczek reflects upon the development of Yiddish language, occupations, social life, art, music, and literature, and introduces us to notable diplomats, artists, and thinkers. He chronicles the slow decline of Yiddish culture in Europe and Russia, beginning in the 17th century with the Chmielnicki Massacres in the Ukraine and culminating in the Holocaust, and looks further to fresh offshoots in the New World, ultimately celebrating what remains of Yiddish culture in our own time.
"Both highly readable and coherent." (
"Fascinating....Evocative and precise....An enjoyable narrative that captures the intricacies of a very complicated history." ( Publishers Weekly)
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