Overwhelmed and Awed at the Kennedy Center

  • Commentary

Jews of European origin tend to think of their roots in the “old country”—if they think of them at all—with nostalgia for a sweet bygone era of people speaking in cutesy Yiddish, wandering around a picturesquely poverty-stricken farming village the way the characters do in Fiddler in the Roof, eating various smoked meats. In fact, the world of 19thcentury and 20thcentury Jewry in Europe was an extraordinarily complicated, jangly, emotionally fraught, tragic, and soon-to-be-tragic-on-an-unimaginable-scale place and moment in time. This was a historical moment during which a beleaguered, tormented, bedraggled people with no social capital but their connection to an ancient peoplehood and faith made their mark on the world in an almost unimaginably bold cultural ferment.

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