Religion & Beliefs

Nostalgic for Shtetl Life?

I don’t really get those people who are always waxing nostalgic about life in small Jewish towns in Russia and Poland before World War II. I’m sure it was very nice and simple, but I, for one, am not jealous … Read More

By / April 26, 2007

I don’t really get those people who are always waxing nostalgic about life in small Jewish towns in Russia and Poland before World War II. I’m sure it was very nice and simple, but I, for one, am not jealous of the daughters in Fiddler on the Roof. Arranged marriages? No thank you. No internet? I’ll pass. But okay, I can see how people want to get in touch with their heritage and whatnot. I found the first fifty pages of Everything is Illuminated to be reasonably interesting. I’m with you. I am not, however, even remotely interested in touring Eastern Europe, mainly because there are so many other places I’d rather spend my money (Israel, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Uruguay, Panama, etc.). But if you’re all about the shtetl, check out this piece from Jpost about touring Eastern Europe:

Author lists Top 10 Jewish sites in Central and Eastern Europe By DINAH SPRITZER / JTA

"Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe" has comprehensive information about 14 countries in Central and Eastern Europe for those interested in synagogues, cemeteries, museums, and meeting Jews who still live in the region.

But with hundreds of sites to choose from, how does one know what are the must-see attractions? Ruth Ellen Gruber, the book's author, recently released in its third edition by National Geographic, shared her list of favorites.

As she puts it, "Most people visiting Jewish heritage in Central and Eastern Europe see what's in major cities such as Prague, Budapest and Krakow, or visit major Holocaust memorial sites such as Auschwitz in Poland, Terezin in the Czech Republic or Babi Yar in Kiev. But there are fascinating and important sites all over the region, in small towns and even remote villages."

Here are Gruber's choice of the Top 10 sites worth a detour:

  • The historic Jewish cemeteries and painted synagogues in northern Romania. The tombstones feature elaborate carving and the synagogue interiors boast beautiful decoration. The most impressive cemeteries are the three in Siret, on the border with Ukraine. Nearby towns with painted synagogues and cemeteries include Botosani, Suceava, Radauti and Piatra Neamt.
  • The Jewish cemeteries and ruins of fortress synagogues in Ukraine. In Sataniv, the synagogue hauntingly retains some of its interior decoration and the tombstones feature elaborate carving, including rare examples of a mystical motif showing three hares joined by the ears chasing each other in a circle. The village of Sharhorod has a fortress synagogue, fascinating cemeteries, extensive remains of shtetl architecture and a small Jewish community.
  • The baroque synagogue and Jewish cemetery in the village of Mad, in northeastern Hungary. The synagogue recently underwent a full restoration.
  • The synagogues in Lancut, in southeastern Poland, and in Tykocin, in northeastern Poland. Both have been restored and are used as Jewish museums.
  • The old Jewish quarters, synagogues and cemeteries in the towns of Boskovice, Trebic and Lomnice, near Brno in the Czech Republic.
  • Anything to do with the Hungarian architect Lipot Baumnhorn (1860-1932), modern Europe's most prolific designer of synagogues. Particularly recommended are the grand synagogue in Szeged, Hungary, and a ruined synagogue in Lucenec, Slovakia; Baumhorn's tomb in the Kozma utca Jewish cemetery in Budapest; and the monument to him outside the former synagogue he designed in Szolnok, Hungary.