Jews in Small Towns

(September 1935)


THE DOWNFALL OF THE COMMUNITIES – A TRIP THROUGH SMALL TOWNS

…Unfortunately, Jews living in the big cities hardly ever take interest in the small communities. It is especially in the small towns that one constantly feels the difficulties of being a Jew in our times. Here, where people have known each other for decades, where neighbors are no longer neighbors today, it becomes clear what it means to live as a Jew in a hostile world. This new epoch has dealt an especially hard blow to Jews in small places. Furthermore, emigration and the small number of children in the Jewish families have created a situation whereby there are hardly any youngsters left in the smaller communities…

Wherever we went to we found an oppressive atmosphere. There is no escape. People are too attached to the past, too rooted in the community, the landscape and everything connected with it. It becomes more and more evident that the Jews of the small towns find it extremely difficult to part with their old ideals, their life style and their habits. Though they all feel that there is no alternative, and send the majority of the young people abroad, especially to Palestine, many older people who have lost almost everything meaningful in their life and who still fail to find an equivalent, stay behind.

This mental tragedy of Jews in small towns is exacerbated by the economic downfall everywhere. Shopkeepers tend to sell their businesses and to the extent that they are still capable, they build a new existence in another country…

It is therefore understandable that in such a difficult situation Jews in the small communities can only lead a very modest Jewish life. It is actually amazing that there is any Jewish life at all…

Not only are questions of spiritual existence threatening small communities, but they are faced as well with growing pauperization. If one speaks to the principals, teachers and other community leaders, one gains insight into the pauperization of the Jews of small communities. Even though this process is also taking place in larger cities and unemployment there is higher, the trend is more blatant in the smaller communities. Misery does not fade as it does in the big cities and even if it is not highly visible it is always in evidence…

The unique psychological situation in the small towns compels the Jews to attempt to conceal themselves as much as possible. The form in which they try to hide their Jewishness is reminiscent of the days of assimilation, as one is primarily concerned with not being recognized as a Jew. However, everyone in the vicinity knows exactly who is Jewish, and no one these days would disapprove of someone openly declaring his being Jewish.

Self-awareness is so meager and the trust in the future so lacking. This may be related to the narrow viewpoint of people living in a small place. They tend to regard the future more in local terms and not enough in terms of what it means for the entire Jewish community. Today, however, the individual must understand that his own future is closely knit to the collective fate of Jewry, that one should be modest in ones expectations and not blame the period in which we are living. If the Jews of small towns, who experience more hardship than those in the big cities, reach such an understanding, life in their communities will become more fruitful and meaningful and they will become a part of the process of Jewish renewal.

Source: "Juedische Rundschau," 27 September 1935.


Source: Yad Vashem