Journey to a Nineteenth-century Shtetl: The Memoirs of Yekhezkel Kotik

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Wayne State University Press, 2002 - Biography & Autobiography - 540 pages

Originally published in Warsaw in 1913, this beautifully written memoir offers a panoramic description of the author’s experiences growing up in Kamieniec Litewski, a Polish shtetl connected with many important events in the history of nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewry. Although the way of life portrayed in this memoir has disappeared, the historical, cultural, and folkoric material it contains will be of major interest to historians and general readers alike.

Kotik’s story is the saga of a wealthy and influential family through four generations. Masterfully interwoven in this tale are colorful vignettes featuring Kotik’s family and neighbors, including rabbis and zaddikim, merchants and the poor, hasidim and mitnaggedim, scholars and illiterates, believers and heretics, matchmakers and informers, and teachers and musicians. Stories of personal warmth and despair intermingle with descriptions of the rise and decline of Jewish communal institutions and descriptions or the relationships between Jews, Russian authorities, and Polish lords. Such events as the brutal decrees of Tsar Nicholas I, the abolishment of the Jewish communal board known as the Kahal, and the Polish revolts against Russia are reflected in the lives of these people.

The English edition includes a complete translation of the first volume of memoirs and contains notes elucidating terms, names, and customs, as well as bibliographical references to the research literature. The book not only acquaints new readers with the talent of a unique storyteller but also presents an important document of Jewish life during a fascinating era.

 

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Contents

Preface to the English Edition
7
Abbreviations
13
The Man and His Times
23
The Reception of the Memoirs
37
The Lost Volumes of the Memoirs
58
On This Edition
85
My Town
109
My Grandfather
159
The Izbica Hasid
325
Marriage Negotiations
331
Liberating the Serfs
340
The Jews after the Polish Rebellion
349
23
356
The Debate
360
Children Gather the Coins
367
The Impact of the Bible on Me
375

The Panic
177
My Father and His Attraction to Hasidism
184
Yisrael the Polish Patriot Hasid
201
The Handshake
211
The Scandal with the Assessor
218
My Melamdim
222
The Kidnappers
233
The Great Dispute
242
My Mothers Unhappiness
251
The Lords
259
13
274
How We Celebrated the Holidays
280
15
292
The Fate of a Prodigy
306
The Garments of Those Days
313
18
317
The Cholera Epidemic
383
Grandmothers Death
388
Hasidism and Mitnaggedism
398
Yekhezkel Kotik List of Publications
411
37
413
Yekhezkel Kotiks Genealogy
417
Notes
421
58
427
159
466
177
472
Works Cited
481
Glossary
513
Indexes of Names Places and Subjects
519
184
521
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

David Assaf is a professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University. His books include The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin (1997 [Hebrew], English edition forthcoming).

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