These three lessons are centered on excerpts from the documentary film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness by Joseph Dorman. The film looks at Sholem Aleichem’s life and the culture of the shtetl through several of his short stories, among them "On Account of a Hat" and "The Town of Little People" – to help uncover some of the issues confronting eastern European Jews during the period of profound change at the end of the 19th century. In his inimitable voice, Sholem Aleichem used humor to appeal to his readers and shed light on the transformation of Jewish Identity.
Lesson One: Identity in a Modern World
This lesson will give students the opportunity to explore the ways in which their own communities and identities are influenced by other people and how identity can change over time. It is also an opportunity for students to think about the ways that eastern European Jews struggled with the notion of identity and to recognize how these experiences might echo some of the struggles students face in their own lives or might otherwise resonate with their own experiences.
Lesson Two: Life of Shtetl Jews
This lesson focuses on the lives of Jews who lived in the shtetls of eastern Europe. Students will explore characteristics of the shtetl and the advantages and disadvantages of living in these small, relatively homogenous communities. By studying the shtetl, we can appreciate its rich and vibrant culture, reflect more generally on the ways in which minority groups interact with the majority, and examine how stereotypes and prejudice often shape the way the public views such minority groups.
Lesson Three: A World in Transition
This lesson explores the social, political, and economic pressures that eastern European Jews experienced as they moved away from the shtetls to larger urban centers toward the end of the nineteenth century. Through an examination of the choices these people made, students will learn about the ways in which such choices affected Jewish identity.