Lesson Plans Fiddler on the Roof

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Understanding the Life of Shtetl Jews

StageAgent for Schools New. Are you a drama teacher, librarian or administrator looking to provide students with the best theatre research tools? Go to StageAgent for Schools. Popular Cities. London, UK. Los Angeles. New York. What does this indicate about the age of the overcoat?

Remove the dust jacket and look at the picture on the front cover of the book. Joseph has a pair of scissors and a piece of fabric in his hands. Discuss what is different about the overcoat now. Where have the holes gone? Where have the patches come from? Look at both pictures of Joseph and ask the children where they think he lives. Have they ever seen anyone dressed like him? What do the animals in the picture suggest about where Joseph lives, city or country? Look at the back cover.


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Ask the students to identify what is pictured there. Discuss why an assortment of buttons may be important in the story. Why would Joseph need buttons? How could anyone get such an assortment of buttons of different sizes and shapes? Explain to the students that you are going to read the story and that they should pay close attention to the pages as you turn them because there will be clues to what is going to happen next as the pages are turned. Read the story to the class. Have them guess what Joseph will be making next as they look at each cutout that appears on the pages.

Discuss what Joseph has done. He has recycled his overcoat. Ask the students if they have ever made a smaller item of clothing from a larger one such as a pair of shorts from a pair of jeans. Talk about recycling. Have the students discuss what are the benefits of this practice.

Let them share information about things that they can recycle to make other objects. Discuss how each clue relates to some aspect of Jewish culture. Encourage the students to share information about other cultures with which they are familiar. When parts of Poland came under Russian rule, Catherine II of the Russian Empire established the Pale of Settlement, which largely prevented Jews from living anywhere but the former Polish countryside. Under Russian rule, shtetls continued to thrive as bustling market towns, connected to other shtetls and larger cities through commerce but still deriving much of their vitality from their close-knit nature in response to the restrictions of the world beyond them.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were more than five million Jews in the Russian Empire. Over 90 percent of them lived in the Pale of Settlement. But with changing economic conditions, the emancipation of Jews in western European countries, and the fear of pogroms in the east, many chose to leave the shtetl. Drawn to cosmopolitan cities in Europe and to the United States, where cultural and economic opportunities allowed for greater degrees of freedom, Jews formed large urban communities that quickly surpassed the shtetl in primacy and economic relevance.

The Pale of Settlement, ca. For political, economic, and religious reasons, very few Jews were allowed to live elsewhere. At the end of the nineteenth century, close to 95 percent of the 5. In early , the Pale of Settlement was abolished, permitting Jews to live where they wished in the former Russian Empire. A Jewish street with a church in the background, Lutsk, Ukraine, ca.

During the time that Aleichem was writing his stories, the shtetl was in economic, cultural, and demographic decline, so a nostalgic view resonated with many people. His work also speaks to many important aspects of both the physical and spiritual life of Jews before the end of the nineteenth century, and one can find in his body of work not only an emotional range, from suffering to humor, but also illuminating portrayals of emerging tensions between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

This lesson gives students an opportunity to study the nuances of shtetl life while also thinking about the ways in which communities are often shaped and defined by pressures from the surrounding world, as much as they are defined by the commonalities that brought a given group of people together. Industrialization drew millions, including Jews, to European cities, bringing diversity on an unprecedented scale and accelerating the pace of Jewish integration.

The resources listed above can be used to explore different elements of the shtetl. When used together, they can help paint a complex and nuanced portrait of life in the shtetl. If you choose to do use the Gallery Walk strategy, hang images from this lesson the photographs and the painting by Marc Chagall around the room before the start of class.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Questions to promote discussion are provided with these images later in the lesson. You may wish to introduce the lesson by showing the film clip. As students watch the clip, have them write down all of the adjectives or imagery that they hear or see describing the shtetl or life in the shtetl i.