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Of Lodz and Love

In these two volumes, Rosenfarb lovingly re-creates a forgotten world, the Polish shtetl, or village, of pre-World War II, with its Jewish and Gentile inhabitants, its poverty and longings, its travails and spirituality. In Bociany, which means “stork” in Polish (storks built their nests on the rooftops of the village), Hindele Polin, the scribe’s wife, is a larger-than-life good soul trying to keep her family on the side of the living. She cannot, however, conquer consumption, to which her husband and eldest son succumb. Surprisingly, the book is not a sad one, discussing God, suffering, and how to be a mentsh (an honorable person) with grace and charm. Hindele; her son, Yacov; the chalk vender Yossele Abedale; and his daughter, Binele, are all shown to have a place in the village. But even in this isolated agrarian and mercantile setting, Zionism, socialism, Polish nationalism, and secularism are being made known. In Of Lodz and Love, the shtetl mentality gives way to that of the big city. Yacov and Binele make their way separately to the industrial city of Lodz during the first years of Polish independence. There, the would-be lovers learn firsthand about the upheavals that would herald a new Jewish national and political awakening. rn-Molly Abramowitz

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