Jewish Life before the Holocaust

  • Through an analysis of images, film, and readings, students will reflect on the struggle between modernity and tradition in pre-war Europe after the Haskala (Enlightenment) movement.
  • Students will reflect on the issues of assimilation and modernity versus tradition in today’s Jewish life.

After learning about the effect of World War I on Germany and how its aftermath created conditions that helped give rise to the Nazis in the years that followed, students will turn their attention to Jewish life in Europe before World War II. In this lesson, they will compare and contrast Jewish life in today’s diaspora with pre-war Jewish life to reflect on the many ways in which modernity can impact tradition. On the first day of the lesson, students learn about shtetl, or rural, life, as well as urban life in Europe between the wars. The second day focuses on the challenge of preserving tradition in the face of modernity. This lesson also invites students to make connections to the complexities of diaspora Jewish life before the war and Jewish life in the diaspora today. Through readings and videos from the point of view of Jews at the time, students will consider the ways in which Jews were interwoven into the societies they lived in and the ways in which they lived apart, whether by force or by choice.



  • After School and Beyond
  • Congregational Learning
  • Day Schools and Yeshivas
  • Teen Engagement
  • Camp