The New Hebrew Culture in Warsaw


middle of the nineteenth century , it was not a large or important Jewish community , and it did not play a leading role in advancing Jewish culture in its various manifestations . The community numbered not much more than 10 , 000 Jews , who earned their livelihood from commerce and peddling . Nonetheless , the foundations had already been laid for the large Warsaw Jewish bourgeoisie that had its origins in immigrants from western Germany , and was engaged mainly in banking and financial trading . During the second half of the nineteenth century , the number of Jews in the city rose to more than 100 , 000 , and in the early twentieth century , the Jewish population came to exceed 300 , 000 . At that time , only the Jewish community of New York was larger . Most of the community’s members were not native to the city , but had migrated to it from throughout the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire , and the community was deeply divided in terms of origin and cultural attachment . The wealthy bourgeoisie was initially connected to Maskilic-Reformed German Jewry and German culture , but later transferred its loyalty to Poland and Polish . Cultural assimilation ( and even conversion ) weakened its Jewish cultural character . This community would later make valuable contributions to Polish culture in many fields . The Jewish petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat ( in the broad sense of the term : craftsmen , wagon drivers , porters , factory workers ) were a traditional population , who spoke “ Warsaw ” Yiddish , sent their children to hederim ( singular : heder [ Yiddish : kheyder ] , lit . “ room” ; traditional Jewish elementary school ) of the old , traditional type , and were generally divided between Hasidic groups ( which mainly had their beginnings among the immigrants from the Polish districts ) and mitnagdim ( the “ opponents ” of Hasidism ; mainly from among the “ Litvaks , ” those who had come from Belorussia and Lithuania ) . The size of this populace imparted a distinctly Jewish character to parts of the city . In the early twentieth century , Warsaw was the main location ( along with New York’s Lower East Side ) where the existence of a large Jewish population was tangible : busy streets ; thousands of small businesses that were open until late into the night ; Jewish markets for new and used items ; thousands of small factories and workshops , in which clothing , household items , and iron and wooden items were produced ; large square courtyards , with the surrounding buildings inhabited entirely by Jews and from whose dark cellars could be heard the sounds of crafts and trades : the noise of sewing machines , the pounding of hammers , the buzz of cutting and engraving machinery ; a Jewish underworld with a character and language of its own ; and a well-developed trade in prostitution . The new Hebrew culture found a rather narrow base within this large Jewish populace . Historically , this culture had its roots in the soil of the Jewish middle and petty bourgeoisie , to the extent that these began to go outside the traditional world and seek modern culture , but without crossing the line to assimilation . This circle was not particularly broad within the Warsaw community . It found itself pressed between the large , traditional populace and the assimilated “ aristocracy . ” It is no coincidence that , of all those active in Hebrew culture in Warsaw , only one ( Yitzhak Gruenbaum ) was born in the city . All the others migrated to Warsaw , and in most instances did not spend their entire lives there . The weakness of Hebrew culture in the city is striking , when compared with the strength and deep roots of traditional , especially Hasidic , culture on the one hand , and of modern Yiddish culture on the other . The latter also grew , thanks to the immigrants who came to Warsaw from the rest of Poland , Lithuania , and the Ukraine , but it could find an audience both among Hasidic Jews who were drifting away from ritual observance and among the proletariat , with Jewish national movements such as the anti-Zionist Bund recruiting loyal followers of modern , socialist , Yiddish culture from among their thousands of members . Zionism and Hebrew culture had a very narrow base among the populace , one that further weakened as time

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