Books: Songs in Exile

For nearly 500 years, the persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe led a narrow, closed-in existence. The only escape lay inward—in wild frenzies of Hasidic worship or in equally wild flights of the imagination. In this kind of life, the storytellers became the soul's best physicians; drawing on their tradition, later writers such as Russia's Sholom Aleichem created a whole literature in which pain and happiness, the worldly and the supernatural come together under a canopy of wry humor. Two books, written by exiles from Eastern Europe, have much of Aleichem's rewarding piety and...

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