In the alter heim

shtetl talmudI didn’t grow up in one of those families that felt the constant need to remind me about how frum it was in the Alter Heim (the old country), but in yeshiva and thereafter, I was reminded constantly. Today, there is this indoctrination about how things were so much better in the shtetl than they are nowadays. They didn’t have the internet and everyone learned all day, was extremely pious, and always adhered to a strict code of tznius. I think the idea that the shtetl was this amazing place where everyone knew all of shas by the 6th grade and lived a pious life of poverty and Torah is somewhat mythological. Regardless of whether or not the shtetl paradise we frum folks imagine actually exists, the fantasy can be very funny.

In the Alter Heim….

We only ate leafy greens when absolutely necessary, like on Pesach.

We wore our tefillin when fixing our wagons.

Everyone knew all of shas by age 8 and the commentaries by age 11.

If one didn’t write down their novel chiddushim as an early teenager, their chances of joining the haskallah were high.

The town fool had ruach hakodesh.

We did BaHaB every week.

We actually knew the chofetz chaim in person

There was only one esrog for the entire town

Our first nights chanukah candles lasted all 8 days.

We didn’t have a choice when it came to our shidduch and the system worked.

The cat was always jumping into the cholent.

When someone went off the derech, they always died a horrible death in a pogrom.

The golem slept in the cemetery, ready to rise up against the goyim.

We ate potato skins all week long and on shabbos our father ate meat and had us in mind.

Those who didn’t have gemara’s learned to read upside down.

Find out more about shtetl mythology on