Jewish History Themes 101

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Collective memory is transmitted and sustained through the conscious efforts and institutions of a group. For instance, “memories” of life in the shtetl (largely self-enclosed, village-like Jewish communities in eastern Europe) produce mental images that many North American Jews can conjure up despite never having lived there--a collective memory, an image, accurate or not, that has been passed down. We can learn a lot about a community and its members both by deciphering what did happen to them and how they choose to interpret and communicate what happened to them and to others.  An examination of American Holocaust memorials, for example, clues us into how the American Jewish community remembers the event.   For example, does a given memorial emphasize genocide? Survivors? Victims? Rescue? Non-Jews as well as Jews?

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