Before #Ghetto, there was #Shtetl: #Jewish Terms for Gentiles | #BlackLivesMatter on Blog#42

What should have been a non-controversy is being used by some people as a new way to slam Senator Bernie Sanders and slap a racist sticker on him. Why? Because he uttered the word ghetto and some are now offended by their own self-created and self-serving interpretation that Sanders applied the term to all African Americans, including those who are in the middle class. He didn’t. I previously posted both of the clips that are relevant to that portion of Sunday’s debate here.

What does the word Ghetto mean? Here is what Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

Definition of ghetto in English:

noun (plural ghettos or ghettoes)

A part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups.

1.1historical The Jewish quarter in a city: the Warsaw Ghetto

1.2 An isolated or segregated group or area:the relative security of the gay ghetto

Yes, Jews were very poor for centuries. Poor Jews still exist, contrary to the popular belief they do not.

Who used the term first? Jews.

Does the term have a Yiddish name? Yes. It’s Shtetl (pronounced Shtaytel) Oxford Dictionary definition:

noun (plural shtetlachˈSHtetläKHˈSHtātläKH or shtetls)


 A small Jewish town or village in eastern Europe.

** Note: Jews were segregated from their host countries’ populations.

Are there concepts associated with Shtetl? Yes, as with the word ghetto, both words are followed by ‘mentality’ to describe an intra-tribal class struggle. Some history:

“For an American Jewry just beginning to come to terms with the Holocaust, the shtetl—reviled and forgotten before the war—came to represent a lost world that was brutally destroyed. It became a symbol of the integral Jewishness and the supportive community that many American Jews, economically secure in their new suburban homes, now began to miss. In 1952, the publication of Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog’s Life Is with People presented American readers with a composite portrait of a Jewish shtetl that was the quintessential “home”: culturally self-sufficient, isolated from gentiles, and timeless. The 1963 Broadway production ofFiddler on the Roof transformed Sholem Aleichem’s village Jew, Tevye, into a shtetl dweller. Tevye’s genuine conflicts with his wife and daughters—expressions of the growing religious, class, and interethnic tensions of Jewish society—found a resolution on the Broadway stage that harmonized Jewish and American values. The shtetl had become a way station to America.

Vulnerable as it was, the shtetl for many Jews continued to symbolize the distinct Jewish peoplehood in Eastern Europe that had evolved over the course of centuries. It long influenced the contours of Jewish collective memory, and its spaces, streets, and wooden buildings remained etched in the collective imagination. Both the “real shtetl” and the “imagined shtetl” are an integral part of East European Jewish history.”

Sound familiar? It should! And you don’t have to be Jewish to identify with the history behind the names.

Bernie Sanders is the product of two Jews of Eastern-European descent. His father was a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was lost to German genocide. Sanders grew up poor in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. The Shtetl is a part of Sanders’ culture.

There is absolutely nothing to see here. Insisting there is a there, there, for those who don’t know the history of ghetto or shtetl is cynical, and the lack of interest in doing a bit of research irresponsible. For those who do know, engaging in these attacks is just vile.

Bernie Sanders’ ancestral home in Poland grapples with painful history

Słopnice is like much of Poland, once home to the biggest Jewish community in the world. It does not obfuscate its Jewish heritage; nothing remains of it to hide

 in Słopnice, Poland

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Bernie Sanders and his elder brother Larry wanted to visit their grandmother’s village – the one their father, Eli, emigrated from aged 17. But for Sołtys, the visit was a daunting prospect requiring much diplomacy. He feared Poland’s painful history of occupation, mass emigration and the Holocaust might feed suspicions among the 6,500 villagers that the Americans were coming to claim property in the Beskid valley.

Read the rest of this article on


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