Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939, by Natan Meir, was published by Stanford University Press in July 2020.
Memoirs of Jewish life in the Eastern European shtetl often recall the hekdesh (town poorhouse) and its residents: beggars, madmen and madwomen, disabled people, and poor orphans. In this work, Meir recovers the lived experience of Jewish society’s outcasts and reveals the central role that they came to play in the drama of modernization. Jewish marginal folk were often made to bear the burden of the nation as a whole, whether as scapegoats in moments of crisis or as symbols of degeneration, ripe for transformation by reformers, philanthropists, and nationalists. Shining a light into the darkest corners of Jewish society in Eastern Europe Stepchildren of the Shtetl reconsiders the place of the lowliest members of an already stigmatized minority.