The popular nostalgic picture of the idyllic shtetl of yesterday's Eastern Europe portrays a Jewish life beset by external problems, to be sure, but secure, but secure and unchallenged within, a utopia lost. No doubt, compared to the condition of Jewish life in contemporary America, it was a paradise of the spirit, with standards of scholarship, piety, and simple Jewish identification, infinitely superior to what we know. But Europe before the First World War was not impervious to the nineteenth-century, the culture of the West made incursions into the vastness of Czarist Russia. Many forces contended for the allegiance of Russia's teeming Jewish populace, movements dedicated to reordering the social and economic systems, the secularization of Jewry. The now familiar chasm between generations already existed, ominous, a more than nascent threat. The Torah community of Russia was not organized, but the community of interest was powerful. To preserve Torah, internal differences, however sharp and bitter, were submerged. Fiercely independent individualists united to strenghten the faltering. Under the banner of Machazikei Hadas (Society to Fortify the Faith) Chassid and Misnaged joined against a common foe.
Translated by Zalman I.Posner