There is an exhibit at the Museum of the the City of New York called Letters to Afar by Peter Forgacs. It is a compilation of home movies Jews made upon visits to their relatives in the old country in the 1920's and 1930's. I have seen this exhibit elsewhere several years ago. I think it was at the Center for Jewish History on 14th Street. The quality of the films are not excellent and there is no order to them either. One watches them and its hard to see where they begin and where they end. Perhaps that is the idea, but I felt like I missed some of what was being transmitted due to the disorganization of the films. There is however something surreal about being in a room where many screens are screening simultaneous slices of shtetl life . The only thing is that now that I have found snippets of some of the films on display online, I think that I appreciate them more. Perhaps if an audio tour companion was offered it would have made the exhibit less overwhelming and more coherent. That said, I am glad that I was able to see this exhibit before it closes on March 22, 2015. Because these films are homemade they capture the smiles of the people who lived in the shtetl. Its especially touching to watch children who had previously may not have seen a video camera mugging for the camera and waving.
Because the fashions are so outdated it is sometimes hard to tell who is visiting from the United States and who had always lived in the shtetl.
My family hails from the shtetls of Russia /Poland., but watching these shorts it is hard to imagine that is where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents were born and all of my great grandparents were born. I cannot imagine living in such poverty and yet people did for years and years. I feel so disconnected to that place . On the other hand, when I see documentaries about Israel I always feel connected to Israel. Perhaps its because I have actually been to Israel. Perhaps its because though Israel is part of the past it is also part of the future of the Jewish people.The shtetls, however significant are only a part of the past.