(click the image above to launch the occupations gallery)

These images document many of the occupations in which Jews worked during the years before the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. The diversity of work reflects the great diversity of Jewish life, and will provide you with a sense of just how large this Jewish world once was. As perhaps in no other time during the last 2,000 years of Jewish history with the exception of the State of Israel the Yiddish culture of Eastern Europe formed an entire society of Jews, living out virtually the entire range of human life and potential.

That lost Jewish world was so full and rich that any generalization we make about it - regarding habits, jobs, religious observance, education, politics - instantly falls short of capturing the complete spectrum of life. In fact, this Jewish world was much like any nation of today with all types of people represented and participating. In the same way that it would be difficult to categorize the jobs of citizens of Israel, America, or China, it is also difficult to delineate Jewish occupations - and life - in pre-War Eastern Europe.

Jews lived in rural derfer (tiny villages), shtetlekh (towns), and great cities, and their jobs and opportunities varied accordingly. Jews were often poor, but many were also middle-class, and an elite few had great riches. Jews were factory workers, laborers, and peddlers, but also middlemen, merchants, bankers, and industrialists. Some were rabbis, scholars, and teachers, others worked as craftsmen, builders, and tailors. Taken altogether they made a community, a world...