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Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Nittel-nacht"

It was not that long ago that Jews who lived in Europe dreaded Christmas Eve.

That night was known as "nittel nacht," and traditionally local Christians would attack Jews during that night. As a result, the Chassidic communities of Europe came up with a set of customs for that night, mostly for self-protection.

Here is a very comprehensive article about it.

In 1905, a Cleveland writer named Martha Wolfenstein published a set of short stories, written for the general public, about various Jewish topics, and one of her stories seems to be a fairly accurate description of how nittel nacht was experienced in Bohemia in the mid-1800s. Although nothing tragic occurs in this story, some of its matter-of-fact depictions of daily anti-semitism that European Jews had to endure are jarring - as well as their dreams to return to Jerusalem, where they would no longer have to worry about such things.