Becoming Soviet Jews

Becoming Soviet Jews

The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk
Elissa Bemporad
Distribution: World
Publication date: 04/29/2013
Format: Paperback 14 b&w illus., 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-253-00822-0
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Winner, 2012 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History Winner, 2013 National Jewish Book Awards

Minsk, the present capital of Belarus, was a heavily Jewish city in the decades between the world wars. Recasting our understanding of Soviet Jewish history, Becoming Soviet Jews demonstrates that the often violent social changes enforced by the communist project did not destroy continuities with prerevolutionary forms of Jewish life in Minsk. Using Minsk as a case study of the Sovietization of Jews in the former Pale of Settlement, Elissa Bemporad reveals the ways in which many Jews acculturated to Soviet society in the 1920s and 1930s while remaining committed to older patterns of Jewish identity, such as Yiddish culture and education, attachment to the traditions of the Jewish workers' Bund, circumcision, and kosher slaughter. This pioneering study also illuminates the reshaping of gender relations on the Jewish street and explores Jewish everyday life and identity during the years of the Great Terror.

Author Bio

Elissa Bemporad is Jerry and William Ungar Assistant Professor in East European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College, City University of New York. She is editor (with Margherita Pascucci) of Conzeniana, a series in Yiddish literature and culture.


“This is a very important study. It does not follow the well-trodden paths, and does not employ the phraseology frequently found in books on Soviet Jewry. This study opens up vistas for additional work that will be written in its spirit. It successfully analyzes the deep social and cultural processes that took place in Soviet Jewry.”
 — Mordehai Altshuler, Hebrew University

“Challenging traditional interpretations of Jewish life under Soviet rule as one of continuous oppression, stagnation, and deterioration, Bemporad's book instead demonstrates the complexities of the Soviet Jewish experience. ”
 — Jeffrey Veidlinger, author of Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

“Bemporad has written an important study of Minsk’s Jewish community in the period of Sovietization. . . . She convincingly shows that Sovietization was a complex and often tense process of negotiation, with Red Army soldiers eating kosher meat, fist fights breaking out after synagogue confiscations, and men wondering if their wives were secretly circumcising their children. A great contribution.”
 — David Shneer, author of Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust

“Elissa Bemporad has deepened and enriched our understanding of the social transformations Soviet Jews experienced in the two decades after the revolution. Mining hitherto inaccessible archives, she deftly links larger historical processes to the changes in the lives of ordinary—and some extraordinary—Jews in one of the great centers of Yiddish culture and Judaism. Judiciously using photographs and the prose and poetry of the time, Bemporad vividly shows that tradition exerted a powerful influence even in Soviet times but was eventually defeated by the combination of attractive new opportunities, in intensive resocialization, and terror.”
 — Zvi Gitelman, author of A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present

“An original study that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the history of Soviet Jewry. Bemporad modifies old stereotypes about the rapid assimilation of Soviet Jews in the interwar period. This is wonderful book that is clear, well-argued, and beautifully written.”
 — Samuel D. Kassow, author of Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Ar

“Winner, 2012 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History Winner, 2013 National Jewish Book Awards, Writing Based on Archival Materials; Finalist, Modern Jewish Thought and Experience Honorable Mention, 2014 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award”

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Table of Contents

1 Historical Profile of an East European Jewish City
2 Red Star on the Jewish Street
3 Entangled Loyalties: The Bund, the Evsekstiia, and the Creation of a "New" Jewish Political Culture
4 Soviet Minsk: The Capital of Yiddish
5 Behavior Unbecoming a Communist: Jewish Religious Practice in a Soviet Capital
6 Housewives, Mothers and Workers: Roles and Representations of Jewish Women in Times of Revolution
7 Jewish Ordinary Life in the Midst of Extraordinary Purges: 1934-1939

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