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Becoming Soviet Jews

The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk

Elissa Bemporad

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: The Modern Jewish Experience


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Series Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-6

Dedication Page

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p. 7-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-8

List of Figures

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pp. viii-9


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-12

Becoming Soviet Jews is a study of the acculturation process into the Soviet system as experienced by the Jewish population of Minsk during the interwar period, from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the eve of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. The book examines the dynamic encounter between pre-revolutionary Jewish life and the...

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1: Historical Profile of an Eastern European Jewish City

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pp. 13-30

Home to Polish aristocrats and landlords, Jewish merchants and artisans, Russian- Orthodox and Uniate (Greek Catholic) merchants, and a small community of European Muslims, or Tatars, Minsk was located in the heart of Belorussia, the region enclosed by historic Russia to the northeast, Lithuania to the northwest, Ukraine to...

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2: Red Star on the Jewish Street

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pp. 31-50

When the Bolsheviks began to municipalize private businesses across the city, the owners of the eighteen bookstores in Minsk (including one Judaica bookstore), petitioned the local authorities. They promised to follow Soviet instructions and apply “Soviet tenets” to the book business if the Bolsheviks returned the bookstores to the...

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3: Entangled Loyalties: The Bund, the Evsektsiia, and the Creation of a “New” Jewish Political Culture

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pp. 51-80

During the NEP , the New Economic Policy inaugurated by Lenin in 1921, when less stifling restrictions were enforced on Soviet citizens, it was relatively easier to express publicly the commitment to specific aspects of Jewishness and balance them with the Soviet vision of universalism. At the end of the NEP , with the launching of the Cultural...

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4: Soviet Minsk: The Capital of Yiddish

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pp. 81-111

Following the June 1919 decree, when the Bolsheviks selected Yiddish as opposed to the “clerical” Hebrew and the “bourgeois” Russian, as the official language of instruction for all Soviet Jewish schools,2 Yiddish became the preferred instrument of propaganda to reach the adult Jewish masses as well, and the ideal language of political, cultural...

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5: Behavior Unbecoming a Communist: Jewish Religious Practice in a Soviet Capital

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pp. 112-144

Situated between the Low Market and Cathedral Square, and home to numerous pre-revolutionary Jewish religious and communal institutions, the Jewish quarter of Minsk, also known as Nemiga, was the arena of a violent clash in the spring of 1922. The conflict broke out between two factions of the local Jewish population. On one side...

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6: Housewives, Mothers, and Workers: Roles and Representations of Jewish Women in Times of Revolution

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pp. 145-175

The study of the roles and representations of Jewish women in the cultural, social, and political settings of modern Eastern Europe has been confined to tsarist Russia and interwar Poland. This chapter recreates the composite picture of the lives of Soviet Jewish women, explaining their choices and beliefs under Bolshevik rule and balancing them against the experiences and voices of their gender counterpart...

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7: Jewish Ordinary Life in the Midst of Extraordinary Purges: 1934–1939

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pp. 176-210

Between 600,000 and 2,000,000 Soviet citizens lost their lives in Stalin’s terror campaign and witch hunt for “enemies, saboteurs, spies, and bourgeois-nationalists.”3 The political repression targeted first of all Communist Party members, government officials, and Red Army leaders who, accused of conspiring with capitalist countries...

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pp. 211-216

This book has attempted to evaluate the development of Jewish collective and individual existence in a Soviet (Jewish) city during the interwar period. Soviet Jews did not emerge abruptly from a sudden rupture generated by the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, many trends were at work before 1917 and were intensified by the revolution. A...


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pp. 217-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-268


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pp. 269-276

About the Author

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p. 292-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780253008275
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253008138

Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Modern Jewish Experience