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Ritualized Protest and Redemptive Politics: Cultural Consequences of the American Mobilization to Free Soviet Jewry
Abstract

Abstract:

The significance of the worldwide movement to free Soviet Jewry cannot be measured solely by its success in achieving its goals vis-à-vis Soviet Jews. It was also influential in shaping American Jewish political culture during the years it was active. During the 1960s and 1970s, and to a lesser extent in the 1980s, activists in the American movement to free Soviet Jewry helped construct a public political culture that defined Jewish participation in the American identity politics of the era as a religious imperative. They contributed to the development of this religiously inflected Jewish identity politics by innovating protest tactics that advanced it not only through discourse but also through embodied, meaning-generating actions. By popularizing ritualization as a strategy of protest, Soviet Jewry movement activists in the United States subverted the conceptual dichotomies that distinguished expressive from instrumental dimensions of political action, and religious cosmologies from secular politics. Drawing on examples such as the Passover march, “Freedom Seder,” and “Matzoh of Hope,” this article considers three key strategies of ritualization: the invention of new ritual through bricolage; the movement of existing ritual out of its traditional space and into the public square; and the introduction of the public square into the traditional space of existing rituals.