Sasha SenderovichSep 14, 2022
How the Soviet Jew Was Made
Harvard University Press 2022
The Russian Revolution of 1917 transformed the Jewish community of the former tsarist empire. The Pale of Settlement on the empire’s western borderlands, where Jews had been required to live, was abolished several months before the Bolsheviks came to power. Many Jews quickly exited the shtetlekh, seeking prospects elsewhere. Some left for bigger cities, others for Europe, America, or Palestine. Thousands tried their luck in the newly established Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East, where urban merchants would become tillers of the soil. For these Jews, Soviet modernity meant freedom, the possibility of the new, and the pressure to discard old ways of life.
This ambivalence was embodied in the Soviet Jew – not just a descriptive demographic term but a novel cultural figure. In his monograph How the Soviet Jew Was Made (Harvard University Press, 2022), Sasha Senderovich finds this new cultural figure through close readings of post-1917 Russia/Yiddish literature, films, and reportage. Suddenly mobile after more than a century of restrictions under the tsars, Jewish authors created characters who traversed space and history, carrying with them the dislodged practices and archetypes of a lost world. Senderovich urges us to see the Soviet Jew anew, as not only a minority but also a particular kind of liminal being. How the Soviet Jew Was Made emerges as a profound meditation on culture and identity in a shifting landscape.
Sasha Senderovich is an assistant professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
Miriam Chorley-Schulz is the Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellow at the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto.