Red star on the Jewish street : the reshaping of Jewish life in Soviet Minsk, 1917-1939 / Elissa Bemporad
Includes bibliographical references (p. 280-293)
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An important demographic, religious and political Jewish center before 1917, after the Revolution Minsk became the capital of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and developed into a major center of Soviet Jewish life. This dissertation studies the processes of continuity and change in the life of Jewish Minsk during the first decades of the Soviet era, from 1917 to 1939. It demonstrates that in spite of the Bolsheviks' violent rhetoric and the quick tempo with which they hoped to revolutionize society, the transformation of the core of Jewish life occurred at a slower pace in a historic Jewish center like Minsk than it did in Moscow or Leningrad. Geography curbed the intended radical consequences of the changing process, impinging on the intensity with which the Communist project took hold of the Jewish street, and facilitated the preservation of less evident and more subtle lines of continuity with pre-Revolutionary Jewish life. As this dissertation demonstrates, the unique combination of Jewish historic center and Soviet capital led the Minsk Jewish intelligentsia to compete with Moscow for the primacy in the political and cultural life of Soviet Jewry; the strong pre-Revolutionary Bundist tradition of Minsk shaped the political strategies, institutions and cultural discourse of the local Soviet Jewish leadership; and the century-long traditions of Jewish Minsk made religious practice more widespread in the everyday life of the city than historians have presumed.This dissertation also studies two major areas of transformation and non-continuity with the pre-Revolutionary era. Marginal aspects of Jewish life before the Revolution, Yiddish and Jewish women were supported by the regime to assume positions of public prominence. In the case of Yiddish, the language experiment was more successful in Minsk than in any other major urban center of the Soviet Union, and it played an important role in the terror of 1936-1939. In the case of Jewish women, the attempt to raise the status of this previously marginalized social group significantly fuelled the tension between their private role of mothers and wives, and their public role of "agents of Revolution."
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