A revolution in the making : Yiddish and the creation of Soviet-Jewish culture / by David Benjamin Shneer
Includes bibliographical references (p. 538-558)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
In the 1920s, the Soviet Union was the only country in the world to have state-sponsored Yiddish language publishing houses, writers' groups, courts, city councils, and a school system. These institutions were created for Jews by Jewish activists, who took advantage of the Soviet state's support for its ethnic minorities to build a Soviet Jewish culture in Yiddish. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union invested greatly in developing social, political, and cultural infrastructures for its national minorities both to foster each nationalities' own culture and as part of its empire-building project to bring these nationalities into the Soviet Union. Within these policies, each nation' language was the key signifier of its ethnic difference. For Jews, Yiddish was that signifier. More than nationalities policy, I am interested in Soviet Jewish activists' own voice and actions in the creation of a national culture and, more important, in how those actions themselves defined state policy. Jewish activists were interested in building a Soviet Jewish culture, because they were striving for a national revolution—the creation of a new Jewish culture through which Jews would identify as Jews on new, secular, Soviet terms. I rely on the theoretical framework of the neo-formalist Tel-Aviv school and the idea of secular polysystems to explain both why socialist Jews were participating in a national revolution, and why Soviet state building and Yiddish cultural production were not mutually exclusive. Finally, I explore the ways in which Jews were part of, not apart from, the Soviet system and Jewish history. Soviet Jewish culture worked within contemporary Jewish national and cultural trends of the 1920s and simultaneously participated in the larger project of propagating the Soviet state and its ideology. Soviet Jewish activists were not nationalists or Soviets, but were both simultaneously. By focusing on cultural production, I directly address some of the painful truths about Jews' own implication and imbrication in the Soviet system and insert their role in twentieth-century Jewish culture into the narrative of Jewish history.
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