In this presentation, Sasha Senderovich will discuss his new book, How the Soviet Jew Was Made, published by Harvard University Press in 2022. In the book, Senderovich offers a close reading of postrevolutionary Russian and Yiddish literature and film that recast the Soviet Jew as a novel cultural figure: not just a minority but an ambivalent character navigating between the Jewish past and Bolshevik modernity.
After the revolution of 1917, Jews who had previously lived in the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement quickly exited the shtetls, seeking prospects elsewhere. Some left for bigger cities in different parts of the new Bolshevik state, 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 insightful readings of Yiddish and Russian literature, films, and reportage, Senderovich finds characters traversing space and history and carrying with them the dislodged practices and archetypes of a lost Jewish 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.