April 29, 2013
14 b&w illus., 1 map
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.3 Pounds (US)
$80.00 USD, £62.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference
Paperback / softback
April 29, 2013
14 b&w illus., 1 map
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
.9 Pounds (US)
$28.00 USD, £22.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Becoming Soviet Jews

The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk

Minsk, the present capital of Belarus, was a heavily Jewish city in the decades between the world wars. Recasting our understanding of Soviet Jewish history, Becoming Soviet Jews demonstrates that the often violent social changes enforced by the communist project did not destroy continuities with prerevolutionary forms of Jewish life in Minsk. Using Minsk as a case study of the Sovietization of Jews in the former Pale of Settlement, Elissa Bemporad reveals the ways in which many Jews acculturated to Soviet society in the 1920s and 1930s while remaining committed to older patterns of Jewish identity, such as Yiddish culture and education, attachment to the traditions of the Jewish workers' Bund, circumcision, and kosher slaughter. This pioneering study also illuminates the reshaping of gender relations on the Jewish street and explores Jewish everyday life and identity during the years of the Great Terror.

About the Author

Elissa Bemporad is Jerry and William Ungar Assistant Professor in East European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College, City University of New York. She is editor (with Margherita Pascucci) of Conzeniana, a series in Yiddish literature and culture.


"Elissa Bemporad has deepened and enriched our understanding of the social transformations Soviet Jews experienced in the two decades after the revolution. Mining hitherto inaccessible archives, she deftly links larger historical processes to the changes in the lives of ordinary—and some extraordinary—Jews in one of the great centers of Yiddish culture and Judaism. Judiciously using photographs and the prose and poetry of the time, Bemporad vividly shows that tradition exerted a powerful influence even in Soviet times but was eventually defeated by the combination of attractive new opportunities, in intensive resocialization, and terror."—Zvi Gitelman, author of A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present

"Bemporad has written an important study of Minsk's Jewish community in the period of Sovietization. . . . She convincingly shows that Sovietization was a complex and often tense process of negotiation, with Red Army soldiers eating kosher meat, fist fights breaking out after synagogue confiscations, and men wondering if their wives were secretly circumcising their children. A great contribution."—David Shneer, author of Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust

"Challenging traditional interpretations of Jewish life under Soviet rule as one of continuous oppression, stagnation, and deterioration, Bemporad's book instead demonstrates the complexities of the Soviet Jewish experience."—Jeffrey Veidlinger, author of Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

"An original study that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the history of Soviet Jewry. Bemporad modifies old stereotypes about the rapid assimilation of Soviet Jews in the interwar period. This is wonderful book that is clear, well-argued, and beautifully written."—Samuel D. Kassow, author of Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive

"This is a very important study. It does not follow the well-trodden paths, and does not employ the phraseology frequently found in books on Soviet Jewry. This study opens up vistas for additional work that will be written in its spirit. It successfully analyzes the deep social and cultural processes that took place in Soviet Jewry."—Mordehai Altshuler, Hebrew University

"This well-written, thoroughly researched book is a superb case study of the complex and contradictory effects of the Soviet regime in one of the most important centers of Jewish life in pre-Holocaust Russia. . . . A major contribution to understanding a crucial aspect of modern Jewish history in eastern Europe. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"[T]his is an excellent book, offering a fascinating case study of how a Soviet-Jewish identity in a particular Soviet city came into being."—The NEP Era: Soviet Russia 1921-1928

"[A] book that is highly readable and brimming with novel facts and insights . . . Becoming Soviet Jews is a rich and engaging portrayal of a previously overlooked period and place."—H-Judaic

"Becoming Soviet Jews opens a window into the almost entirely forgotten wealth of Soviet Yiddish life. . . . Bemporad's detailed focus on the city of Minsk gives a much deeper sense of what communism and Yiddish culture meant in the 1920s to thousands of individual Jews, in all the diversity of their politics, beliefs, gender, and class backgrounds."—New Politics

"This thoroughly researched study illustrates the tenacity of Jewish identity in the face of significant repression."—The Russian Review

"This book is built on a rich source base of archival materials. . . . Bemporad does not simply rehearse archival material for its own sake. Rather, she brings a wealth of sources to support each of her arguments. . . . There is a lot that is new in Bemporad's study. Most important, the focus on daily experience complements other approaches and offers a fuller understanding of Jewish Minsk during the first two decades of Soviet rule."—Jewish History

"The acculturation of Western European Jewry that occurred in the nineteenth century (i.e., Jews in their outward appearance came to be more or less indistinguishable from their compatriots, spoke the local languages, and made contributions to local cultures) was telescoped in the newly established Soviet Union. How this rapid transformation took place in one city, Minsk, is the subject of Elissa Bemporad's fine book."—American Historical Review

"With this history of Jewish Minsk, the distinguished roster of books on Soviet Jewry has acquired a new and endlessly rewarding addition. Elissa Bemporad's focus on this single, once largely Jewish, city gives us both the local picture and the larger one. . . . the details are fascinating, and the author's analysis is nuanced and respectful of human limitations."—Slavic Review

"[An] excellent, deeply-researched book . . . . [A]n exemplary work of scholarship."—SheldonKirshner.com

"This book is one of the most accessible of a number of recent studies that both analyze and describe [the transformation of Jewish life in the USSR]. . . . Although technically the focus of this book is on social history, it is also an important contribution to the history of Jewish religion in the USSR."—Religious Studies Review

"Elissa Bemporad's Becoming Soviet Jews presents a fascinating account of the ways in which Minsk Jews continued to observe Jewish traditions and maintain their Jewish identity, during the 1920s and early 1930s, despite Soviet pressures on Jews to assimilate. On the basis of extensive research in Belarusian historical archives, Yiddish and Russian newspapers, memoirs in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew, and other sources, Bemporad shows that despite the Soviet attack on synagogues and on Jewish political organizations . . . Jewish culture and identity survived and even, in some respects, thrived, during this period."—Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Bemporad has written an exemplary book in terms of its research, analysis, and argumentation. Becoming Soviet Jews should be essential reading for anyone interested in the transformation of Jewish society under Lenin and Stalin and how Jewish identity became uprooted from its religious foundations yet managed to endure in the 1920s and 1930s."—Journal of Modern History

"[This is] a clearly written, well-researched and impressive study that enriches our understanding of Soviet Jewish life before the Second World War."—Revolutionary Russia

"By bringing together local factors as well as the Soviet and international contexts, Bemporad opens new ways of looking at Soviet Jewish history and reveals not only the uniqueness of the Minsk context but also the personal and collective strategies adopted by Jews to accommodate their religious, ethnic, social, and economic identities to the new context."—Ab Imperio

"[Significantly advances] the scholarly understanding of the history of Soviet Jews. [Makes] a valuable contribution to the recent historiography that attempts to construct a balanced picture of the cultural, ethnic, and professional profile of Soviet Jewry."—Kritika : Explorations Russian & Eurasian History

"Using Minsk as a case study of the Sovietization of Jews in the former Pale of Settlement, Elissa Bemporad reveals the ways in which many Jews acculturated to Soviet society in the 1920s and 1930s while remaining committed to older patterns of Jewish identity, such as Yiddish culture and education . . . ."—Jewish Book Council

"Winner, 2012 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History

Winner, 2013 National Jewish Book Awards, Writing Based on Archival Materials; Finalist, Modern Jewish Thought and Experience

Honorable Mention, 2014 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award"—
Indiana University Press

9780253008138 : becoming-soviet-jews-bemporad
292 Pages
$80.00 USD
9780253008220 : becoming-soviet-jews-bemporad
Paperback / softback
292 Pages
$28.00 USD

Other Titles by Elissa Bemporad

The Jdc at 100

edited by Linda G. Levi, Maud S. Mandel, Avinoam Patt, Atina Grossmann, with contributions by Mikhail Mitsel, Margarete Myers Feinstein, Jaclyn Granick, Atina Grossmann, Suzanne D. Rutland, Veerle Vanden Daelen, Laura Hobson Faure, Anna...
May 2019 - Wayne State University Press
$54.99 USD - Hardback

Women and Genocide

edited by Elissa Bemporad, Joyce W. Warren
Apr 2018 - Indiana University Press
$90.00 USD - Hardback
$36.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Beyond

edited by Eugene M. Avrutin, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, Robert Weinberg, with contributions by Michael Ostling, Haya Bar-Itzhak, Andrew C. Reed, Darius Staliunas, Hillel Kieval, Marina Mogilner, Harriet Murav, Gennady Estraikh, Elissa Bempora...
Jul 2017 - Indiana University Press
$90.00 USD - Hardback
$35.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in HISTORY / Jewish

Land of Refuge

Gur Alroey. Translated by Deborah Stern.
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Jewish Odesa

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The Last Generation of the German Rabbinate

Cornelia Wilhelm
Jul 2024 - Indiana University Press
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