History of Yiddish in the Former Soviet Union Focus of New Publication

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950
Email: nijacobson@jtsa.edu

July 27, 2009, New York, NY

The story of Yiddish in the former Soviet Union is one of hope, pain, and creativity. A bilingual examination of the language's checkered history from 1917 to the present can now be found in Yiddish in the Soviet Union (Project Judaica, 2009), a collection of nineteen studies in Russian and Yiddish by leading scholars from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Israel, and the United States.

The foremost center for the study of Yiddish language and culture in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Project Judaica is the groundbreaking joint program between The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in the United States and the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) in Moscow. Created in 1991, its principal goals are to train a generation of indigenous Russian scholars of Judaica, reestablish Jewish studies as a legitimate area of university study, foster the revival of Jewish life in Russia, and discover and describe all Jewish-related materials held in the archives of the FSU. To date, the project has graduated 100 scholars who have gone on to play key roles in the revival of Jewish life in the FSU as educators, journalists, professors, and directors of Jewish institutions.

Yiddish was initially recognized after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution as the official language of the Jewish minority, and Yiddish literature, theater, and education flourished from 1917 through 1937 under state sponsorship and control. Following the Holocaust, a state campaign to liquidate Yiddish culture and its creative elite culminated in the murder of major Soviet Yiddish writers in 1952. A modest rehabilitation of Yiddish culture took place during the early 1960s, and the language remained a potent emotional symbol for many Soviet Jews long after they had lost fluency. Amateur Yiddish theater companies enjoyed considerable success, and more than 250 Yiddish books were published between 1960 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, Yiddish speech and folklore are preserved by post-Soviet Jews, particularly in central and Western Ukraine.

Among other areas, Yiddish in the Soviet Union looks at Yiddish literature and drama; education, scholarship, and cultural life; Soviet Yiddish theater in the post-Stalin era; and folklore and ethnography. It was coedited by Dr. David E. Fishman, professor of Jewish History at JTS and director of Project Judaica; Maria Kaspina, associate director of the Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies at RSUH; and Leonid Katsis, professor of Russian-Jewish Studies at RSUH.

Project Judaica also maintains an active publications program of textbooks, monographs, a journal, and the Jewish Archival Survey. To obtain a copy of Yiddish in the Soviet Union or for further information about Project Judaica, contact the RSUH Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies in Moscow at 7-495-250-6470 or Dr. Fishman in New York City at (212) 678-8001.