Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Synopsis

The prevalence of anti-Semitism in Russia is well known, but the issue of race within the Jewish community has rarely been discussed explicitly. Combining ethnography with archival research, Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue documents the changing face of the historically dominant Russian Jewish community in the mid-1990s. Sascha Goluboff focuses on a Moscow synagogue, now comprising individuals from radically different cultures and backgrounds, as a nexus from which to explore issues of identity creation and negotiation. Following the rapid rise of this transnational congregation--headed by a Western rabbi and consisting of Jews from Georgia and the mountains of Azerbaijan and Dagestan, along with Bukharan Jews from Central Asia--she evaluates the process that created this diverse gathering and offers an intimate sense of individual interactions in the context of the synagogue's congregation.

Challenging earlier research claims that Russian and Jewish identities are mutually exclusive, Goluboff illustrates how post-Soviet Jews use Russian and Jewish ethnic labels and racial categories to describe themselves. Jews at the synagogue were constantly engaged in often contradictory but always culturally meaningful processes of identity formation. Ambivalent about emerging class distinctions, Georgian, Russian, Mountain, and Bukharan Jews evaluated one another based on each group's supposed success or failure in the new market economy. Goluboff argues that post-Soviet Jewry is based on perceived racial, class, and ethnic differences as they emerge within discourses of belonging to the Jewish people and the new Russian nation.

Excerpt

This is a book about the end of an era. Combining ethnographic methodology with archival research, it documents the decline of the historically dominant Russian Jewish community at the Central Synagogue in Moscow from 1995 to 1996. It also traces the rapid rise of a transnational congregation headed by a Western rabbi and primarily made up of Georgian Jews from Georgia, Bukharan Jews from Central Asia, and Mountain Jews from Azerbaijan, Dagestan, and Chechnya. This ethnography focuses on events in the synagogue that led to this transformation. It outlines how emigration, cultural shifts, capitalist investment, and unstable borders have affected the composition and trajectory of post-Soviet Jewry. I believe this kind of in-depth anthropological study provides new insights into both the meaning of Jewish identity in Russia and the future of the Russian nation.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been in a state of flux on state and local levels. the socialist economy was organized around the notion of paternalistic redistribution whereby the state, through local distribution centers, obtained and handed out products according to a system of bureaucratic privileges (Verdery 1996). Because of its inefficiency, this official economy relied on a second economy, an illegal black market, to acquire all the materials needed by the state and its citizens. With the change in the post-Soviet economy, from a state-led system to an entrepreneurial one, young men in prominent positions within the bureaucratic elite and the black market personally profited from international aid earmarked for the development of a capitalist system in Russia (Wedel 1998). Claiming to defend the “free market” in Russia from the communists, this group of oligarchs achieved political authority, influencing the outcome of regional and presidential elections (Klebnikov 2000). the sharp devaluation of the rouble, the influx of foreign goods and services into Moscow, and the wars and economic crises in the former republics of the Soviet Union created a widening gap between the newly rich . . .

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