Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A New Look at the Newest Americans

By Thomas Kessner; Betty Boyd Caroli | Go to book overview

6 It's Good for the Important Things:
To Leave Russia as a Jew

As late as 1742, after many
European nations had long
ago permitted their barriers
against Jewish settlement to
fall, Russia's Tzarina Elizabeth
expelled the few Jews in her
kingdom, declaring "I do not want any benefit from the enemies of Christ." Two
decades later when Tzarina Catherine II authorized for
eigners to travel and trade
throughout her realm she ap
pended the formula kromye Zhydov to her edict, "except
the Jews." And yet before cen
tury's end, the tzars and the
Jews would be thrown together. In successive annexations in 1772, 1793,
and 1795, Russia laid claim to large segments of the decaying Polish Em
pire. Willy-nilly the tzars inherited hundreds of thousands of Jews for whom
they had little use and less sympathy.

A succession of Russian leaders viewed this accidentally acquired population as the "Jewish problem," a harshly resented group whose separate religion, culture, and identity were to be systematically extirpated. Literally hundreds of laws singled out the Jews, ringing them about with crippling restrictions and disabilities. Tzarist opposition notwithstanding, the Jewish population in Russia continued to grow, reaching 5 million before 1900.

Russian Jewry confronted an ugly turning point in 1881. In March of

-160-

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