Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2011—2012 Forum on Adaptations
Religion or Nation? The Jewish Identities of Soviet Immigrants in the U.S.
I will explore the Jewish identities of Soviet immigrants in the U.S., focusing on three generations of two immigrant families. Soviet Jews are in a unique position because they were subjected to historical processes in the Soviet Union that created and reinforced the perception of Jewish identity as a nationality or ethnic group. After the Russian Revolution, religious identity was discouraged and Jews were instead recognized as a Soviet nationality. In the 1920s and 1930s, the state sponsored a new secular Soviet Yiddish culture whose institutions and leaders were later destroyed by Stalin. Soviet Jews were left with little knowledge of Jewish religion or culture but they continued to be identified as Jews by nationality. I will focus on the ways in which immigrants adapted or did not adapt their nationality-based Soviet Jewish identities to life in the U.S. Additionally, I am interested in comparing the Jewish identities of different generations of immigrant families. Some components of identity that I am considering include religiosity, tradition and the role of anti-Semitism.