Jewish Russians

Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Sascha L. Goluboff
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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    Jewish Russians
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0203-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-33)

    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...

  5. Chapter 1 Fistfights at Morning Services
    (pp. 34-62)

    After gaining access to morning ritual at the Central Synagogue, I spent January to May attending Monday and Thursday services. On average, the congregation consisted of thirty men: eleven local Russian Jews (Yurii, Yehuda Levi, Shloimie, Berl, Semyon, Rabbi Dubinovich, and others); twelve Georgian Jews (including the brothers Zviad and Aleksei, who invited me to sit in the small hall); two Mountain Jews (Shalom, the head of the Mountain Jewish community, and Kostia, the treasurer of the Mountain Jewish community); Isaak Khaimov (the Bukharan rabbi); and three Ashkenazic Jews from Israel and Europe (Rabbi Silverstein, Yose, the young Israeli businessman...

  6. Chapter 2 Georgian Meatballs and Russian Kolbasa
    (pp. 63-93)

    Morning services in the small hall lasted until 9:30 or half an hour later if the Torah was read that day. Ordinarily the majority of the congregation dispersed soon after prayer, but there were times when the men stayed behind in the small hall to take part in a Yahrzeit,¹ the anniversary of the death of a congregant’s close relative. They sat at the table at the back of the room to share the food and drink provided by the mourner in memory of his loved one. These meals ranged from the standard elderly Russian Jewish fare of crackers and...

  7. Chapter 3 Renovating the Small Hall
    (pp. 94-121)

    In the spring of 1996, Mr. Feldman, the president of the Moscow Jewish Religious Community (MERO), donated several thousand dollars in the name of his deceased mother to renovate the small prayer hall. Several years earlier, the dvadtsatka (the synagogue board) had elected Mr. Feldman to be its “representative” (chairman) and the president of MERO. Feldman was a Belgian diamond dealer who had business in Russia and the West, and his international market ties were supposed to bring money and resources into the synagogue. His charitable gift sparked a long debate among congregation members, the board, and the administration about...

  8. Chapter 4 The Savage in the Jew
    (pp. 122-144)

    The Russian Jews were extremely concerned about the establishment and growing influence of the Gorskaia evreiskaia obshchina (Mountain Jewish community) at the Central Synagogue in 1995 and 1996. Even though they harshly evaluated the Georgian Jews for their loud and disruptive behavior and because “they do everything for money,” Russian Jews nonetheless conceptualized Georgian Jews as part of the Jewish people. In contrast, Russian Jews had a troublesome time accepting Mountain Jews as Jews. They expressed this difficulty through a racializing discourse about Mountain Jews as chernye, dark-skinned “traders from the Caucasus” who threatened the Moscow synagogue community.

    Russian Jews...

  9. Chapter 5 The Madman and His Mission to Unite the Sephardim
    (pp. 145-165)

    In order to create a place for Mountain Jews in the synagogue, Shalom not only attempted to reproduce family values and structure within the prayer setting, but he also tried to provide Mountain Jews with a political base of power. As chairman of the Mountain Jewish community, Shalom created an organization called MEROS (Moskovskaia evreiskaia religioznaia obshchina sefardov [Moscow Religious Community of Sephardic Jews]), of which he was president. According to him, two Bukharan Jews, two Georgian Jews, and three Mountain Jews signed the constitution. It was ratified in December 1992 and registered with the Moscow Justice Department in March...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 166-172)

    In September 1996, Yurii Isaakovich took me to the Vostriakova cemetery to visit his parents’ graves. Vostriakova has Jewish and non-Jewish sections, but they had overlapped recently due to lack of space. As we entered the Jewish area and walked along the narrow dirt path overgrown with tall weeds and bushes, Yurii read the names on the headstones. It gave him great joy to see Jewish surnames; he had a friend named Fishbane, he knew a Cohen who was a good doctor, and he once had a Rabinowitz for a neighbor.

    Yurii pointed out the graves near us that had...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-184)
  12. Personae
    (pp. 185-188)

    The following is an index of people discussed in the book. Everyone alive during the time of the research for this book is referred to by a pseudonym. Some have first names, while others have an additional patronymic (-vna for women or -vich for men), which indicates their status in the community and/or their adherence to a more traditional Soviet and Russian way of address. Alphabetization is by first name.

    Anastasia Davidovna. Seventy-eight-year-old retired doctor and professor, who told me a story about how the synagogue was corrupt.

    Anton Rizovskii. Businessman and former chairman of the Moscow Jewish Religious Community...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 189-190)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 191-200)
  15. Index
    (pp. 201-206)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 207-208)