Russia, Jews, and the Arts


Sunday, May 4, 2008 | 9:00AM – 5:00PM | Free & Open to the Public
University of California, Santa Cruz

The Center for Jewish Studies, through the generosity of the Koret Foundation, brought together a small number of scholars on May 4th, 2008 in order to address the question of Jewish contributions to Russian culture, literary, visual and musical. Among the questions that our guests considered were the following:

  • To what extent did particular Jewish artists bring into their work a distinctively Jewish sensibility or point of view? To what extent did they draw on particular aspects of their Jewish cultural inheritance? And can we ask questions of this kind without falling into the trap of “essentialism”?
  • Did they regard themselves primarily as “Jewish” or “Russian”? Or did they have dual identities? Did bilingualism play a significant role in their work? Did their consciousness of their Jewish identities change over the course of their careers?
  • How did the gentile audience respond to their work? Did they have significant relationships with gentile colleagues?
  • Were these writers or artists associated with particular cities? And to what extent were they “cosmopolitan,” participants in the larger dialogue between Russian culture and European culture more generally?
  • How do we account for the apparently disproportionate representation of Jews in certain fields (as in the famous example of the Jewish violinists of Odessa)?



Peter Kenez (UCSC)

9:15-10:15 AM – BABEL
Bill Nickell (UCSC), “The Jewish Body and Soviet Subjectivity in Isaac Babel’s ‘Karl Yankel'”
Boris Keyser (Defense Language Institute), “Babel as Translator”
Commentary and Discussion: Murray Baumgarten (UCSC)

Gabriella Safran (Stanford), “Politics and Ethnography in An-sky’s The Dybbuk”
Harriet Murav (Illinois), “Literary Memory in the Present: Rivke Rubin, Dovid Bergelson, and Alexandr Blok”
Barry Scherr (Dartmouth), “An Odessa Odyssey: Vladimir Jabotinsky’s The Five”
Commentary and Discussion: Naya Lekht (UCLA)

Shelly Zer-Zion (Tel Aviv/UCSC), “Ester Rachel Kaminska and Hanna Rovina: Institutionalization and Stardom in Jewish Theater”
Peter Kenez (UCSC), “Jews and Soviet Film: the 1920s”
Mel Gordon (UC-Berkeley), “Chagall and Chagallism at the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre”
Commentary and Discussion: Bruce Thompson (UCSC)

3:30-4:45 PM – “BACK IN THE U.S.S.R.”
Alla Efimova (Magnes), “Russian Artist/Jewish Citizen/Soviet Architect: The Case of Lazar Khidekel”
Barbara Epstein, “Relations Between Jews and Non-Jews in Minsk, Before and After the Great Patriotic War”
Commentary and Discussion: Michael Thaler (UCSC)

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