Jews in Ser­vice to the Tsar

Lev Berd­nikov; Nora Selig­man Favorov; trans.
  • Review
By – January 19, 2012

The Russ­ian his­to­ri­an Lev Berd­nikov intro­duces the read­er to a ros­ter of twen­ty-eight fas­ci­nat­ing Russ­ian Jews who not only served their tsar but also defied many of the stereo­types by which Russ­ian Jews have all too often been characterized. 

As you read these fas­ci­nat­ing bio­graph­i­cal sketch­es, you will trav­el from the fif­teenth to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, meet­ing Jews who, while encoun­ter­ing anti-Semi­tism, also made impor­tant, yet gen­er­al­ly lit­tle known, con­tri­bu­tions to their home­land. As might be expect­ed, among them are financiers, bankers, jew­el­ers, and physi­cians. Inter­est­ing­ly the list also includes two court jesters,” a chief of police, and an ambas­sador to the Court of St. James who was instru­men­tal in estab­lish­ing the first Russ­ian Ortho­dox church in England. 

Berd­nikov draws on numer­ous, often obscure, sources which shed light on aspects of Russ­ian his­to­ry that will prob­a­bly be new even to schol­ars of the sub­ject. The book is illus­trat­ed and con­tains a help­ful glos­sary of Russ­ian his­tor­i­cal terms, pre­pared by the trans­la­tor, as well as a brief chronol­o­gy of Jew­ish-Russ­ian his­to­ry. There is also a list­ing of pri­ma­ry sources which is, unfor­tu­nate­ly, entire­ly in Russian. 

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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