The Rev­o­lu­tion of 1905 and Rus­si­a’s Jews

Ste­fani Hoff­man and Ezra Mendel­sohn, eds.
  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

This fine col­lec­tion of essays by not­ed schol­ars is a wel­come addi­tion to the lit­er­a­ture on a crit­i­cal peri­od in Jew­ish his­to­ry. The failed attempt to over­throw the Tsarist regime became a turn­ing point for a gen­er­a­tion of Russ­ian Jews. 

A typ­i­cal offer­ing in this rich source tells how young Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­als like David Green (lat­er Ben Guri­on), in despair over dev­as­tat­ing gov­ern­ment-spon­sored pogroms, came to feel that Zion­ism was the only solu­tion for the Jew­ish future. 

Anoth­er chap­ter deals with the iden­ti­ty prob­lem of Pol­ish Jew­ry. Should they, as many of them died, and as polit­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Chris­tians urged, assim­i­late as Pol­ish cit­i­zens of the Jew­ish faith? Or were they, as many claimed, a Yid­dish-speak­ing Jew­ish nation? Excerpts from let­ters express the agony of young Jews who have lost hope of ever see­ing their ruth­less home­land be trans­formed by Marxism. 

Also includ­ed are stud­ies of Jew­ish efforts to found schools and free libraries in the Pale. 

The con­clu­sion is upbeat, with accounts of mass emi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca and work by Amer­i­can Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions on behalf of vic­tims of Tsarist brutality. 

Many arti­cles can be rec­om­mend­ed to gen­er­al read­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly those eager to learn about their fam­i­lies’ Russ­ian back­ground. But since the text is direct­ed toward acad­e­mia, it requires seri­ous inter­est. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, with notes, biogra­phies of authors, car­toons of Jews, index, and map of the Pale.

Jane Waller­stein worked in pub­lic rela­tions for many years. She is the author of Voic­es from the Pater­son Silk Mills and co-author of a nation­al crim­i­nal jus­tice study of parole for Rut­gers University.

Discussion Questions