Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora

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The mass migration of East European Jews and their resettlement in cities throughout Europe, the United States, Argentina, and Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries not only transformed the demographic and cultural centers of world Jewry, it also reshaped Jews' understanding and performance of their diasporic identities. Rebecca Kobrin's study of the dispersal of Jews from one city in Poland-Bialystok-demonstrates how the act of migration set in motion a wide range of transformations that led the migrants to imagine themselves as exiles not only from the mythic Land of Israel but most immediately from their East European homeland. Kobrin explores the organizations, institutions, newspapers, and philanthropies that the Bialystokers created around the world and that reshaped their perceptions of exile and diaspora.

Rebecca Kobrin is Assistant Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University. She is author (with Adam Shear) of an exhibition catalog, From Written to Printed Text: The Transmission of Jewish Tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
"Carefully researched and clearly written, this book offers a rich picture of a transnational Jewish community. Kobrin's novel approach to the study of Jewish history is significant for scholars committed to understanding the complex threads that wove together the early twentieth-century Jewish world." —American Historical Review
J. Haus
Kobrin (Jewish history, Columbia) analyzes the Jewish migration experience from Bialystok in the 19th and 20th centuries. Adopting a transnational perspective, she seeks to place Jewish migration from eastern Europe to the US in a broader global context in which the US is not a land unto itself, but one of several locales in which migration and integration occurred. In doing so, Kobrin argues that Bialystok Jews constructed a transnational self-perception, melding together their eastern European Jewish heritage and their new homelands. They subsequently expressed this new sense of identity through cultural and philanthropic organizations focused on Bialystok emigrants and their descendants as a specific group with their own specific diaspora experience. This migration, she concludes, 'radically revised and reconfigured the ideological cornerstones of modern Jewish life.' Kobrin's study builds upon previous work by scholars like Nancy Green who utilize a divergent analysis of migration—not studying merely one destination, but comparing the experiences of immigrants in different cities or countries. Kobrin's well-written, well-researched book advances this approach, providing a valuable resource for scholars and students alike. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. — Choice J. Haus, Kalamazoo College, February 2011
Sir Martin Gilbert
"... fascinating from first page to last." —Sir Martin Gilbert
Jonathan Frankel
"A work of truly extraordinary scope, driven by admirable intellectual ambition. It is exhilarating to come across a work of such imagination and originality." —Jonathan Frankel, author of Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews
Jeffrey Shandler
"Challenges and refines long-standing assumptions about Old World/New World dynamics generally and Jewish immigrants to America in particular.... Original and smartly conceived, grounded in careful, extensive research and thoughtful analysis." —Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University
Derek Penslar
"An imaginative and original work. It offers an intriguing argument that in the first half of the 20th century, diaspora Jewish identities were defined through a constant, dynamic process of interaction between the place of origin and the several sites of immigration." —Derek Penslar, University of Toronto
"Kobrin's well-written, well-researched book [provides] a valuable resource for scholars and students alike.... Recommended." —Choice
The Russian Review
"This well-researched and innovative study is both an account of the history of Jewish Bialystok and of the way its diaspora was mobilized to support Jewish life in the town from abroad.... It... provides a new way of examining the relation between East European Jewish emigrants and the lands from which they set out to make new lives elsewhere." —The Russian Review, Vol. 70.2, April 2011
"Kobrin's wide-ranging analysis draws on huge and impressive variety of sources and many of the scholarly debates that her work relates to are very well explained... [This book] is a rare contribution to contemporary debates about migration" —H-Judaic
Slavic Review
"This thoughtful, strikingly original work of scholarship possesses the added value of being readable (and, one hopes, appreciated) by an audience beyond specialists in the field.... In sum, this book's contribution to Russian, east European, American, and 'diapora' studies is truly extraordinary." —Slavic Review, Vol. 70.3, Fall 2011
"Rebecca Kobrin is to be commended for her stimulating and thought-provoking study." —Shofar
Austrian History Yearbook
"[T]his illuminating case study sheds useful comparative and conceptual light, first and foremost on the notions of transnationalism and colonialism and the relationship between homeland and diaspora." —Austrian History Yearbook
From the Publisher
"A work of truly extraordinary scope, driven by admirable intellectualambition. It is exhilarating to come across a work of such imagination andoriginality." — Jonathan Frankel, author of Crisis, Revolution, and RussianJews—Jonathan Frankel, author of Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253221766
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Series: Modern Jewish Experience Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 380
  • Sales rank: 1,226,509
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Kobrin is Assistant Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University. She is author (with Adam Shear) of an exhibition catalog, From Written to Printed Text: The Transmission of Jewish Tradition.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Note on Orthography and Transliteration xiii

Introduction: Between Exile and Empire: Visions of Jewish Dispersal in the Age of Mass Migration 1

Chapter 1 The Dispersal Within: Bialystok, Jewish Migration, and Urban Life in the Borderlands of Eastern Europe 19

Chapter 2 Rebuilding Homeland in Promised Lands 69

Chapter 3 "Buying Bricks for Bialystok": Philanthropy and the Bonds of the New Jewish Diaspora 131

Chapter 4 Rewriting the Jewish Diaspora: Images of Bialystok in the Transnational Bialystok Jewish Press, 1921-1949 176

Chapter 5 Shifting Centers, Conflicting Philanthropists: Rebuilding, Resettling, and Remembering Jewish Bialystok in the Post-Holocaust Era 207

Epilogue: Diaspora and the Politics of East European Jewish Identity in the Age of Mass Migration 244

Notes 253

Bibliography 313

Index 351

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