Shush! Growing Up Jewish under Stalin: A Memoir

Shush! Growing Up Jewish under Stalin: A Memoir

by Emil Draitser

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Shush! Growing Up Jewish under Stalin: A Memoir 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Exploring the Damaged PsycheIn this part memoir, part religious autobiography, Emil Draitser explores the psychological effects of generations of antisemitism growing up Jewish in postwar Russia and the Ukraine. The book is less about anything Stalin did, and more about the sociological factors behind why he and other Jews like Draitser grew up feeling inferior to their Russian peers. The title of the book "Shush!" refers to his mother's constant reminder to be quiet, to stop speaking Yiddish, for fear of being punished. Draitser reminds us that the effects of antisemitism stretch beyond the Holocaust, that the 'damaged psyche' was generational and caused Jews to be inconspicuous, losing their history, culture, and identity.The book is written as a series of stories, so it is less autobiographical and more memorial. Very cleverly, Draitser is very philosophical yet not overtly so. For example, he explores the social construction of language and race through stories about being made fun of in school for his ethnic name. Or his adoration for Russian girls, anything but Jewish as a way of protesting against dividing people according to the principle of religion and race.I said the book is part religious autobiography because throughout the stories, you feel Draitser's connection with Judaism. Growing up, he learns Yiddish, partakes in the major rituals of Bar Mitzvah, celebrations like Yom Kippur and Passover. There are discussions of theology with his Mother and other relatives about the Talmud. Though I would not necessarily characterize Draitser as a devout Jew, or Hasidic, he certainly is Jewish both culturally and spiritually. Being Jewish is an important part of his identity, one that was purposely suppressed as a result of his environment.Taken as a whole, Draitser reminds us that structural violence can be just as destructive as physical violence. Draitser himself was not a victim of the Holocaust, or the pogroms of the nineteenth century. However, the result of the institutional racism such as segregation causes children to grow up with damaged psyches. They grow up with their "heads down and hunched under their shoulders." This is a very well-intentioned and intelligent memoir. It deals with some of the most complex social and philosophical issues in a very colloquial way, through these stories. I can easily see this book used in an undergrad course in either Jewish studies or even postwar Europe.