The Soviet Shtetl: A Glimpse of Jewish History through Russian Eyes

For the Public
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
7:30 PM

The Gershman Y
401 South Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19147


The shtetl is a powerful symbol of Jewish identity. For many American Jews, it represents “the old country”: a pure, lost Jewish world, separated from us by a gulf of geography and history. But how was it perceived before it was destroyed? And what has it meant to neighboring non-Jews? This eye-opening lecture examines several depictions of the shtetl in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia. What can these examples—in state-sponsored Soviet Yiddish scholarship, in a 1939 museum exhibit on the Jews of the USSR, and in a lavishly funded Jewish history museum that opened in Moscow in 2012—tell us about how the Jewish experience has served as a lens through which non-Jews might view themselves?

Reserve your tickets now at or call 215-545-440.


Deborah Yalen

Colorado State University

Deborah Yalen is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on the interaction of Jewish scholars with the Soviet state apparatus during the interwar period. Drawing on sources in Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian, Dr. Yalen studies the ways that Jewish intellectuals, working within the ideological constraints of the Soviet scientific infrastructure, pursued their own research agendas in ethnography, demography, and shtetl scholarship. Portions of her work have been published in East European Jewish Affairs, Science in Context, the Moscow-based Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie (New Literary Observer) as well as the online edition of the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. At the Katz Center, Professor Yalen will continue her research on Ilia Isaakovich Veitsblit, a Soviet statistician whose candid demographic studies of ethnic Ukrainian and Jewish populations drew negative attention from both fellow colleagues and the Soviet authorities.

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