Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue
Sascha L. Goluboff
"Goluboff is a great storyteller, brilliant observer and concise theorist—and she definitely has a story to tell."—Dale Pesmen, author of Russia and Soul
"An engaging ethnography. . . . Through a lively presentation of events at Moscow's Central Synagogue, Goluboff demonstrates that changes from the Soviet moral economy of equal want to the free-wheeling post-Soviet world of ethnically marked traders have forced reconsideration of what it means to be Jewish in contemporary Russia."—Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
The prevalence of anti-Semitism in Russia is well known, but the issue of race within the Jewish community has rarely been discussed explicitly. Combining ethnography with archival research, Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue documents the changing face of the historically dominant Russian Jewish community in the mid-1990s. Sascha Goluboff focuses on a Moscow synagogue, now comprising individuals from radically different cultures and backgrounds, as a nexus from which to explore issues of identity creation and negotiation. Following the rapid rise of this transnational congregation—headed by a Western rabbi and consisting of Jews from Georgia and the mountains of Azerbaijan and Dagestan, along with Bukharan Jews from Central Asia—she evaluates the process that created this diverse gathering and offers an intimate sense of individual interactions in the context of the synagogue's congregation.
Challenging earlier research claims that Russian and Jewish identities are mutually exclusive, Goluboff illustrates how post-Soviet Jews use Russian and Jewish ethnic labels and racial categories to describe themselves. Jews at the synagogue were constantly engaged in often contradictory but always culturally meaningful processes of identity formation. Ambivalent about emerging class distinctions, Georgian, Russian, Mountain, and Bukharan Jews evaluated one another based on each group's supposed success or failure in the new market economy. Goluboff argues that post-Soviet Jewry is based on perceived racial, class, and ethnic differences as they emerge within discourses of belonging to the Jewish people and the new Russian nation.
Sascha L. Goluboff teaches cultural anthropology at Washington and Lee University.