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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News November 2005

November 18, 2005

THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE EPHRAIM URBACH FELLOWSHIPS

This year we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship program, established by the Memorial Foundation in 1995, in cooperation with the World Union of Jewish Studies.

The program, named after Professor Ephraim Urbach, a long time Vice President of the Memorial Foundation and President of the World Union of Jewish Studies, provides grants to recent recipients of Ph.D.’s in a field of Jewish culture who have achieved superior grades in graduate school, completed their dissertations with distinction, and who show promise of distinguished academic careers.

The purpose of the grants is to assist the recipients in publishing their first book, launching their scholarly careers and supporting research in their area of special interest. All recipients are required to present a scholarly paper about their research at a special session devoted to the Urbach recipients at the quadrennial Congress of Jewish Studies that takes place in Jerusalem. Professor Anita Shapira and I have had the pleasure of chairing these sessions in past years. Leaders of the World Union of Jewish Studies have advised us that these sessions were among the best held at past Congresses.

You may view and download from this website the list of the 33 recipients of the Urbach Fellowships from 1996-2005. The program and its recipients have been one of the Foundation’s most impressive achievements. At the next meeting this coming summer of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in Jerusalem, you will have the opportunity to meet some of these outstanding young men and women and learn about their accomplishments. The Urbach recipients will undoubtedly be future stars in the creation and advancement of Jewish culture worldwide.

 

Professor Mikhail Krutikov

In this report I should like to acquaint you with one exemplary recipient of this program, Professor Mikhail Krutikov, who like the others, is doing pioneering research in his field, Russian and Yiddish-Jewish culture, in which the Foundation has played an important role over the last three decades.

Dr. Mikhail Krutikov’s current research grows out of his dissertation, “Representation of Crisis in the Yiddish Novel, 1905-1914” that dealt with the development of modern Yiddish literature before World War I. He completed his doctoral work with distinction at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1997.

He is currently exploring the impact of Marxist ideology on Jewish literary creativity in and outside of the Soviet Union, and the mediating role of Jewish leftist intellectuals between the East and the West. He plans to consolidate the results of his research in a book dealing with an intellectual biography of Meir Wiener, one of the leading Soviet Yiddish theorists.

Prior to his recent immigration to the United States, Dr. Krutikov was deeply involved in various forms of Jewish cultural life in the former Soviet Union. Until Perestroika, this kind of activity could only be conducted underground. Following his graduation from the faculty of Mathematics at the Moscow State University in 1979, he was attracted to the study of Hebrew in clandestine ulpanim in Moscow. Their weekly evening classes had a unique atmosphere, combining the excitement of challenging the Communist system with academic study. With some interruption, Mikhail spent six years in these seminars, starting with classes for beginners and advancing to courses in Hebrew grammar. He then became a teacher of Hebrew himself.

In 1982, a group of Jewish intellectuals from Moscow sought to revive the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Commission that had existed before World War I. They believed that the authorities might tolerate such activity, but they did not, so it was back to the “kitchen seminars”. By that time, Mikhail, besides having a reading knowledge of English, Hebrew and German, realized he could read Yiddish as well. Encouraged to demonstrate that there were still young Yiddish writers in the former Soviet Union, Mikhail, with the assistance of Velvl Chernin, the Yiddish poet, published a few pieces in Sovetish Heymland, which by that time (1986) was reluctantly starting to tolerate some diversity of opinion.

After glasnost, the Commission was also transformed into the Jewish Cultural Association. By that time Mikhail was exploring other cultural and academic avenues. He was invited to prepare an anthology of Jewish poetry in Russian for Vek, the first magazine for Jewish culture after glasnost, founded in Riga. Regrettably, the magazine ceased publication in 1991. Mikhail hopes he can one day complete that project and publish it in a format similar to the Penguin volume of Jewish poetry.

Subsequently, he was recruited to produce Yungvald, a magazine to attract a young readership to Yiddish. In the fall of 1989, he also began to study Yiddish at the Moscow Institute of Literature under Professor Shimon Sandler, a graduate of the Tarbut School of Vilna and a Holocaust survivor. Because there were no other qualified teachers of Jewish literature, Mikhail became one himself and lectured at the Institute.

In 1991, the time during which the demise of the Soviet Union and the Communist system was taking place, I met Mikhail in Moscow. He was interested in pursuing an academic career by enrolling at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York for which he received Foundation support. Professor Krutikov’s career has been deeply affected by both the opportunities and challenges that era provided.

Mikhail’s strengths were not confined to scholarship in pre- and post-glasnost Russia. He was an active participant in Jewish communal life as well, both with the Jewish Cultural Association in Moscow, mentioned earlier, and the VAAD. We also recruited Mikhail to serve as a member of the faculty of our Russian Nahum Goldmann Fellowships in the early 90’s, where he performed brilliantly.

 

A Bridge Between East and West

In Dr. Krutikov’s view, it will take a decade or two until we can properly appreciate and evaluate the historical significance of the developments in Eastern Europe under communist rule and its impact on Jewish life. As the 20th century fades away into the past, the entire set of problems related to the Jewish experience under communism becomes an issue of historical rather than political debate, losing in poignancy but gaining in depth.

The opening of the archives and the rapid growth of Jewish Studies in the former Soviet bloc have radically changed the situation in comparison with a decade ago. Today no scholar in the West can ignore the stream of publication that comes out of Eastern Europe, whereas no East European scholar can afford being ignorant of the achievements of Western scholarship.

Dr. Krutikov’s academic career has been closely intertwined with the process of convergence between East and West in the Jewish world. While his academic affiliation has been with British and American institutions, he is trying to remain part of the academic community in Russia and FSU. His ambition is to facilitate the intellectual exchange between East and West, mediating between the two worlds that still remain to a large degree culturally and mentally apart.

Writing for a Western audience, he is trying to convey the existential and intellectual complexity of the situation of Yiddish and Russian-Jewish writers, critics and intellectuals who made Marxism their faith and the Soviet Union their home. His teaching and writing in Russian focus on demonstrating how contemporary Western methodology can be productively applied to the specific problems of Russian-Jewish cultural history. At the same time, he is trying to combine an academic research with a more popular form of cultural journalism that finds its outlet in his weekly column in the Yiddish newspaper Forverts.

There is a growing circle of young scholars around the world who are beginning to share Krutikov’s scholarly interests and intellectual concerns. It is encouraging to see that Yiddish culture continues to fascinate young and mature scholars as well as the broader cultural community in various countries. Recent books and articles by Gennady Estraikh, who also has received Foundation support, and others offer refreshing new interpretations of Yiddish culture as part of modern culture. In Krutikov’s view, the future of Jewish cultural life in Russia – and indeed elsewhere – is inseparable from maintaining its status as high culture, which requires an ongoing discovery and reevaluation of forgotten treasures.

Dr. Krutikov believes that the future evolution of Jewish culture is very much affected by the ways in which we view and represent our past. On the eve of the 21st century, more than one million Jews from the FSU found themselves on the move. Their migration to Israel, North America and Germany has already had a strong impact on the Jewish life in those countries.

In Krutikov’s view, Russian Jews today probably constitute the most dynamic Jewish community in the world, who will play an increasingly important role in politics, economics, and culture in Israel and America. It is of great importance for the Jewish future that Russian Jewish immigrants have an opportunity to learn about their own cultural legacy in ways that do no impose any particular political, ideological or religious agenda. At this moment, contemporary Russian Jewish cultural life is very active, but has little presence outside the Russian-speaking community, due to the lack of mediation between Russian and the other major Jewish languages, Hebrew and English.

The aim of Dr. Krutikov’s academic research and cultural criticism is to make the English and the Yiddish speaking audiences aware of the most recent developments in Russian Jewish culture. According to Krutikov, given the current introvertive trends in American Jewish life, it may take years if not decades until the contemporary Russian-Jewish voices will find their place in the ever-changing Jewish canon.

The Urbach Fellowship awarded to Professor Krutikov facilitated expansion of Prof. Krutikov’s intellectual and academic interests into new areas, broadened his horizons and deepened his areas of expertise, which eventually enabled him to obtain his current, tenure-track academic position as professor in Slavic-Jewish Cultural Relations at the University of Michigan, a role that perfectly suits the cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary character of his work.

Dr. Krutikov has previously served as Lecturer in Yiddish Literature, Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies; Lecturer in Yiddish Literature, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; and Visiting Fellow, The Institute for Advanced Studies, Hebrew University.

Since receiving the Urbach Fellowship in 1998-99, Prof. Krutikov has authored: Yiddish Fiction and the Crisis of Modernity, 1905-1914, Stanford University Press, 2001 and co-edited with Gennady Estraikh: Yiddish and the Left, Oxford: Legenda, 2001; The Shtetl: Image and Reality, Oxford: Legenda, 2000; and Yiddish in the Contemporary World, Oxford: Legenda, 1999, as well as 17 articles dealing with Yiddish and Russian Jewish culture.

With intellectuals like Mikhail Krutikov in the vanguard of this effort to build a bridge in Russian Jewish cultural studies between the East and West, the future of this enterprise appears exceedingly bright.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President