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Conference on the Contemporary. Russian-Speaking Jewish Diaspora

November 14–15, 2011, at Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, with the cooperation of the American Councils for International Education and the Russian.

Conference Overview

Almost two million Russian-speaking people, most of them Jews, live outside the former Soviet Union (FSU). In January 1989, when the last Soviet census was taken, 1,449,000 people identified themselves as Jews. Today, there are probably no more than 400,000 Jews living throughout the former Soviet territories, about 150,000 of them in Russia itself. Thus, there are about four to five times as many Jewish speakers of Russian outside the borders of the FSU as within them. Most of the Russian-speaking émigrés live in Israel (1.1 million), the United States (ca. 500,000), and the Federal Republic of Germany (ca. 150,000). These Russian-speaking migrants, mostly Jewish, are the largest group to enter Israel since its founding, and are the largest immigrant group in the last century to settle in the United States and in Germany, respectively.
This latest Russian-speaking Jewish migration has had a profound impact both on the receiving countries, namely the United States, Israel, and Germany, as well as on the sending countries, the FSU, especially Russia. Now that the migration has essentially ended, it is time to take stock of how this movement has changed these societies in general, and their Jewish communities in particular. The resettlement of so many people raises important practical and conceptual issues. One set of issues relates to the impact of the migrants on the socio/political, economic, and cultural realities in both the sending and receiving countries. The other set concerns the question of how to reassess and refine concepts of diaspora and identity in light of this phenomenon. In particular: How have these Russian-speaking Jews adapted to the countries and communities where they currently live and what is their relationship to their original homelands and to Russian culture? How are these different groups of Russian-speaking Jews conceiving their Jewishness and what are the consequences of these different ideas on what it means to be Jewish?
The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University will address these complex issues comprehensively and comparatively at a Conference on the Contemporary Russian-Speaking Jewish Diaspora. We seek to encourage exchange in and beyond formal sessions in order to achieve four goals: (1) to gain a more nuanced understanding of how migrations affect not only the immigrants, but also the countries which lose them and those which become their new home; (2) to explore how this migration may cause scholars to refine the concepts of diaspora and ethnic identity; (3) to spur new comparative scholarship; and (4) to inform community efforts that seek to provide valuable services to this immigrant community.
We are now accepting paper proposals through May 14, 2010. We are interested in papers from a range of disciplinary perspectives that address the history, evolution, and future of Russian-speaking Jewish communities, cultures, and identities. Please read the full Call for Paper Proposals for suggested themes, submission guidelines, and application requirements.
Zvi Gitelman, Professor of Political Science and Preston R. Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Michigan
Lisbeth L. Tarlow, Ph.D., Associate Director, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University.