The Tragedy of a Generation is the story of the rise and fall of an ideal: an autonomous Jewish nation in Europe. It traces the origins of two influential but overlooked strains of Jewish thought—Yiddishism and Diaspora Nationalism—and documents the waning hopes and painful reassessments of their leading representatives against the rising tide of Nazism and, later, the Holocaust.
Joshua M. Karlip presents three figures—Elias Tcherikower, Yisroel Efroikin, and Zelig Kalmanovitch—seen through the lens of Imperial Russia on the brink of revolution. Leaders in the struggle for recognition of the Jewish people as a national entity, these men would prove instrumental in formulating the politics of Diaspora Nationalism, a middle path that rejected both the Zionist emphasis on Palestine and the Marxist faith in class struggle. Closely allied with this ideology was Yiddishism, a movement whose adherents envisioned the Yiddish language and culture, not religious tradition, as the unifying force of Jewish identity.
We follow Tcherikower, Efroikin, and Kalmanovitch as they navigate the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century in pursuit of a Jewish national renaissance in Eastern Europe. Correcting the misconception of Yiddishism as a radically secular movement, Karlip uncovers surprising confluences between Judaism and the avowedly nonreligious forms of Jewish nationalism. An essential contribution to Jewish historiography, The Tragedy of a Generation is a probing and poignant chronicle of lives shaped by ideological conviction and tested to the limits by historical crisis.
Karlip, with skill and clarity, navigates the many cross-currents and links between Zionism and ‘diaspora nationalism’ and its cultural companion, Yiddishism. He examines and compares the two ideologies’ cultural and political aspects, the fluctuating role of socialist ideals in each, and, in particular, their struggles to reconcile old and new Jewishness and classical Judaism with contemporary European culture. The result is a substantial enrichment of Russian, eastern European, and Jewish history. Karlip uses the lives of three seminal figures—Yisroel Efroikin, Zelig Kalmanovitch, and Elias Tcherikower—to tell the story of the movement’s early idealism, inspired in part by the 1905 Russian Revolution, through its decay in the wake of World War I and the Holocaust.
[A] magisterial study… The scholarship here is excellent, tracing the tortured trajectory of an important secular Jewish option through some of the most difficult periods of Jewish history with meticulousness, restraint, and finally empathy. The Tragedy of a Generation: The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism in Eastern Europe records a struggle to create a form of cultural differentiation that would avoid both national chauvinism and complete dissolution.
Karlip tells a fascinating story of Yiddishist ideologues and activists and their struggles to adapt to the dramatic political changes between the Revolution of 1905 and the Holocaust… [His] sophisticated reading of the interplay between the religious and the secular in Jewish nationalism is Karlip’s most important contribution to modern Jewish historiography, in particular, and literature on nationalism, in general… The strength of Karlip’s argument stands on his rich contextualization and masterful analysis of primary texts, which allow him to successfully historicize and scrutinize the ideological trajectory of his three protagonists. What contributes to the rich texture of Karlip’s book is his impressive source base in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew, covering the vast cultural production of Efroikin, Kalmanovitch, and Tcherikower over a few decades (numerous newspapers, scholarly journals, and published and private papers mainly from YIVO archival collections). All of this makes The Tragedy of a Generation an important achievement in recent east European Jewish historical writing.
Karlip’s choice of writing a collective biography is a fitting way of telling the story of diaspora nationalism and its failures. Karlip demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the material throughout, and structures his arguments judiciously… This is a complex and important book that does justice—without romanticizing—the complicated lives, ideologies, and times it analyzes.
Karlip’s book presents a meticulous study of the thought and activities of three once fairly prominent but now almost completely forgotten Jewish-Russian advocates of the autonomist idea—Elias Tsherikover, Yisroel Efroikin, and Zelig Hirsh Kalmanovitch… Karlip, an extremely promising young historian, has mastered the relevant sources in Yiddish and Hebrew, and his close reading of the twists and turns in the thought of his three intellectuals is rewarding… We can welcome Karlip’s book as an important addition to the growing literature on the birth, development, and death of Jewish nationalism in Eastern Europe.
An outstanding work. Skillfully navigating between biography and wider historical analysis, Karlip’s book stands out for its texture, passion, and range. The Tragedy of a Generation will take its place as a masterpiece of Eastern European Jewish history.
The Tragedy of a Generation is an exceptionally important book. Karlip marvelously and convincingly describes the crisis of a group of Eastern European Jewish intellectuals who could no longer embrace modernity nor return to faith.
- 400 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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