How Yiddish Became the Language of Political Organizing for Russian Jews

June 1, 2022 | Julia Métraux
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As large numbers of Jews began leaving Russia for the U.S. in the late 1800s, they began to produce pamphlets, newspapers, and books about political organizing in their native Yiddish. Some, seeking to help their coreligionists back home, began to smuggle these works back into Russia, where the government strictly forbade them. As Julia Métraux points out, not all East European Jews spoke Yiddish, and Jewish revolutionaries living under the tsars tended to prefer Russian, but they soon discovered that

there were benefits in organizing in a language that non-Jewish people did not understand.

“Yiddish socialist literature in New York may be considered important in another respect: its sheer availability encouraged Russian Jewish revolutionaries to adopt Yiddish in the first place,” [the Jewish history professor Tony] Michels explains. The growing solidarity among Jewish socialists in Eastern Europe also led to the rise of Bundism, a non-Zionist Jewish [socialist] movement and political party.

New York Jews’ involvement in sending this socialist literature abroad could also be indicative of their later commitment to aiding with both Soviet reconstruction efforts and the resettlement of Russian Jews in the United States.

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