Thinking about Violence.

Zionist Revolutionaries with pistols, Daugavpils (now in Latvia),1905. The Yiddish and Russian Banners displayed include: (right) “Down with the Monarchistic Constitution! Long Live the Democratic Republic!” and (bottom) “Workers, All Peoples, Unite!”
In late 1904, 6000 Jewish activists issued a Declaration of Jewish Citizens calling for civil equality for Jews in Russia. In February 1905, religious communities in 32 cities sent a petition with a similar demand to the government in St. Petersburg. Then, toward the end of the March, 67 activists representing all shades of opinion except that of the Bundists attended an illegal meeting in Vilna, where they established the Union for the Attainment of Full Rights of Jewish People of Russia, a remarkably effective organization that promoted Jewish interests. It established branches in 14 provinces, mainly in the Pale of Settlement, and fought not only for equal rights for Jews but also for cultural autonomy — the right of Jews to maintain their own schools and their own language. The organization gained added stature in May 1905 by joining the Union of Unions, a large association of professionals committed to overturning the autocratic system of rule.
– Abraham Ascher, The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, 2008.

3 thoughts on “Thinking about Violence.

  1. Since we’re thinking about violence (and the Jewish response to it), Eli, why didn’t you mention that we’re approaching the anniversary of the Kishinev pogrom (April 1903)? The horror of Kishinev was used by the great poet Bialik to further the ‘Jews as passive victims’ meme. City of Slaughter, the poem, inspired the group that went on to found the Haganah. But as we see from your post, the so-called golus mentality wasn’t antithetical to self-defense and neither was the religious sector of Jewish society.

  2. Rokhl,
    I didn’t post this to commemorate any particular Jewish tragedy, certainly not any pogrom. I am not trying to assert, as you posit, that the diaspora mentality wasn’t antithetical to violence. In fact I think thats a fairly cliche accusation leveled upon contemporary Zionists. In many ways, traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe, beyond Elliot Horowitz’s spectacular research, was not a culture known for its political or social power, or its resultant violence.
    I want to suggest that Zionist militancy takes on different moral meanings in different contexts, for example, within the Russian Revolution. Looking at a photograph of armed Jewish nationalists in the context of the early 20th century Russia is striking, and a sexy way to begin thinking about why modern Israel is an important part of Ashkenazi Jewishness.
    I don’t see how Bialik mixes in. He wrote his poem in Hebrew and as he realized that his language choice would hinder its impact, he took the cue of those in the photo above, and translated his social commentary out of Hebrew into Yiddish. Eventually, he would pass away in Tel Aviv. I’ve never been moved by that poem.

  3. Daugavpils is also known as Dvinsk. (Thats the name usually used for it in Jewish sources.) I had an ancestor, a Lubavitch Chasid, who came from that city. I guess he was probably not part of these Zionist revolutionaries.

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