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Book A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920 (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies)

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A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920 (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies)

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920 (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies).pdf | Language: English

After the fall of the Russian Empire, Jewish and Ukrainian activists worked to overcome previous mutual antagonism by creating a Ministry of Jewish Affairs within the new Ukrainian state and taking other measures to satisfy the national aspirations of Jews and other non-Ukrainians. This bold experiment ended in terrible failure as anarchic violence swept the countryside amidst civil war and foreign intervention. Pogromist attacks resulted in the worst massacres of Jews in Europe in almost three hundred years. Some 40 percent of these pogroms were perpetrated by troops ostensibly loyal to the very government that was simultaneously extending unprecedented civil rights to the Jewish population.

Abramson explores this paradox and sheds new light on the relationship between the various Ukrainian governments and the communal violence, focusing especially on the role of Symon Petliura, the Ukrainian leader later assassinated by a Jew claiming revenge for the pogroms. A Prayer for the Government treats a crucial period of Ukrainian and Jewish history, and is also a case study of ethnic violence in emerging political entities.

Abramson's book opens a new page in the historiography of Jewish-Ukrainian relations; for a change, Jews are not called communists and Ukrainians are not condemned as fascists. The author investigates a forgotten episode in the history of Ukraine when, after the fall of the Tsar during the revolutionary era, 1917-20, Jews and Ukrainians began to build a community based on democratic and multicultural principles. In spite of its promising beginning, the effort came to naught. --A. Ezergailis (Choice)[Abramson's aim] is to illuminate an often overlooked, brief, and ultimately doomed experiment in political rapprochement when a small group of idealistic Ukrainian nationalists tried to establish a government of their own--the Central Rada--in the midst of the region's chaos...The severe shifts in political authority, continuous violence, and lingering resentments between Ukrainians and Jews make it imperative for any historian to approach the material with clear-headed and sober judgement. Abramson reaches this standard, providing a distinct service to scholarship and to memory. --Joshua Rubenstein (H-Judaic Reviews) Henry Abramson is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Florida Atlantic University.

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Book details

  • PDF | 288 pages
  • Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University (August 31, 1999)
  • English
  • 4
  • History

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Review Text

  • By Alyssa A. Lappen on July 17, 2005

    The title of this book comes from Avot 3:2, in which the deputy high priest said, "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, people would swallow each other alive." Indeed, during the chaotic period covered in this excellent study, that is precisely what happened. For the government dissolved, several times over, and the Jewish people were swallowed.The book opens with a brief history of the Jewish people in Ukraine, which surprisingly, goes back 1,000 years. Some 32 pages are devoted to it, before turning to the key events covered in the study. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jewish population of Ukraine were composed of some 1.9 million souls, who made up more than 8 percent of the Ukrainian population of 23 million.While the Jewish people kept to themselves, and their life in Eastern Europe revolved around the Sabbath and the execution of 613 commandments, respect was alloted to all non-Jews who were required under Jewish law to adhere only to seven basic commandments in order to receive a place in the afterlife.Despite the dissimilarities, there were also many similarities between the cultures, whose cross-cultural exchanges occurred mainly through women.The next several chapters, the bulk of the monograph, cover the establishment of Jewish autonomy in 1917, how this autonomy worked in practice (not well), the pogroms of 1919, and the failure in 1919 of Jewish autonomy and support for the Ukrainian directorate.The fall of the tsar marked an attempt by Ukrainians and Jews to establish a noble experiment in human rights, Abramson writes, "but despite good will on both sides, the experiment was a disastrous failure."Even before the pogroms of 1919, there was violence against the Jewish people. The autonomy was marred by nearly 120 attacks on Jewish villages and people in 1917 and 1918. In 1919, the number of attacks totaled more nearly 1,200.Thousands of Jewish lives were lost as a result, and it was no small wonder that the Jewish people of the Ukraine in the wake of this violence turned to the Red Army as their salvation. Irony, too, for the Red Army ended up as much an enemy of the Jewish people as any tsarist regime or the Ukrainian directorate.The book contains many maps of the Ukraine and Pale of Settlement during this period, along with illustrations of important government personages, charts and graphs and the occasional political poster.This is an excellent study for anyone interested in the microcosm of Ukrainian Jewish life during revolutionary times.--Alyssa A. Lappen


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