Top Young Historians: 30 – Jeffrey Veidlinger


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

30: Jeffrey Veidlinger, 9-25-06

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Indiana University, Bloomington
Associate Professor and Associate Director of Borns Jewish Studies Program, Indiana University, Bloomington
Co-Director, AHEYM (Archive of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories) Oral History Project
Area of Research: Russian and Eastern European Jewish history, Jewish cultural history
Education: Ph.D. (History) Georgetown University, 1998
Jeffrey Veidlinger JPG Major Publications: Veidlinger is the author of The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (Indiana University Press, 2000; paperback edition, 2006) winner of National Jewish Book Award, Barnard Hewitt Award, Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title and The George Freedley Memorial Award Finalist.
He is also the co-editor of 150 Years of Jewish Emigration from Russia-USSR-Russia (1885-2005): History and Destinies, Volume 2: Migration Between Extremes, 1914-1939 which is in progress and under contract to be published by The International Center for Russian and East European Jewish Studies in Moscow and the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Veidlinger is currently working on a book tentatively entitledJewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire.
Awards: Veidlinger is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
National Jewish Book Award Winner in Yiddish Language and Literature Category, 2000;
Choice Outstanding Academic Title (Choice Magazine), 2001;
Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theater History and Cognate Studies, American Society of Theatre Research, 2001;
National Jewish Book Award Finalist in Eastern Europe Category. 2000;
The George Freedley Memorial Award Finalist, Theatre Library Association, 2000;
Lucius N. Littauer Foundation Book Grant, 2000.
ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship, 2002-2003;
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, 2001;
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship, 1996-98;
Mellon Summer Fellowship, 1998;
REEI Mellon Endowment Grant-in-Aid for international travel, May 2004, June 2006;
Indiana University Arts and Humanities Institute Fellowship, 2002-2003;
Indiana University Research and the University Graduate School Summer Faculty Fellowship, 2002;
Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Summer Faculty Fellowship, 2001;
Russian and East European Institute Travel Grants, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005;
Indiana University Trustees’ Teaching Award, 2001;
National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to Preserve and Create Access to Humanities Collections ($200,000) 2005-2007;
Atran Foundation ($10,000) 2005;
Indiana University Arts and Humanities Institute ($6000), 2003;
Indiana University Arts and Humanities Initiative Fellowship ($50,000) 2003;
Indiana University Russian and East European Institute Fellowship ($2000), 2003;
Indiana University Multidisciplinary Ventures Grant ($3500), 2002;
Indiana University President Council on International Programs ($2000), 2002;
Indiana University Russian and East European Institute Fellowship ($3500) 2002.
Additional Info:
He is co-director of AHEYM (The Archive of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories), a project that collects videotaped oral histories of Yiddish speakers in Eastern Europe, mostly about Jewish life in the region before the Second World War.
Veidlinger is a member of the Association for Jewish Studies, American Historical Association, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Oral History Association.
He has published articles and reviews on Jewish cultural and intellectual history in numerous periodicals, including Slavic Review, Studies in Jewish Civilization, Ab Imperio, Kritika¸ Jews in Eastern Europe, East European Jewish Affairs, Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook, Cahiers du Monde Russe, and others.

Personal Anecdote

My story takes place in a small Ukrainian town that was, before the Second World War, a center of Jewish life. Like many others of its type, this shtetl (Yiddish for small town) once thrived with urban bustle, its marketplace teeming with Yiddish conversation. Today it is more like a country village, its town center virtually deserted. When I was there a few years ago, a lone chicken roamed through the empty square and a goat bleated, tied to a tree. The former Yidishe Gas (Jewish Street) was then Vladimir Lenin Street, so neglected that it had not even been renamed since the collapse of Communism over a decade before. Abandoned houses still bore the marks of mezuzahs on their doorposts, but inside only chickens made their homes. The seventeenth-century synagogue, famous throughout the district, had been converted into a juice-bottling factory sometime after the war. It had not yet been reclaimed, as was happening in many similar towns, by the nascent Jewish community, which, incidentally, was sometimes directed by the same individual who, in a prior incarnation, led the local Communist Party branch that seized the synagogue in the first place.

I was here, with my colleagues Dov-Ber Kerler and Dovid Katz, as part of an oral history, linguistic, and ethnographic project about Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe. Local lore, we discovered, held that the town had been spared some of the worst of Nazi atrocities because it was protected by the spirits of two Hasidic holy men who were buried in the cemetery. With one of our informants as our guide, we set off for the burial ground to pay homage to the town’s saviors and to recite the Jewish prayer for the dead. Like most of the Jewish cemeteries of the region, it was overgrown with weeds; even fully mature trees had grown over time amidst the underbrush. Only a handful of gravestones remained, jutting out of the earth sporadically throughout the field. Most of the stones had been carried off long ago to pave the streets or to repair broken walls.

I decided to wander off on my own, to see if any old stones could still be found protruding from the ground. In an isolated corner of the graveyard, I found a few inches of stone, surrounded by earth and foliage. I squatted down to see if I could make out any of the epitaph, but the inscription was concealed behind layers of thorny weeds. Lost in my thoughts, I felt a shadow creep over the tomb and heard heavy breathing behind me. I glanced up and saw, standing over me, a somber-looking man in black, brandishing an enormous scythe.

Suddenly encountering the image of Death Himself can be startling in the best of circumstances. It is even more so in an abandoned cemetery in a strange land. In my moment of terror, I saw in the shimmering blade the blood of all those Jewish martyrs who had been murdered by Cossaks, in pogroms, by Hitler’s henchmen, and by Stalin’s agents, just like this, on the outskirts of Ukrainian villages in centuries past. The peasant from the neighboring field, aware only that he had inadvertently startled me, smiled, revealing a mouthful of gold and silver teeth, and gently lowered the rusting blade to help clear the brush away from the stone. I thanked him with a dollar bill as the name of the deceased came into view.


By Jeffrey Veidlinger

  • “Soviet politics on the Yiddish stage retained a’ distinctly Jewish orientation not The Moscow State Yiddish Theater JPGmerely by dint of being performed in what is almost exclusively a Jewish language, but also by virtue of overt and covert cultural contexts and signifiers. The theatrical personnel interpreted their assignments through their own national perspectives and conveyed meaning to their Jewish audiences by referring to shared cultural assumptions. Under the guise of conventional socialist realism, the Yiddish theater brought to life shtetl fables, biblical heroes, Israelite lore, exilic laments, and contemporary conundrums. Whether depicting proletarian workers in the Soviet state or Jewish rebels in ancient Judaea, I argue that the Yiddish theater balanced its communist aspirations with a distinct Jewish identity to varying degrees throughout its existence. — Jeffrey Veidlinger in “The Moscow State Yiddish Theater”

About Jeffrey Veidlinger

  • “”Jeffrey Veidlinger relates a fascinating and little-known piece of history. . . . [He] distills a remarkable amount of research into a pithy, well-turned account that will interest readers of cultural and political history.” — Publishers Weekly reviewing “The Moscow State Yiddish Theater”
  • “Jeffrey Veidlinger’s book, The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage, is an overdue addition to the growing body of scholarly work on Yiddish theatre. This first comprehensive study of the GOSET in English is geared toward a wide-ranging readership. For the historian, Veidlinger clearly presents the intrusion of totalitarian politics into artistic activities; for the theatre scholar, he provides evocative details and illustrative descriptions of the theatre’s artistic work…. Veidlinger’s seminal study, The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage, does an important work in bringing it to the attention of the English-speaking audience. — Nina Hein, Columbia University reviewing “The Moscow State Yiddish Theater”
  • “Jeffrey Veidlinger’s thoroughly researched, engagingly written, and richly informative book tackles these issues through the tale of the rise and fall of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. The choice of the Moscow Theater is ingenious…. Veidlinger’s analysis of the increasingly unbridgable agendas of the Soviet regime and the Jewish cultural elite is on the mark, especially the watershed of World War II…. Veidlinger’s book is an important and much-needed contribution to the literature on oviet nationality policy in general and Soviet Jewry in particular.” — Amir Weiner, Stanford University reviewing “The Moscow State Yiddish Theater”
  • “Very Very intesting and quite funny at times. Not too much work and very resonable with his students. I highly recomend taking a class from him, if given the oppurtunity.”…
    “Veidlinger is extremely knowledgable and I learned so much from him! Rock on!” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Friday, September 22, 2006 at 12:35 PM

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