3: Essay excerpt, Dovid Bergelson's, “Three Centers,” 1926.
Dovid Bergelson was one of the greatest Yiddish prose writers, and he was the most internationally well-known of the Yiddish writers involved with the JAFC. He also had a more complicated relationship with the Soviet Union than most. Bergelson spent his youth in Kiev, but left the Soviet Union in 1921 after the chaos and violence of the first World War, the 1917 revolutions, and the resulting civil war. At first he was a vocal critic of Soviet Jewish culture, but with the publication of this essay he marked an ideological shift that would lead him to return to the Soviet Union in 1934 and become an advocate for the project to establish a Soviet Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan. The essay compares Yiddish culture in the United States, Poland, and the Soviet Union and concludes that the future for Yiddish culture lies in the Soviet “center.”
Suggested Activity: Ask students to discuss what connection Bergelson sees between physical labor (factory work, farming) and literature. How does this compare to their own ideas of Jewish life in Eastern Europe? What is the connection between destruction and creativity for Bergelson? What destruction is he thinking of (an opportunity to talk about the great destruction and upheaval of Jewish life caused by the first World War and the 1917 revolutions)? The Soviet Union is often portrayed as gray and drab in Western culture; how does Bergelson use color in this excerpt?
Sources: David Bergelson, “Three Centres (Characteristics),” trans. Joseph Sherman in David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism (London: Legenda, 2007), 353.