Birobidzhan & Bergelson

Major parts of LAMENT are set in the Soviet Far East and the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region (or Oblast). I had the major good fortune to be writing this book at the time Masha Gessen published hers about Birobidzhan. Where the Jews Aren’t came from Nextbook’s Jewish Encounters series in 2016, when I was able to attend a terrific author’s talk at Manhattan’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and get a copy kindly signed. Afterwards from its characteristically high-quality contents I took incalculable amounts of depth and color.

Dovid Bergelson with his son, Lev (Wikimedia Commons)

A major element of Gessen’s book appears more tangentially in LAMENT—namely, the life and work and state murder, in 1952, of Soviet and Yiddish writer Dovid Bergelson. In the 1930’s, already renowned as a novelist and public intellectual, he spent time in Birobidzhan. Where he didn’t stay–but he was probably its best-known and most influential booster for a long time, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. This pamphlet, hosted on Internet Archive, was handed out at the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, New York: