In his thoughtful review of Gal Beckerman’s book on the Soviet Jewry movement “Inside an ‘Epic Struggle,’” (Fall Books, Nov. 19), Jerome Chanes expertly discusses Beckerman’s deftness in describing both the impact of the movement on “the inter-organizational cholent” of U.S. Jewry and other virtues of the study.
As a person with lifelong experience working with East European Jewry, I must ask how authoritative and definitive a work it is. This is a recent field of research and Beckerman has made a big effort to encompass a movement whose many complexities need years of digestion. This difficult task would have taken him much longer but, relying on his talents, he decided not to wait.
I know Beckerman. He is a promising young writer and sees himself primarily as a storyteller endowed with imagination. In my almost 84 years, storytellers tend to get over-imaginative, and his narrative is shot through with light and heavy elements of fiction.
Unfortunately, young scholars are already quoting its erroneous passages. Though this important book gives a vivid sense of the highs and lows of the struggle, and has much perceptive analysis and an imaginative sweep, it cannot be designated as definitive and authoritative, for all its positive qualities.
For a different kind of read, I would recommend Philip Spiegel’s 2008 “Triumph over Tyranny.” Though it has its share of errors, it is well ordered and very helpful. For a short read, Yossi Klein Halevi’s article in the Spring 2004 issue of Azure is a powerful dramatic survey by an early activist.
Founder and Director
Center for Russian Jewry with
Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry