An Alternative Modernity: Zmitrok Bjadulja and His Creation of the Belarusian Jew

Authors

  • Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern Northwestern University

Keywords:

Zmitrok Bjadulja, post-colonial, anti-imperial, Belarusians, East European Jews, fusion cultures, Slavic literatures

Abstract

A young rabbinical pupil from a remote Belarusian shtetl, Shmuel Plaŭnik, debuted as a Hebrew poet, and then moved on to Russian poetry, until, with the adoption of the pseudonym Zmitrok Bjadulja around 1910, he came to Belarusian prose and poetry and integration into the Belarusian intelligentsia. His unconventional choice of a Belarusian cultural and literary identity was in contradiction to the traditional ways of acculturation of Jews in the Russian Empire, based on entry into the majority Russian language and culture. Bjadulja not only chose what was at the time a colonial culture with no supporting statehood, but also maintained his dual identity as a Belarusian Jew, which is the basis of his autobiographical narratives, sketches and short stories. In his narrative prose, Bjadulja proposed an innovative synthesis of Slavic and Jewish elements based on his profound knowledge of Jewish sources and Belarusian folklore. This fusion profoundly shaped the imagery, motifs, style and language of his works. Bjadulja was able to bring together two stateless, marginalised and deprecated ethno-national cultures to create a utopian vision of Jewish-Belarusian coexistence and interference that, thanks to the power of his pen, became a fundamental part of the Belarusian canon in his own formation.

Published

2021-12-23

Issue

Section

European Belarus