Joshua Tapper Lectures on “Who Should the Players Be?”: The JDC in the Soviet Union, 1989-1991

After decades of state repression, the relatively liberal political and social climate of the late 1980s emboldened Jews across the Soviet Union to imagine a transition from illegal to legal forms of Jewish expression and activity, from underground to above-ground organization, and to conceptualize a new pluralistic mode of Jewish activism dedicated to rebuilding a Jewish institutional sphere on Soviet soil. These developments unfolded indelibly in a context of dynamic transnational Jewish activism and philanthropy, in which global Jewry invested heavily in communal reconstruction in the Soviet Union.

This talk examined the influence of foreign Jewish organizations on the evolution of legal Soviet Jewish society in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a focus on one of the most active participants: the JDC. Drawing on archival trip reports, correspondence, and policy papers, as well as interviews with JDC staffers, the talk surveyed the Joint’s policy and programming in this early phase of communal rebuilding while shedding light on the mechanics of late-Cold War Jewish philanthropy and the evolving nature of social and material assistance to Jews as the Soviet Union stumbled toward collapse.

Joshua Tapper, the 2021-2022 recipient of the Ruth and David Musher / JDC Archives Fellowship, is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish History at Stanford University, where he is completing a dissertation on the revival of Jewish organizational and cultural life in the final years of the Soviet Union and early post-Soviet period. His research in the JDC Archives focuses on the transnational politics of Soviet Jewish communal development in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The JDC Archives Fellowships allow scholars engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study to conduct research in the JDC Archives, either in New York or Jerusalem. All fellows give a public presentation on their research; watch more of these JDC fellowship lectures here.