The project of Dr. Natasha Gordinsky and Dr. Rafi Tsirkin-Sadan explores a yet to be discovered locus of East Jewish Culture – the provincial capital of Homel and its area (today’s Belarus). This case study concentrates on Homel as a center of emerging Hebrew Modernism at the turn of 20th century, in which such prominent Hebrew writers as Yossef Haim Brenner, Uri Nissan Gnessin, Gershon Shoffman, Hillel Zeitlin, Yitzhak Zalman Anochi, and Shimon Bichovsky gathered. At this time Homel was an important center of Modern Jewish education and politics that attracted young Jewish intellectuals who had abandoned the traditional scholarship for the sake of secular knowledge and literature.
The aim of the study is twofold: first, to examine the poetic and cultural sensitivities of the Hebrew authors – especially their exposure to Russian and German literature – during their formative years in Homel’s specific local context; and second, to map the biographical and literary relations between members of this group and writers from other places. The basis assumption is that Homel and its specific cultural climate at the turn of the century served as a matrix for one of the most influential literary schools in the Modern Jewish canon. A preliminary study of fiction, letters, and memoirs written by the group of Homel writers shows that the encounter with the non-Jewish world, whether through the Imperial cultural or spatial experience in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual provincial town, had a crucial impact on their literary imagination. Methodologically, the project relies on comparative literature, regional studies, cartography and networking theory. By adopting a local perspective, and in particular aiming to synchronize the Jewish and non-Jewish discourses of the period, the study offers a comprehensive study of Homel as a laboratory of Modern Jewish culture.