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The Maskil as Folk Hero

Roskies, David G.

The august group of Jewish intellectuals and cultural activists who gathered in St. Petersburg on December 27, 1909 to honor S. Ansky's twenty-fifth anniversary as a writer had every reason to celebrate. If they belonged in the nationalist camp, they could point to Ansky, ne Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport, as the prodigal son par excellence. For here was a man who had left home at the age of seventeen to spread enlightenment among the benighted shtetl masses but soon took up the cause of the Russian masses instead; changed his name to Semyon Akimovitsh so as to share the miserable fate of Russian miners in the Don Basin; spent a heady year in St. Petersburg as a trusted member of the Russian Populist elite and then followed the lead of other radicals by emigrating to Paris where he worked for the cause in the cradle of the Revolution. But by the time the political amnesty of 1905 brought him back to Russia, this "Old Narodnik" was ready to assume a leadership role in the Jewish cultural and political arena.

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Jewish Theological Seminary
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November 12, 2012