The Origins of the Soviet Jewish Community


In this lesson, students will learn about the origins of the Soviet Jewish community leading up to the Revolutions of 1917 and will learn about the roots of soviet anti-Semitism.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to identify the causes of soviet anti-Semitism, trace major events and define key terms relevant to the Jewish presence in the Russian Empire until 1917.

Materials (click to download)

Attached maps of the Russian Empire and Pale of Settlement (“Jewish Languages in the Russian Empire”)

Maps are licensed under creative commons from



Classroom Discussion

Ask about students’ backgrounds – where their grandparents/great grandparents came from and when. Did any come from the former Soviet Union? Have they ever heard accounts of what life was like for Jews there?

Examine the map of the world with the students noting the vastness of the empire. The Russian Empire comprised 15% of the world’s land area (Russia remains the largest country in the world today).

Review the background history of Jews in the Russian Empire (above) having students take note of high and low points of the Jewish experience there.

When discussing Jewish confinement to the Pale of Settlement, compare this map (“Jewish Languages in the Russian Empire”) to the map of the entire Empire. Notice how restricted the Jews were in comparison to their non-Jewish counterparts who could settle anywhere in the immense empire.

Discuss causes of anti-Semitism in the Empire. Is fear of the other natural? Are actions against people who are different justified? For younger grades, the discussion can be taken to the personal realm – have they experienced or witnessed acts of bullying of students who are different or do not fit in with the majority?


Show the movie (or parts of) “Fiddler on the Roof” which depicts life for Jews in the Pale of Settlement at the beginning of the 20th century. Discuss the following points as a class or have students answer the questions in groups or individually as homework.

List at least three phenomena mentioned in class which are depicted in the movie.

    • What was the Rabbi’s blessing of the Czar? Why was this his attitude?
    • When the parents bless the children in the Sabbath prayer, what were they referring to when they said “keep them from the strangers’ ways”?
    • Why did the government organize pogroms and why did the people go along with them?
    • Why were many of the inhabitants of Anatevka eager to leave for America?

Download Lesson

Click here to download the full lesson pack in .zip format.
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