Hebrew Gomel: Space, Genre, Modernity

Natasha Gordinsky, Rafi Tsirkin-Sadan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article explores the understudied role of Gomel as an important center of literary production during the emergence of Hebrew modernism at the turn of the twentieth century. Prominent writers such as Gershon Shofman, Yosef Haim Brenner, and Uri Nissan Gnessin fostered personal and literary dialogues in and with the city. By combining various methodological approaches—New Historicism, literary cartography, and regional history—we analyze the unique spatial dynamics that sparked Gomel's transformation into a laboratory of Hebrew modernism. While grounding our readings of Shofman, Brenner, and Gnessin in the spatial turn in literary theory, we argue that these three canonical Hebrew writers created literary texts that captured the urban experience of this eastern European Jewish metropolis.We trace the evolution of Hebrew texts written in Gomel from a synchronic perspective and construct a detailed description of the town's literary-cum-cultural history. At the same time, we focus on Gomel's broader historical and geographical status within the Pale of Settlement and demonstrate how each of the three writers used a different literary genre—the urban miniature, the novel, and the novella—to create a unique representation of Gomel's urban space. Furthermore, by focusing on the chronotope of Gomel, our readings of Shofman, Brenner, and Gnessin underscore that these texts are grounded in Gomel's urban fabric through particular forms of local belonging, rather than an abstract notion of "uprooted" existence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-451
Number of pages28
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was conducted in the framework of the research project At Their Surroundings: Localizing Modern Jewish Literatures in Eastern Europe, funded by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF). We wish to thank the PIs of the project—Professors Efrat Gal-Ed, Sabine Koler, and Yfaat Weiss—for the enriching dialogue on Hebrew modernist literature. We would also like to thank Dr. Shmuel Barnai for his archival work, Mr. Boris Tar-nopolsky for sharing with us his vast knowledge of Gomel’s regional history, and Dr. Alexander Valdman for providing us with valuable information on the Russian Empire’s railway transportation system.

RAMBI publications

  • Shofman, Gershon -- 1880-1972 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Brenner, Joseph Hayyim -- 1881-1921 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Gnessin, Uri Nissan -- -1913 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Hebrew literature, Modern -- History and criticism
  • Jewish authors -- Belarus -- Homelʹ
  • Homelʹ (Belarus) -- In literature
  • Homelʹ (Belarus)


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