Blog Archives

I've taken a break from blogging while I pursue other projects. Feel free to check out my post highlights and archives below.

Lego man on swing

It’s oh so quiet…

Jun 5, 2014

I am taking a slight hiatus from the blogging as I turn my attention to my main project of the moment – the Soviet-Jewish immigration stories and oral history project. What project? I’m interviewing Soviet-Jewish immigrants who came to Canada in the 1970s and early 1980s. If that’s you, or someone you know, get in…

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Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2014 ticket giveaway

Weekend Give-Away – Do Russian-Jewish at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival!

May 2, 2014

I’m excited to announce that the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which is on now, has very generously offered to giveaway 10 tickets to screenings of ‘The Unvanquished’ and ‘From Russia with Falafel’. Want those tickets? You just have to sign up for the Soviet Samovar – my monthly round-up of Russian-Jewish news, events and culture.…

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Jasper Johns Flag painting at the MOMA in New York

American dreams and the state of statelessness

Apr 10, 2014

Review of Stateless in Tablet When I was at Limmud last month, I had a chance to see a new documentary on the Soviet-Jewish immigration of the late ’80s, called Stateless. I also got to review it for Tablet Magazine and naturally, I think you should go read it. The movie looks at why the…

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The Americans Cold War spy show on FX

A Soviet-Jewish nightmare comes true on The Americans

Mar 27, 2014

Well. That was gut-wrenching. I’m a little speechless. Our anti-hero protagonists just reached into my own personal life and gave it a shake. Or, more to the point, it’s like the KGB reached out and tapped my parents on the shoulders — really, every Russian that I knew as a child — and said “Here…

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The Americans Cold War spy show on FX

Why I can’t stop watching The Americans

Mar 26, 2014

  Can we talk about The Americans? Let’s talk about The Americans. Because no one in my Russian-Jewish circles is talking about this show, and now they’ve got a storyline about Soviet-Jews and you should all start watching it. Even Gary Shteyngart is watching – it’s his favourite show this season (thanks, Twitter). Imagine this…

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Limmud FSU Canada organizing committee 2013

Limmud FSU Canada is coming in October

Mar 19, 2014

I’ve mentioned this before, but now there’s a website, so it’s real – Limmud FSU Canada is coming in October. Of course you’ll be there, right? The organizing committee went on a planning retreat in January (that’d be the one where I yakked about my bukvar and other awkward childhood moments), and I thought I’d…

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Soviet Childhood pictures from my Russian Bukvar

12 things I learned about Soviet childhood from my Bukvar

Mar 13, 2014

After my last post, one of my cousins got nostalgic for her old Bukvar and thought she’d try to buy one online. She found one on Amazon, to the tune of $2,450. My heart is breaking that I didn’t have the fortitude to do anything more useful with mine than mark it all up for…

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Russian bukvhar from 1970s

Russian Bukvar for beginners – How I almost didn’t learn Russian

Mar 5, 2014

I wrote a bit last time about one of my ‘immigrant identity crisis’ vignettes that I shared at the Limmud retreat. But it started with an assignment, to bring an artifact, or object, from home about our Russian-Jewish heritage. When you and your childhood home are separated by over 3,000km, digging up an acceptable artifact…

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Russian women and make-up

The Russian make-up brigade

Feb 27, 2014

Early in January, I spent a weekend at a planning retreat for Limmud FSU Canada (it’s the first ever Limmud FSU in Canada, and yes, expect to hear more from me about it soon). We were all asked to bring an artifact that spoke to our Russian selves, and as part of the identity-digging activity…

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Moscow Olympics Mascots 1980 and 2014

Links Round-Up: Winter Olympics, Sochi-style

Feb 25, 2014

A number of people have asked me in the last few weeks whether I have any national pride for Russia during these Olympics. Maybe it’s all the writing I’ve been doing the last few years, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before about cheering on another country. It’s never even occurred to me…

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Maxim Shrayer Memoir - Leaving Russia Interview

Growing up Refusenik: A Q&A with Maxim Shrayer on his new memoir

Dec 12, 2013

[Update – Want to read this in Russian? Click here to read a translation of my Q+A on] Memoirs about Soviet-Jewish life during the immigration period of the 1970s and 1980s have not yet saturated the memoir genre, so I’m excited to tell you about a new book that’s just come out this month. Leaving…

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Soviet Schoolchildren for Soviet-Jewish immigrants post

Share your story! Looking for Soviet-Jewish immigrants from the 1970s

Dec 11, 2013

Hi guys, I’m really excited to tell you about funding I’ve received to do an oral history project on the 1970s immigration period!! I’ll be interviewing people and posting it as part of an online exhibit on the history of the Soviet-Jewish immigration. Here’s where you can help – I’m looking for Soviet-Jewish immigrants to…

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Tintin anti-Soviet roots: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

Tintin’s secret anti-Soviet propaganda roots

Dec 10, 2013

The library of my elementary school had an extensive collection of Tintin books. I managed to read them all in the three years I spent there. I haven’t picked up a Tintin since, even when the movie came out a few years ago. But I recently found a copy of “Tintin in the Land of…

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Russian kompot

Russian Kompot: I’m probably doing it wrong (with recipe)

Nov 25, 2013

I finally made the kompot. What’s kompot? Russian kompot is essentially a homemade fruit juice. It’s been around for centuries and is popular in Russia and the former East Bloc. I only recently learned that what I always thought was kompot was actually compote, which is also made with cooked fruit, but has less liquid…

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Operatsiya Y Soviet movie - Operation Y with Shurik

Operatsiya Y: A Soviet movie flashback. With kompot!

Nov 21, 2013

Park yourself at a dinner table of Russians, and inevitably, as the eating part winds down and the drinks are doing their thing, someone says “And the kompot?” And everyone else laughs uproariously and the kompot rarely, rarely ever appears. It’s a line from an old Soviet movie. And, since it’s a line from every…

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Kristallnacht on Twitter post - interior of burnt synagogue in Berlin

Kristallnacht on Twitter seems hopelessly naive

Nov 11, 2013

This weekend was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass, when thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed across Germany. Ninety-one Jews died that night. That was the night of November 9/10, 1938. (Awkward anniversary tie-in – on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.) Media…

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Big data and Stalin - tweet from Evgeny Morozov

A big data future made for Stalin

Nov 7, 2013

Well, there’s this. Was Stalin a man ahead of his time? On big data and Stalin, via Evgeny Morozov.

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An Instagram worthy of royalty and madmen (with video!)

Oct 28, 2013

Following up on last week’s post, some related notes on the dictators of the interwebs. Because once you’re done Photoshopping those propaglamour shots, where else do you turn but to Instagram? Slate posted a round-up video of Assad & his cohort are getting up to on Instagram a few months ago. Yes, dictators on Instagram is…

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North Korea statues

Can you Photoshop that? Our tone-deaf response to the Kim Jong-Uns of the world

Oct 24, 2013

One of my favourite Soviet-era jokes goes something like this: Three Russians are in the gulag. The first one says, “What are you in for?” The second one replies, “I called Zbarsky a revolutionary.” “That’s funny,” the first one says. “I called Zbarsky a counterrevolutionary.” “That’s funny,” the third one says. “I am Zbarsky.” (I may have…

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Alexander Rodchenko and constructivism - famous 1925 poster

What we really mean when we copy Soviet constructivism from Alexander Rodchenko

Oct 18, 2013

I was writing a post about how the internet is keeping the USSR alive – or at least, its “stuff,” like posters and old medals – but I got distracted by this poster, so instead you get to read about Alexander Rodchenko and constructivism. Question: Was this poster as familiar to its original, Soviet audience, as…

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Soviet Propaganda Porcelain - Lenin plate

Soviet Propaganda Porcelain: Inside the Imperial Porcelain Factory

Jul 18, 2013

While we were in St. Petersburg, we went on a private tour of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and got to see some Soviet propaganda porcelain for the first time. I didn’t know such a thing even existed – I always thought propaganda was largely “limited” to media. That is, posters, movies, radio and TV. But…

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Lenin statue outside Finland station

Vestiges of Empire – Tracking Lenin statues through Russia and Ukraine

Jul 12, 2013

I grew up in a country that is pathologically allergic to patriotism. I don’t think I need to tell you about the country I was born in and patriotism. Which, among other things, translated into a lot of statues and monuments. Broken Lenins and Stalins are part of our stock downfall-of-an-empire imagery, so I didn’t expect…

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Reclaiming the Soviet Holocaust film industry: My article in Tablet

Jun 13, 2013

I’m very excited about my latest article for Tablet on a new book about Soviet Holocaust films. The book is called The Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe, by Olga Gershenson. (Yes, that’s the book I was reading while waiting to pick up my visa application.) I’m not sure I did justice to the…

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