Blog

From Russia to Israel and back (to Siberia) again

June 11, 2010

Birobidzhan – a Jewish homeland in Siberia, endorsed by Stalin. It sounds like either the beginning of a Soviet joke, or a satirical novel by someone like Michael Chabon. I’d heard about Birobidzhan before, but had thought the idea died off a long time ago. It was established by Stalin in 1934, and is still…

Keep Reading »

New film: Soviet Jews in Minnesota

June 3, 2010

Leaving aside the questionable capitalization—The American VOICES of the Soviet Jews—this new documentary from the Minnesota Soviet-Jewish community captures the stories of Soviet Jews who lived through WWII. I like that it turns the camera onto ordinary people who just happened to be born into the wrong time and place. And that after all that…

Keep Reading »

Soviet gulags just not sexy enough for the zeitgeist

June 2, 2010
Cover of Purge by Sofi Oksanen

I just finished reading Purge by Sofi Oksanen, recently translated into English from Finnish. I’ve been slowly reading for about a week now, but then halfway through, I suddenly got much more into it, and finished the entire book in a night. It’s not a book to read before bed, in case you also plan…

Keep Reading »

Three generations, three languages: A former refusenik on language and identity

April 19, 2010

Ha’aretz has an interview with Soviet refusenik writer David Markish, who immigrated to Israel in 1972. Thirty-six years later, Markish still writes all his books (15 so far, though almost none available here) in his native Russian. Markish’s father, Peretz Markish, a prominent Yiddish writer, was executed by the Soviet regime and the family was…

Keep Reading »

Roman Vishniac’s photography: The impoverished life that wasn’t quite

April 5, 2010
Roman Vishniac Exhibit at Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam; photo by the Persian-Dutch Network

A few years ago, I was at a lecture on Jewish immigration where someone asked why Soviet/Russian Jewish immigrants were so smug about their academic credentials. The response? Academics was just about the only thing they had to feel good about, since, as a group, Russian-Jews were not well accepted by the established Jewish community.…

Keep Reading »

Soviet and Jewish and stateless

March 1, 2010

1980. I was just barely two years old, but already a stateless refugee when my family arrived in Canada that winter. Six months earlier, we’d left the Soviet Union, travelling first to Vienna and then, by train, Rome. That year, we were among the 50,000-odd Jews who’d been permitted to leave the USSR. We were…

Keep Reading »