As the decade comes to a close, I’m looking back at how the Russian-Jewish world has changed. I first started writing about Soviet-Jewish history, immigration and culture just over a decade ago, so this retrospective feels like a personal milestone. Back then, I hurriedly collected every snippet of writing about Russian-Jews, delighted anyone was thinking about us at all. Ten years on, we’re awash in words, in music, in art, in film, and more coming out all the time. Don’t get me wrong — there’s so much yet to be explored and uncovered about the Soviet-Jewish experience during and since the USSR. But we are hitting our stride, and as we march towards the 30th anniversary of the Soviet collapse, I’m confident our ability to tell our stories and highlight our relevance to the global Jewish story will only grow.
For the next 10 days, until Novye god (New Year’s), I’ll be highlighting my top picks for this decade, the works that have advanced and changed how we think about and understand Soviet Jewry. They are works that have also stuck with me personally, expanded my own knowledge of the Soviet-Jewish experience, or sometimes “just” moved me deeply. Like all list-making endeavours, it is inherently biased. It’s not a definitive list and it may not be your list.
But as I gathered more items and received many excellent suggestions on Twitter, I realized that both 10 items and 2010s only was an arbitrary cut-off that wouldn’t do justice to all the amazing material out there. Excellent, groundbreaking work came out before 2010, and more will come in the next decade. A list for the sake of a list, for the sake of this particular moment or that particular moment, doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is to pause and say, “here’s where we’re at.” But there’s nothing unique to Soviet-Jews about 2020. There was in 2017. And there will be again in 2021. So, in addition to this list, which I’ll post daily, I’ll be publishing a series of lists next month, highlighting essential content across a number of categories in the Soviet-Jewish world. Stay tuned!
- When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone – Gal Beckerman
- Yiddish Glory: Lost Songs of WWII – Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko
- Breaking Stalin’s Nose – Eugene Yelchin
- A Replacement Life – Boris Fishman
- Operation Wedding – Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov
- Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking – Anya von Bremzen
- small things left behind – Ella Zeltserman
- Little Failure – Gary Shteyngart
- Through Soviet Jewish Eyes – David Shneer
- On the Landing – Yenta Mash and Ellen Cassedy