Posts tagged Israel.


Photos from Israel’s ex-Soviet community. Oded Balilty.


After the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, more than 1 million of its citizens took advantage of Jewish roots to flee to Israel.

Israel has the world’s third-largest Russian-speaking community outside the former Soviet Union. About one in five Israelis are Russian emigres, and they occupy virtually every corner of Israeli society.

By virtue of their sheer numbers and their tenacity in clinging to their culture and their old way of life, these immigrants have transformed the face of Israel. They live in the Middle East, but their lives are Eastern European.

[more photos at the link above]



Jews demonstrate outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1973. Signs read “Let us Go to Israel”

Do you even know how much chutzpah that took given the time and place

Some of the signs say “Visas to Israel instead of jails”

These are Jewish refuseniks (individuals, typically Soviet Jews, denied exit visas by the Soviet Union).

(via bride-of-bucky)

Itsik Fefer and Shlomo Mikhoels meet with Albert Einstein. Princeton, 1943. (via YIVO Archives)

Itsik Fefer (1900–1952), Yiddish poet. Born in Shpola, Ukraine, Itsik Fefer was 12 years old when he began to work at a printing shop. In 1917 he joined the Bund and became a trade union activist. A Communist from 1919, he served in the Red Army. He began writing poems in 1918, and in 1922 joined Vidervuks (New Growth) in Kiev, a group of young Yiddish literati whose mentor was Dovid Hofshteyn.

Fefer was known for his literary credo of proste reyd (simple speech), a concept he formulated in 1922. In the early 1920s, poetry, particularly avant-garde poetry, swamped the literary pages of Soviet Yiddish periodicals. This phenomenon worried editors and critics, who were wary of the fact that Yiddish readers usually could not identify with this style of literature. All Yiddish readers, by contrast, could understand Fefer’s proste reyd.

Fefer published his poetic cycle Bliendike mistn (Manure in Bloom) in 1929, which he presented as a travelogue of a trip he took back to Shpola. He believed that the shtetl could be revitalized as a center of Jewish life and culture and could be the grounds for a new Soviet Jewish nation. Yet his poetic eye did not overlook general industrialization projects, and he was happy to see young Jewish men and women among the romantic builders of Communist society. In the 1930s, Fefer also concentrated on the Birobidzhan nation-building project; his book Birobidzhaner lider (Birobidzhan Poems) was published in 1939. At the same time, he wrote many lyrical poems, some of which were set to music.

During World War II, Fefer was an agent of the secret police on the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). In 1943, he and Solomon Mikhoels, the committee’s chair, visited the United States, Canada, Mexico, and England, successfully mobilizing pro-Soviet support. National pride runs through his poetry of that period. The poem “Ikh bin a Yid” (I Am a Jew) is the best-known sample of such Soviet Jewish patriotism. Fefer includes in his Soviet Jewish genealogy such figures as Bar Kokhba, King Solomon, Baruch Spinoza, Isaak LevitanIakov Sverdlov, and Lazar Kaganovich. In his 1948 poem “A vending tsu Peretsn” (An Address to Peretz), Fefer declares a pedigree of Soviet Yiddish literature. He crowns Y. L. Peretz as the genius of Yiddish literature, whereas Sholem Aleichem, the central figure in the Soviet Yiddish literary canon, appears only as part of Peretz’s entourage, which also includes Ḥayim Naḥman BialikDovid Bergelson, and Der Nister.

As did many Soviet Jews, Fefer enthusiastically welcomed the establishment of the State of Israel. He argued that the new state was the concern of the entire Jewish people and that the heroism of Soviet people contributed more to its creation than American Zionism. In the late 1940s, however, Stalin’s regime had no use for Communists who cherished Jewish national hopes. Fefer was arrested in 1948, together with other members of the JAC. He was executed on 12 August 1952.

In the 1990s, the publication of archival materials dealt a blow to the posthumous reputation of Fefer: during the persecution of the JAC, his testimony was central to the prosecution’s case.

(via YIVO)

Who is a Jew? ›


“The revival of Jewish life among some of the Russian Jews in Germany has been an important corrective for thinking Israelis. In the 1980s and 1990s, when Jews streamed out of the Soviet Union, their exit visas all citing Israel as their destination, Israel fought foreign governments and diaspora Jewish organisations to stop them dropping off on the way. They were not refugees, the Israeli government and the World Zionist Organisation contended. They had a homeland: Israel. Outside Israel their Jewish identity would die.

This has not happened in Germany, nor in America, where the mixture of assimilation, religiosity and ethnic identity among the hundreds of thousands of ex-Soviet Jews who live there is similar to that of the broader Jewish community. All this suggests that diasporas are more resilient than dogmas of Zionist primacy admit.


“Most German Jewish communities restrict their membership to halachic Jews only; that is, those born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism in accordance with the halacha. Many of the Russian immigrants do not qualify for membership. Some of them undergo conversion; most do not, leaving them in a sort of Jewish limbo.”


Marc Chagall, floor mosaic in the Knesset, Israel

  July 05, 2012 at 10:03am via sshmeer

(via The Palestine Poster Project Archives)

"Free Soviet Jews!" for Solidarity Sunday March, Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, New York, 1983

Artist: Julia Noonan

Angry Americans of all stripes are confronting Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party (1964-1982), demanding that Russian Jews be permitted to leave the Soviet Union. A pennant declaring “Free Soviet Jews” and two Israeli flags fly over the crowd assembled at Battery Park in Manhattan – notice the Statue of Liberty in the background. This is a powerful image for the 1980’s cause that united almost all Jews of the United States. (via Art at the Center)

Part of the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s "Let My People Go! The Soviet Jewry Movement, 1967-1989" exhibit, running until August 5th, 2012.

If the Russians celebrate Christmas, how can they be Jewish? […]

[T]he following morning, [I] called up my friend Yanna, a Russian-born magazine journalist, and referred the question to her. […]

It turns out that while Christmas proper (“Rashdistvo” in Russian) was not sanctioned by Soviet authority, New Years (“Novy God”) was. Citizens of the Soviet Union infused Novy God with the traditional symbols of Russian Christmas: the figures of Grandpa frost (“Diedmoroz”) and his helper or granddaughter Snowflake (“Sniguruchka”), trees and gifts, carols and lights. The national, officially secular holiday was celebrated by all, including Jews.

“God was nonexistent, and anything Soviet was repulsive,” Yanna explained, “so ‘New Years’ was the single most important day of the year, at least as important as one’s birthday. It was a ‘pure’ holiday, clean of religion, of politics and of brainwash.

“For us,” she continued, “this was in fact the only holiday. We were a Jewish family and conscious of our Jewishness, but lacking the most basic knowledge of the history of its people or its traditions. I remember one Passover when we got Matzos from a friend who traveled in from St. Petersburg. We sat on the table full of bread and pork and we ate them without really knowing what they meant. All we knew is that they were Jewish, and they tasted heavenly.

A Christmas Journey Part 11: Granpa Frost & Snowflake (+972 Mag)

Lazarov well remembers the first year when he wanted to celebrate the civil New Year in Israel, and asked where he could buy a fir tree. The reactions were hostile. They told him that it wasn’t nice, they reprimanded him, saying that it was a Christian custom, they told him it was forbidden. “We felt a bit like in Russia,” laughs Lazarov, “but there the prohibitions originated in the government, and here they originated with the neighbors. There it was dangerous to go to the synagogue even in the 1980s, here it was simply unpleasant to buy a fir tree. We understood that we had to do everything almost secretly. The Jews in Russia who wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also had to do so secretly.”

For most of the immigrants, Novy God is a reminder of a pleasant tradition in the countries of the former Soviet Union, which didn’t provide many causes for celebration. For the vast majority there is no connection between the fir tree and Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus. Most were never exposed to this connection in the Soviet Union, which lacked religious symbols. The fir tree is simply a beautiful winter tree that provides a nice decoration for the home. Even Santa Claus is foreign to them. They have Grandfather Frost, who comes not from Lapland but from the forests, and his granddaughter Snow White, who distributes presents to the children. “That was the only holiday that the Bolsheviks didn’t succeed in endowing with an alternative ideological character,” says Lazarov. “So that we received a totally natural holiday.”

A Happy Novy God (without god) - Haaretz Daily Newspaper

Photo by Natasha Sharymova

(via russkayaliteratura)

Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996)

Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky was reviled and persecuted in his native Soviet Union, but the Western literary establishment lauded him as one of that country’s finest poets. From the time he began publishing his verse—both under his own name, and under the name Joseph Brodsky—which was characterized by ironic wit and a spirit of fiery independence, Brodsky aroused the ire of Soviet authorities; he was also persecuted because he was a Jew. He was brought to trial for “parasitism,” and a smuggled transcript of that trial helped bring him to the attention of the West, for he answered his interrogators with courageous and articulate idealism. Brodsky was condemned to a Soviet mental institution and later spent five years in Arkhangelsk, an Arctic labor camp.

According to a Times Literary Supplement reviewer, Brodsky’s poetry “is religious, intimate, depressed, sometimes confused, sometimes martyr-conscious, sometimes elitist in its views, but it does not constitute an attack on Soviet society or ideology unless withdrawal and isolation are deliberately construed as attack: of course they can be, and evidently were.” According to a reviewer in Time, the poet’s expulsion from Russia was “the culmination of an inexplicable secret-police vendetta against him that has been going on for over a decade.” Brodsky said: “They have simply kicked me out of my country, using the Jewish issue as an excuse.” The vendetta first came to a head in a Leningrad trial in 1964, when Brodsky was charged with writing “gibberish” instead of doing honest work; he was sentenced to five years hard labor. Protests from artists and writers helped to secure his release after eighteen months, but his poetry still was banned. Israel invited him to immigrate, and the government encouraged him to go; Brodsky, though, refused, explaining that he did not identify with the Jewish state. Finally, Russian officials insisted that he leave the country. Despite the pressures, Brodsky reportedly wrote to Leonid Brezhnev before leaving Moscow asking for “an opportunity to continue to exist in Russian literature and on Russian soil.” 

Brodsky’s poetry bears the marks of his confrontations with the Russian authorities. “Brodsky is someone who has tasted extremely bitter bread,” wrote Stephen Spender in New Statesman, ”and his poetry has the air of being ground out between his teeth… . It should not be supposed that he is a liberal, or even a socialist. He deals in unpleasing, hostile truths and is a realist of the least comforting and comfortable kind. Everything nice that you would like him to think, he does not think. But he is utterly truthful, deeply religious, fearless and pure. Loving, as well as hating.” 

Brodsky observed, “Language and, presumably, literature are things that are more ancient and inevitable, more durable than any form of social organization. The revulsion, irony, or indifference often expressed by literature toward the state is essentially the reaction of the permanent—better yet, the infinite—against the temporary, against the finite… . The real danger for a writer is not so much the possibility (and often the certainty) of persecution on the part of the state, as it is the possibility of finding oneself mesmerized by the state’s features which, whether monstrous or undergoing changes for the better, are always temporary.” 

Exile was always difficult for Brodsky. In one poem, he described an exiled writer as one “who survives like a fish in the sand.” Yet despite these feelings, Brodsky was largely unmoved by the sweeping political changes that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union. He told David Remnick of the Washington Post that those changes were “devoid of autobiographical interest” for him, and that his allegiance was to his language. In the Detroit Free Press, Bob McKelvey cited Brodsky’s declaration from a letter: “I belong to the Russian culture. I feel part of it, its component, and no change of place can influence the final consequence of this. A language is a much more ancient and inevitable thing than a state. I belong to the Russian language.”

(via The Poetry Foundation)

Study: Russian-speaking immigrants moving further right on Israeli political spectrum (Haaretz) ›

[T]he study found, 55 percent of the immigrants said Israel should work to reduce the number of Arabs in the country, compared to only 41 percent of veteran Israelis. About two-thirds said Israeli Arabs constitute a national security risk, compared with 59 percent of veteran Israelis. And only 4 percent would accept their child marrying a Muslim Arab, compared to 9 percent of veteran Israelis.


"Essentially, they joined the existing national consensus, in which Arabs lie beyond the bounds of legitimacy," [Prof. Majid Al-Haj, Haifa University’s vice president and dean of research, who served as lead researcher on the study] said. "If we thought these immigrants, who are primarily secular, would contribute to broadening the boundaries of legitimacy, it didn’t happen. They didn’t serve as a bridge.

Pretty upsetting stuff, though not really all that surprising. I posted an article a little while back about Russian-Jewish immigrants as a reliable Republican voting bloc in the US, and I want to post a relevant quote from that article:

“Lurking behind these much-discussed reasons for Russian Jewish conservatism is the fact of deeply ingrained Russian xenophobia, which some say the nation’s Jews have internalized despite being an oppressed group themselves. This, say some, makes them more susceptible to the racial dog whistles employed by conservative politicians.”

  July 07, 2011 at 01:57am