I had fur coats and fur hats and [they] smelled of various woodland animal-type smells. The teachers would take me aside and say, “Look, you can’t be this furry. You can’t dress in these furs. Children won’t play with you if you have that much fur on.” … Basically what I was told in school every day was where we came from was wrong and where we were now was right. … It’s a lot for a sensitive 7-year-old to be told that everything he loved and believed in has to be replaced with something else.
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, speaks to Fresh Air about adjusting to life in America after leaving the Soviet Union when he was 7. (via nprfreshair)
more Gary Shteyngart
The forgotten Jews of the Red Army
About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet Red Army during World War II. Most of those still alive today — about 7,000 — are said to live in Israel.
1) Boris Ginsburg joined partisans for two years and in 1944 he joined the Red Army as a combat soldier and fought till the and of the war.
2) Nahum Matovich, 87, poses for a portrait at his house in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. Matovich was an air force bomber pilot on Ilyushin Il-4 bomber in the Soviet 18th Air Army and fought in Japan and Korea. He immigrated to Israel from Kishinev, today’s Moldova, in 1994.
3) Yaakov Vilkovich, 90, poses for a portrait at his house in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Vilkovich joined the Red Army in 1941, served in the 31st Army’s infantry battalion and fought in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. He immigrated to Israel in 1998.
Soviet Educational Advertisement in Yiddish, 1920
The “Kheyder” (traditional religious school) is compared to the modern “Rotn shul” (“Red School”): “The old school has fostered slates. The red school prepares healthy, capable working men, builders of the Soviet Order.”
Before the state established several Soviet Yiddish-language schools to further a Soviet agenda.
The Cheburashka Project
The purpose of this project is to examine a generation of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. as children in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This generation uniquely absorbed several worlds of influence during its formative years- the impact of a Soviet Russian background, the experience of immigration, an immersion into American culture, and a shift in what it means to be a Jew. As this group becomes the first generation of Russian Jewish adults raised in America, they will both set the tone for their communities and represent them in the larger American cultural landscape.
The goal is to create a portrait of this generation through two methods:
- survey a subsection of the U.S. Russian Jewish population who came to the U.S. as children (participate in the survey!)
- feature individuals representing diverse experiences and perspectives in a short documentary film
Eugene Abeshaus, "Adam ate and ate fruit that Eve gave him, but doesn’t know anything" (1977)
more Eugene Abeshaus
Eugene Abeshaus, "He had no other place in the world" (1977)
more Eugene Abeshaus
Jonah and the Whale in Haifa Port by Eugene Abeshaus, 1939.
Eugene Zalmanovich Abeshaus (also spelled Evgeny Abezgauz, Евгений Абезгауз in Russian; 1939–2008) was a Jewish artist who worked in the USSR and Israel.
Born in Leningrad to a typical intelligentsia family, Abeshaus was educated as an electrical engineer but soon abandoned this career and enrolled in the Mukhina School for Applied Art. By the time of his graduation from the famous “Mukha” (Fly in Russian), he had developed a critical stance towards the official Soviet art dominated by the Communist ideology and began exhibiting at semi-underground exhibitions. This was culminated by his taking part in a famous 1975 exhibition at the Nevsky Palace of Culture. Abeshaus was fired from his job and censured by the official press.
Soon afterwards, Abeshaus, together with several Jewish artists, set up the Alef Group and became its leader. According to the Alef Manifesto written by Alec Rappoport, “We are trying to conquer the influence of small-town Jewish art and find sources for our work in deeper, wiser, and more spiritual European culture, and from it build a bridge to today and tomorrow.”
In May 1976, some of Abeshaus’s works, clandestinely sneaked out of the country, were exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum to much critical acclaim. Later in the same year, following some political bargain between Leonid Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, Abeshaus and his family were finally permitted to leave the USSR for Israel.
Since then Abeshaus lived and worked in Ein Hod, a picturesque artists’ village near Haifa founded by Marcel Janco. His works were shown at numerous exhibitions, including dozens of one-artist shows in Israel, USA, Europe, and, after the collapse of the USSR, in Russia. His ultimate acceptance and recognition there culminated in a sensational memorial one-artist exhibition staged in 2009 at the famous Russian Museum in St. Petersburg - an exceptional honor for a modern artist. [x]
See more of his artwork here.
Grisha Bruskin - Alefbet Lexicon (1987-1988)
Grisha Bruskin (Moscow, 1945) was raised in the Soviet Union. When he saw an exposition of Marc Chagall, he became aware of the vanished world of the shtetl that he only knew from books. Bruskin dreamt of exhibiting his own Jewish-inspired work. His first solo-expositions in Moscow and Vilna were forced to close because government officials thought his work propagated Zionism.
The Alefbet Lexicon researches Jewish archetypes and consists of patriarchal figures who proudly express their Jewish faith through traditional clothing and attributes. He paints mysteriously dressed Jews who carry symbols like matzohs (matzohs were hardly available in the Soviet Union), chandeliers and other rare ritual objects, like Torah-scrolls, Siddurim, fruits and plants used for Jewish holidays, there are also winged angels, pious mystics and possessed souls. Isolated like the saints on Russian icons they seem to express a nostalgia to a religious world that no longer existed in the Soviet Union. All these isolated figures could form a new system: a new Jewish ‘text’, an encyclopedia of images and ideas. Bruskins figures are begging to come alive, like the seperate blocks of commentary that surround the classical Jewish text are waiting to be revitalised through a debate with the modern day reader.
Source: Edward van Voolen. Joodse Kunst en Cultuur (Jewish Art and Culture) 2006.
Grisha Bruskin (Grigoriy Davidovich Bruskin, Russian: Григорий Давидович Брускин; born 1945 in Moscow) is a Russian Jewish painter, active until 1989 in the Soviet Union, and since 1989 in the United States.
Bruskin’s Soviet-era work was nonconformist and largely dealt with being Jewish in the Soviet Union. Many of his works reference Kabbalah, though generally without putting forth any narrative interpretation. His 1982 painting In the Red Space attracted unfavorable attention from the authorities for depicting a golem wearing a Soviet uniform, carrying a synagogue out of which people are falling, all against a red background. In 1989, he emigrated to the United States, where he became one of the more successful Russian-Jewish émigré artists. [x]
You can see more of his artwork at his website.