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
Posts tagged Soviet.
Eugene Abeshaus, "Adam ate and ate fruit that Eve gave him, but doesn’t know anything" (1977)
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Eugene Abeshaus, "He had no other place in the world" (1977)
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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.
In the decades before the Holocaust, national identity and Yiddish spelling were deeply intertwined. When I read Yiddish literature printed before World War II, I can often guess the writers’ political milieu through their spelling alone. In 19th-century Europe, religious writers spelled Yiddish words by imitating Hebrew, using vowel markings where none were necessary so their new writing would resemble ancient Hebrew texts. Meanwhile, Jews who wanted to assimilate into European life wrote in a Yiddish spelling that openly imitated German. This brand of spelling — it used Hebrew letters to represent even silent German characters in shared cognates — subtly announced, as leaders of the German Jewish Reform movement once proclaimed, that “Berlin is our Jerusalem.”
Dara Horn, “Jewish Identity, Spelled in Yiddish" (The New York Times)
Spelling in the early Soviet Union was even more perverse. There, government control over Yiddish schools and presses led to the invention and enforcement of a literally anti-Semitic Yiddish orthography by spelling the language’s many Semitic-origin words phonetically instead of in Hebrew. (Imagine spelling “naïve” as “nigh-eve” in order to look less French.) It was an attempt to erase Jewish culture’s biblical roots, letter by letter.
"Sometimes children were forced to perform antireligious actions in school that were organized in the form of a game. Many respondents reported that the idea of Passover was connected with various unconventional activities. Samuil G., who took part in these events in a shtetl in the Ukraine, remembers:
[W]e had many interesting activities taking place in [Yiddish] school. First, older children, the komyugistn [Komsomol members] would come to conduct some activities for us. They explained how religion oppressed the masses in other countries. We played many interesting games together. For example, on the first day of Passover, they would gather us together and give each of us ten pieces of bread. We were given the task of going to Jewish houses and throwing a piece into the window of ten different houses. The one who was the fastest would receive a prize. We enjoyed the game very much, especially when the old, angry women came out of their houses and ran after us screaming ‘Apikorsim!’ [‘Heretics!’]. We felt like heroes of the revolution and were very proud. But in the evening we would all go home and celebrate the traditional seder with all the necessary rituals.”
— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 41.
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Despite the antireligious content of the Red seders, they were distinctly Jewish events, organized for Jews, by Jews, and, equally important, they were conducted in Yiddish. Even the building in which the event took place was frequently a former synagogue. Most Jews did not perceive these activities as anti-Jewish. They saw them as Soviet Jewish events, created for their entertainment, and also as traditional holidays. Even after the most successful Red seders, which were attended by large audiences, the majority would go home and celebrate traditional Passover seders. Furthermore, those who conducted the Red seder often hurried to conclude the event since their families were waiting for them at home to celebrate the traditional seder.
Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 39.
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Mi asapru, mi adabru,
Hey, hey, lomche dreydl,
Ver ken visn, ver ken tseyln
Vos dos eynts batayt, vos dos eynts batayt
Eyner iz Karl Marx, un Marx iz eyner,
Un mer nit keyner.
Vos dos tsvey batayt, vos dos tsvey batayt
Tsvey iz Lenin-Trotsky
Un eyner iz der Karl Marx,
Un Marx iz eyner, un mer nit keyner.
Vos dos dray batayt, vos dos dray batayt
Dray iz internatsional, tsvey iz Lenin Trotsky,
Eynts iz Karl Marx, un Marx iz keyner, un mer nit keyner.
Who will tell me, who will say
Hey, hey, turn the dreidel
Who can know, who can count
What does one mean, what does one mean?
One is Karl Marx, Marx is one
There is no one else.
What does two mean, what does two mean?
Two is Lenin-Trotsky
One is Karl Marx,
Marx is one, and there is no one else.
What does three mean, what does three mean?
Three means Internationals, two means Lenin-Trotsky,
One is Karl Marx, and there is not one more.
Efim G. remembers a song of the Red Seder conducted in his shtetl of Parichi. Oral testimony in Anna Shternshis’ Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 37-8.
"This song is a parody of a traditional Passover song. The original words say ‘One is God, two are two scrolls of Torah, given to the Jews on the mount of Zion, and three are the number of the Jewish fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob].’ Efim G. actually thought that this was a Soviet Jewish song. He did not know that this was an adaption of a much older Jewish song until he came to the United States in 1989, where he was invited to a traditional Passover dinner."
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