Posts tagged authenticity.

Russians call me German, Germans call me Russian, Jews call me a Christian, Christians a Jew. Pianists call me a composer, composers call me a pianist. The classicists think me a futurist, and the futurists call me a reactionary. My conclusion is that I am neither fish nor fowl – a pitiful individual.

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)

Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (Russian: Анто́н Григо́рьевич Рубинште́йн) (November 28 1829 – November 20 1894) was a Russian pianist, composer and conductor. As a pianist he ranks amongst the great nineteenth-century keyboard virtuosos. He founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which, together with the Moscow Conservatory founded by his brother Nikolai Rubinstein, were the first music schools of their type in Russia.

Rubinstein was born to Jewish parents in the village of Vikhvatinets in the district of Podolsk, Russia, (now known as Ofatinţi in Transnistria, Republic of Moldova). Before he was 5 years old, his paternal grandfather ordered all members of the Rubinstein family to convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodoxy.

Rubinstein, brought up as a Christian at least in name, lived in a household where three languages were spoken—Yiddish, Russian and German. Much later, when his musical “Russianness” was called into question by musical nationalist Mily Balakirev and others in The Five, Rubinstein might have been thinking of this part of his childhood, among other things, when he wrote [the above quotation] in his notebooks.

Conversion allowed the Rubinsteins to travel freely, something not permitted practicing Jews in Russia at the time. (via Wikipedia)

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)

Chabad forces Moscow Jews to ask a question that might not have occurred to them otherwise: “Who is an authentic Jew?”

Caryn Aviv & David Shneer, New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora (2005)


This is (part one of) the short documentary I created this summer (wrote a bit about this here & here) exploring my feelings of alienation and authenticity doubts within dominant Jewish culture in North America as a Soviet Jew who emigrated from the former USSR as a child. The documentary contextualizes my experiences within interviews (mostly done on Skype) with other 20-something Soviet Jews and my mother.

Part two:

I hope to continue working on this and if you’re interested in being interviewed, sharing your story, or just chatting with me, please contact me at