Jun 26 2014
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio recently kicked off Russian Heritage Month by proclaiming that, “it’s about time government and municipal agency forms and documents be translated into Russian.” He added that NYC is the ultimate city of immigrants and that Russian immigrants keep the city strong.
When my family and I emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1977, I was 7 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. No, that’s not true. I knew two words: “apple,” because it was on the first page of my English alphabet book, and “the,” because, for the life of me, no one could explain what it meant. And no one around me could pronounce it correctly.
In 1977, it was believed that the best way to learn a new language was through complete immersion. I was put into second grade, into a class where I was the only kid who spoke Russian. (I was one of just two Russian-speaking students in the entire school.) Read the rest of this entry →
May 15 2014
Meet Maria Winetzkaja, a renowned opera singer and a rebellious, independent woman.
Russian-born around 1888, her father was a cantor, but Maria wanted nothing to do with her family’s Judaism. She called it ridiculous and foolish, due to what she perceived to be a lack of respect for women, according to her grandson Steven Winnett. His biography of her relates what happened next:
Her family moved to the United States in 1904, following a series of pogroms. She studied opera in New York, eventually traveling the globe as a performer and learning to speak eight languages. She sang at New York’s Carnegie Hall but never at the Metropolitan Opera, the pinnacle of success for American singers: the reason, she said, was that she refused to sleep with one of the Met’s directors. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 18 2014
Because I work in the media, I never believe a word anyone says or writes. (I know full well there is no such thing as an unbiased journalist, or an editor without an agenda.) Because I was born in Ukraine (then a part of the Soviet Union), I most especially never believe a word anyone says or writes coming out of that particular region of the world.
That’s why, when friends began emailing me the USA Today article, soon backed up (or maybe merely copy and pasted) by other outlets, that claimed Jews in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk “emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” I refused to leap immediately into panic mode.
Within hours, another source, in The New Republic, claimed that while the leaflets may have been real, they were not issued by the local government, but by their opponents in order to deliberately smear the pro-Russian side of the Crimea conflict. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 12 2013
Hello and welcome to another exciting episode of: Alina Tries to Make Her Kids Speak Russian. (To learn why I want them to speak Russian, read my previous post here.)
I thought I’d found the answer when I discovered JAR-Ptitsa: Judaism Through the Arts (the J.A.R. stands for Jewish American Russian and the word jarptitsa in Russian means firebird; clever, no?). All three of my kids are very artistically oriented, so I figured this was perfect! They’ll do the stuff they love, they’ll speak Russian, they’ll meet other kids who also speak Russian, and they’ll even learn about Judaism along the way. What could be better? How could this fail?
I’ll tell you how. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 13 2013
My parents and I immigrated to the United States from the then-Soviet Union in 1977. My father is a staunch anti-Communist. He is also a very cryptic, closed off man (teddy bear rescues aside). As a result, my brother and I are in agreement that, should he turn out to actually have been a Soviet sleeper agent for all of this time, we’d be surprised–but not too surprised.
When FX announced their new series, “The Americans” for Wednesday nights at 10, I knew I had to give it a shot. For two reasons. One) It was about a pair of Communist agents living undercover in the States, pretending to be a couple of perfectly normal, Mom and apple pie loving, suburban citizens. And Two) It was set in the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 8 2013
I start this blog post about Vladimir Putin banning the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans with two full disclosures:
1) I was born in the former Soviet Union and brought to the US by my own parents when I was a child. I have since been back to Russia several times, for professional and personal reasons, and I can state without qualms that, in my opinion, life in America beats anything the former Eastern bloc has to offer now, or back in the day of the USSR. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 27 2012
Me protesting at 12 years old.
December 6, 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the Free Soviet Jewry movement’s historic march on Washington in anticipation of Mikhail Gorbochev’s visit to the U.S. 250,000 people showed up to express their solidarity and to pressure the government of the USSR to “Let My People Go.”
I wasn’t at that rally. But by 1987, I had already lived in the US for 10 years and was a veteran of numerous local, similar events. I’d carried signs outside the Soviet consulate in San Francisco and on the sidewalk in front of theaters where Soviet actors or singers were performing. I’d almost gotten trampled by angry Asians at an event to condemn the USSR shooting down of a Korean jet-liner in 1983 and, because I was an adorably pig-tailed little immigrant girl who spoke good English (loudly) and didn’t appear to possess a shyness gene, I was paraded out to speak at rallies and fundraising events. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 13 2012
My mom, my son, and Lenin.
Just in case having one husband, three kids, and a half dozen freelance writing jobs weren’t enough, I’ve recently added another activity to my already tottering plate: taking the three aforementioned kids (expressing varying levels of enthusiasm) to JAR-Ptitsa, a new program at our temple designed to teach Jewish children about their heritage via music, art and drama… in Russian.
My African-American husband had no objection to it (especially as it leaves the house to himself for several hours while we’re gone), but he did point out, “You realize that’s the equivalent of me teaching the kids about their culture at a Friends of the Confederacy meeting.”
His point being: Why am I so determined to teach my children Russian when it’s the language of a country that, as far as he’s heard from every Soviet immigrant he’s ever met (and he’s met more than his share; not to mention spent many an evening as the only non-Russian speaker in a crowd), Jews were at best shunned, on average mistreated, and at worst, killed? Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 20 2012
So, remember when I said that this summer my kids were doing… nothing?
I tried to stick to the plan, I really did. But then, I found out about this free dance camp for my 8-year-old son. (And if there is one thing I love more than making life easy for myself it’s things that are free .
And then, thanks to the articles I’ve written here on Kveller about my Soviet Jewish background, I was contacted by the Marks JCH of Bensonhurst asking if I might be interested in sending my oldest to Camp B’Yachad, a 12-day overnight program happening this August 22 to September 2, specifically for teens from Russian-Jewish families. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 19 2012
If my life had followed the statistically expected trajectory, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1976, my family would have settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, home of the United States’ largest Russian-Jewish community. (It’s also very possible that I might have gone to Stuyvesant High School and thus met my husband about 15 years earlier. When, we both agree, I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. But, that’s another story for another time.)
We didn’t, though. We ended up in San Francisco, CA, instead. I stayed in California until the last week of 1994, whereupon I finally packed up and relocated to New York City. But, to Manhattan, not Brooklyn. Read the rest of this entry →