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Mar 12 2013

Sometimes, Bribing Your Kids Just Works

By at 10:00 am

kids singing in russian concertHello 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

A Soviet Immigrant Mother’s Take on “The Americans”

By at 11:57 am

the americans 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

A Soviet Immigrant Mom’s Take on Russia’s Adoption Ban

By at 11:46 am

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

Why I Won’t Use My Kids as Political Symbols

By at 2:29 pm

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

Why I Want My Kids to Learn Russian

By at 3:19 pm

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

Sending My Son to Russian Jewish Teen Camp

By at 11:11 am

camp boatsSo, 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

Embracing My Fellow Russians of Brighton Beach

By at 3:59 pm

brighton beach vacationIf 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 →

Apr 25 2012

I Screwed Up the Bilingual Thing, Too

By at 9:41 am
alina adams kremlin

My son at the Kremlin.

Reading Debbie Kolben’s Forward article “Why My Daughter Isn’t Bilingual–Yet,” I thought to myself: What am amazing coincidence! I too screwed up the bilingual thing! Only Debbie screwed it up once, and I managed to screw it up three times–in three completely different ways!

The basic situation is this: I was born in the former USSR and moved to the US with my parents as a child. Although English came easily for me (the fact that I now write for a living is hopefully evidence of that), I continued speaking Russian to my parents at home, periodically switching into English for complex or uniquely specialized topics. While my Russian wasn’t quite stuck at the level of the 7-year-old I’d once been, I was, at best, in possession of the vocabulary of a pre-teen. (That didn’t stop me from doubling as a translator when I worked as a producer for ABC Sports’ figure skating coverage. My conversations with Olympic champions were never particularly deep. To catch me in action, go to about 8:00 minutes at this YouTube clip.)

I have a brother and a cousin who were born in the US and yet still speak fluent Russian to their parents. I figured, if they could pull off this bilingual thing, so could I.

Ha. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 11 2012

Just Because I’m Odd, Do I Have the Right to Make My Kids Odd?

By at 4:17 pm
soviet union flag

Do I need to ditch my ex-Soviet roots?

The JCC of the Upper West Side (in New York City) held an art exhibition last month.  It was called “Migrants Nation” and, according to curator Vitaly Umansky, “Artists represented in this exhibition underwent assimilation either into an Israeli or American reality; they all have personal stories; they are all individuals. However, they all share one history. Regardless of the environment to which they had to assimilate to, they all have different levels of nostalgia, analysis, and assimilation.”

All of the artists in the exhibition were born in the former Soviet Union, and all emigrated as children in either the 1970s or 1980s. Exactly like me. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 5 2011

How is a Racist Kentucky Church like a Conservative Synagogue?

By at 1:45 pm

Stella Harville / AP via TIME. The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, voted to ban interracial couples after this couple sang a song there.

This past week, a pastor from a Baptist church in Pike County, Kentucky instituted a ban against interracial couples from either joining his congregation or taking part in select church activities.

And I’m okay with that.

(I know, easy for me to say. I live a few hundred miles away in New York City, and, at this time, have no interest in ever joining a Baptist church, either with my African-American husband, or without him.)

Like Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and not Voltaire; although it’s a common misattribution) wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” I heartily and wholly disapprove of the sentiment – but I insist that the pastor had the right to express it.

A church is a private organization, and a private organization can pick and choose its membership based on any criteria they desire. It is then up to the current members to decide if this is an organization with which they can, should, and will continue to identify. (They can also, presumably, vote to change those aspects with which they do not agree – if the association is structured in such a manner, and current news reports suggest that may soon be the case in Pike County, either from the general membership or from higher-up in the church’s hierarchy.)

Obviously, my husband and I would not – even if we could – remain members of a church which did not allow White/Black (or any other combination) of couples.

On the other hand – before anybody gets to feeling too superior – we are currently members of a Conservative Jewish congregation which allows us to pay the family membership rate – but does not consider my non-Jewish husband a member, and does not extend him voting rights.

When we got married 13 years ago, there were rabbis who refused to perform the wedding ceremony. And when we had our first son (and our second), there were mohels who similarly would not do the bris.

And I was – still am – okay with that. Read the rest of this entry →

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