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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 →

Jan 20 2011

It’s Not Just About The Borscht

By at 9:38 am

russia and brooklyn

I live in one of the most family friendly neighborhoods in New York City. So domestic that one website blamed it for the semi-recent breakup of Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal (MOT!) because they just weren’t ready for the pregnancy/baby/dog-loving vibe.

So I’m used to seeing playgroups, music classes, baby swim lessons, baby yoga, mommy yoga, mommy and baby yoga, toddler yoga…anything that you can dream up for a child, it exists here in Park Slope. And I hear about all of it on what some call the Brooklyn Mafia, the Park Slope Parents listserv. But I hadn’t seen this yet. Starting on Sunday, January 23, there’s a Mommy & Me class for Russian-speaking Jewish parents called TotTussovka. Personally, I’ve always been really intrigued by Russian Jewry. My great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in the early 1900’s, and I grew up in the era of campaigns to support Soviet Jewry. The band Safam wrote a song called Leaving Mother Russia and I used to blast this anthem (on tape) in my room. (Yes, I am a Jewish dork. If you, unlike me, were less dorky in the 80’s, you can find everything you need to know about the Soviet Jewry movement in Gal Beckerman’s book, When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone).

Though I’m not really into borscht. Strange, I know.

Anyway, the point is, I’m totally excited about these classes. It seems that there’s a huge Russian Jewish population here in brownstone Brooklyn, and they want their kids to have a high-quality program focused on arts and culture. TotTussovka is sponsored by the Jewish Community House of Brooklyn and the UJA-Federation of New York.

Here’s what they have to say about it: “Instill a love for Russian language and Jewish traditions in your child through interactive play in a fun and imaginative environment. Each sixty minute program is led by a bilingual musician/educator who sings and plays an instrument.  You and your child will love our Russian sing along, storytelling time, imaginative play, language activities, dancing, and games.”

They had an event a couple of months ago with a famous Russian artist named Zhenya Plechkina, and they plan to do additional holiday programs throughout the spring. They want you to pre-register, because space is limited.

I kind of really wish I spoke Russian.

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