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Musician Regina Spektor Opens Up: ‘I’m Jewish Because of Anti-Semitism’

regina spektor

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Regina Spektor is known for creating quirky, winsome music with her peculiar lyrics and piano. What many of her listeners may not realize about her is the fact that the Russian-Jewish musician and mom has faced an extraordinary amount of anti-Semitism throughout the years.

Recently, she opened up in an interview with the Guardian, explaining how she faced anti-Semitism growing up in Russia, as Jews were not allowed to practice their religion or customs for decades under Soviet rule. Because of this, she said it had the adverse effect in that it only bonded Jews closer together, stating:

“The only reason I’m Jewish is probably anti-Semitism. Think about Soviet Russia – religion is illegal. So there’s no cultural Judaism, no tradition. The only thing that made Jewish people marry other Jews is that they didn’t want to be called ‘kikes.’ They knew they wouldn’t hear the word ‘zhid’ come out of their husband’s face when they had their first marital fight. So it’s the only reason a lot of us exist.”

Even after she moved to the U.S. at age 9, the harassment didn’t stop. Her family moved to New York with the help of HIAS, the Jewish immigration agency, and she attended the SAR Academy, a Jewish day school in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx–where she also experienced bigotry for being Russian:

“[I]nstead of being the Jewish girl in a Russian school I became a Russian girl in a Jewish school. I had dumb teenagers telling me to go back to my f**king country. Telling me we were taking their jobs. I got so pissed off I was like, ‘You’d better believe I’m going to take your job, I’m going to take your job and three other jobs, too.’”

Sadly, Spektor also mentioned that her brother, a black hat-wearing Orthodox Jew, is still a target of anti-Semitic harassment, stating:

“They get on him, shouting ‘Shalom,’ that kind of thing. But I see anti-Semitism everywhere. It’s built into the fabric of our lives.”

In 2014, Spektor became a mom–which is why she took a break from recording music. Now, however, she’s back. She claims having a child has actually made her more productive:

“I was concerned I’d become a mother rather than an artist. Now I’m of many minds. There’s a part of me that wants to scream at every woman: ‘DON’T WORRY, you can be both!’ I felt so inspired, I made more work than I had in years, but then I remember the qualifiers – I make my own hours, and sometimes don’t write for months, and if I’m running out of steam I can hire help and close the door.”

Spektor, who became popular in the mid-2000s after touring with bands like The Strokes, has reached a higher level of fame recently, as her song “You’ve Got Time” became the theme song for “Orange is the New Black,” which she won a Grammy for. In case you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it below:


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Joanna Valente

Joanna Valente is the Editorial Assistant at Kveller. She is the author of Sirs & Madams The Gods Are Dead, and Marys of the Sea (forthcoming), and received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. You can follow her @joannasaid on Twitter, @joannacvalente on Instagram, or email her at joanna@kveller.com.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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