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This month, it's New Year's nostalgia, a Yiddish Grammy nomination, the remains of Bukharan Jewry in the FSU, a visit to Baku, and more.
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January 2019

Soviet vintage postcard New Year's greeting, from 1959
From my Soviet vintage postcard collection - circa 1959

S'novom godom! с новым годом!

As 2019 gets underway, I'm still excited about Yiddish Glory, which I was so lucky to see in concert in Toronto, this past August. This is what I wrote after, and I still feel that way: "My mind is still so full after yesterday’s Yiddish Glory concert. I can’t quite describe the feeling of hearing your grandparents’ stories come alive on the stage — fighting in the Red Army, evacuation, returning to news of murdered family members, mass graves. Of the feeling that maybe those experiences will finally become part of the ‘official’ narrative, and Russian-speaking kids won’t grow up wondering why the stories they hear at the dinner table and the history they learn in Jewish schools and programs don’t match up. With the exception of one Russian song, the entire repertoire was in Yiddish. No matter how many facts I’ve read about Jewish life in the USSR, nothing quite brings to life the scope of cultural loss (to say nothing of lives) in this language. Such a vibrant and alive world. The calls for revenge, the violence, the fighting spirit, the jokes, the joys of victory were also so unexpected — not the usual stuff of Holocaust narratives, but such an important part of the story." And umm, woah, it now has a Grammy nomination. That's right - an entirely Yiddish album. A Grammy nod. The song collection was unearthed by Anna Shternshis, Director of Jewish Studies at UofT, and set to music by Psoy Korolenko. You can get yourself a copy here; it comes with a booklet of translations, if you're concerned about the language barrier.

As always, thanks for reading along.

Lea Zeltserman

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MAINS


Of yolkas and zakuski
Let's skip all the stories about those weird Russian-Jews who still insist on calling their decorated trees New Year's trees, and instead read this lovely piece from Margarita Gokun Silver on the timeless allure of Soviet holidays. Is it just nostalgia or something more that sends Russians the world over scurrying to stock up on their favourite vokda and herring every December 31? » Vox
// And from Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a powerful Twitter thread on reconciling her Russian heritage with her Orthodox life. "Every December 31, I tend to get strangely nostalgic. I turn on my Russian music. I watch Moscow television. My English gets awkward and I start thinking in my parents’ tongue." You just may tear up a little. » Twitter
// You know it's official when the New York Times has a spread on Russian (/Soviet) New Year's food. The Gray Lady caught up with Bonnie Frumkin Morales, who runs Portland's Katchka restaurant, to learn more about how her family marks the New Year. Never mind that you probably just had your own New Year's feast — this will make you hungry all over again. » New York Times
// Plus, check out the Kachka cookbook, this month's featured book. You may not need instructions on how to tetris your zakuski table or which chocolates to avoid at the local Russian store, but if you need a gift for someone who wasn't born into that particular sixth sense, here you go. » Amazon
// Of food - the considerably less festive type - check out this photo round-up of Soviet canteen culture and pat yourself on the back for its disappearance from the world. » Russia Beyond
// A throwback to Hanukkah with this story of Belarussian draniki and an escape from the USSR. » The Inherited Plate

Just who are the Mountain Jews?
A fun, meandering read into the heart of Baku, home of the somewhat mysterious Mountain Jews and some of the FSU's most wealthy men. I can't quite sum it up but sit yourself down with a cup of tea and dive into the post-Soviet strangeness that is Baku. Fun fact - Mountain Jews were officially classified as Iranians by the Soviets. » Tablet

Where's the best place to hide banned Jewish books
Answer: Buried amongst honest Communist propaganda, of course. A visit to the Jewish archives in Kiev, the Vernadsky Library, which houses everything from 1930s-era Leningrad artifacts to scratchy Ukrainian shtetl recordings. A somewhat miraculous survivor of the Soviet days, despite the best efforts of the KGB to destroy it. » Tablet 

The places we once called home
A mildly depressing tour around the remains of the Bukharan Jewish community, where the only noteworthy remaining site is the cemetery. » Tablet

Seeking traces of Soviet-Jewish Vienna
Author Boris Fishman travels back to Vienna with Alex Halberstadt, searching Soviet-Jewish ghosts of days gone by. It's a beautifully written collection of memories past and present, and if you passed through Vienna yourself, the shock of that first encounter with the west will sound familiar. » AirbnbMag

SMALLER MATTER


Move over Greek yoghurt, here comes kefir 
I remain firmly, 100% suspicious of mass-produced, flavoured kefir, but one of the key driving forces behind its popularity today at least has the "right" pedigree. If you want to know how someone goes from learning English via General Hospital to launching a kefir empire, read on. » The Kitchn

Winter your way through Soviet film history
A list of 100 Soviet and post-Soviet films. Not much help for where/how to find them, but I recommend YouTube, which is especially helpful if you don't need subtitles. Or try sovietmoviesonline.com. » Russia Beyond

Book of the Month

Kachka
By Bonnie Frumkin Morales and Deena Prichep
Recent Blog Posts 

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Copyright © 2019 Lea Zeltserman, All rights reserved.


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