1. How did you learn what it meant to be Jewish?
  2. What obstacles did you encounter because you were Jewish?
  3. If all Jewish institutions were illegal and Jewish books, culture and practice were banned as they were in the former Soviet Union, how would that have affected the development of your Jewish identity?
  4. What if beiing Jewish was so widely accepted that you didn't have to give it much thought?

Meryll and I have been traveling across the United States speaking to groups in San Diego, Phoenix, Omaha, Columbus, and Princeton.  We are inspired and grateful for the conversations that our book, Jewish Luck, engenders.  Some of the East Coast crowd described being raised in an American shtetl in NYC.  An older women in Encinitas recalled childhood experiences in wartime Vienna when she had to be silent about her identity and blend in.  Stories connect us and make our common history come alive.  Each of us has had some luck just to have survived.  Meeting Vera in Leningrad as a young adult in the 1970's heightened my sensitivity to how precious the freedom to express myself as a Jew was.

In the USSR, the heroines of our book, Jewish Luck, Vera and Alisa, were defined as Jews at birth.  This was not by their parents, but by their internal Soviet passports, required for any significant transaction - school, employment, travel.  Although the practice of religion was forbidden, some families like Alisa's were successful in preserving traditions through grandparents.  Others, like Vera's family, retained values such as intellectual curiosity and an emphasis on education.  However, to "protect" the children,  they did not pass on Jewish rituals.  Ironically, Soviet insistence on identifying Jews as a nationality may have prevented Jews from assimilating and disappearing.  

The more we delve into the stories of Soviet emigrĂ©s, the more we realize how privileged we are to construct our Jewish identity within the context of a vibrant Jewish community. Think how different your identity might have been without the availability of Hebrew school, Jewish youth groups, camp, synagogue or Jewish culture provided through comedy, literature, theater and film.  As US citizens,our grandparents did not have to be silent about their practice.  

Developing our identity as a Jew continues throughout life for all of us and there is a wide range of expression. Now that Alisa and Vera live in free societies, they are not defined as Jews by their passport, but can construct their own meaning.  Alisa has a headstart since she has been out of Russia for 27 years while Vera has just been out for two years.  Vera recently told us that given the events in Russia, she has "never been so close to identifying myself as a Jew".  

We would love to know your answers to the questions posed in the beginning of this blog!  Please join the conversation.  

If this is your first visit to our website, welcome and please look around.  We know you'll love our book!  The most common response is "It was such a good read and I learned a lot".  That's what we had in mind!