[This blog is back by popular demand.]
"The title is too Jewish." "It's insulting." "Is there such a thing as Jewish Luck?" "Do you want to appeal only to Jewish audiences?"
Everyone had an opinion, but no one ever forgot the title. We brainstormed titles until Jewish Luck leapt up to win the competition. Meryll counted over 100 ideas from Women of Steel to USSR: Love It or Leave it.
Vera was the one to introduce us to the Russian phrase "You don't know what my Jewish luck brought me next" as she prefaced each incredible episode in her life. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, they did. But then, in the end, the actor, usually Vera, would work through those misfortunes to a positive conclusion. Vera is a strong devotée of the role of irony in life. And she finds "Jewish Luck" perfectly ironic. The phrase makes the hair on Alisa's head stand on end. "There is no such thing as Jewish luck. There is just hard work."
Meryll did her customary research, unearthing a 1925 silent Soviet film entitled Jewish Luck (Yiddishe Glickl) based on a Sholom Aleichem story. The film, produced by Goskino (State Cinema) and directed by Alexis Granowski, gives a vivid picture of shtetl life. The best Jewish talents of the 1920s created this critically acclaimed film during the period after Lenin's death, but before Stalin consolidated power. A Soviet censor might understand the Yiddish subtitled film in this way. As a Jew in Imperial Russia, one would never find luck. In the new and improved atheist Soviet Union, things would change for the better for Jews. Presto—no discrimination. You don't have to read our book to know how that turned out.
Following the film, Meryll discovered that this expression, "Jewish luck" virtually disappeared from Yiddish in the U.S. because the situation for Jews in an open society didn't allow for this mindset. If you failed in the U.S., land of opportunity, it was your own fault.
So, Vera and Alisa's families, labeled "Jewish" on the fifth line of their internal passports, suffered the discrimination that accompanied the label. However, Jewish heritage did offer advantages like the emphasis on education and ties to family in the West, which were readily apparent even to the women when they were little girls. Although Alisa did not like the phrase, Jewish Luck, she did feel fortunate to be born Jewish.
Is there such a thing as Jewish luck? Can we take a term, once derogatory, and turn it on its head to embrace a positive notion of Jewish luck? We'll let you decide.