Who are the betrayers? That is the question I pose to you when you read the tight, compelling novel, The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis about a day or two in the life of Baruch Cotler. What is masterful is how Bezmozgis inspires sympathy for each character, every one imperfect. But then name a character in Genesis who wasn’t imperfect. This book gives credence to the idea that our heroes may be accidental and when they fall, we should not be surprised.
The story takes place in Yalta, a Crimean resort city that arguably has more historic legitimacy to be occupied by Jews rather than Russians. Baruch Kotler, a famous Israeli politician, originally a Moscow refusenik (modeled after Sharansky), is escaping with his mistress to avoid being in Israel when Israeli settlements are to be dismantled. Kotler disagrees with this current policy of the prime minister and has stated his objections. He...
Researching Jewish Luck led Leslie and me down many academic paths as we pieced together the Jewish world of Vera and Alla. If you glance at our extensive bibliography, you’ll discover that we investigated newer academic findings as well as checking sources written before the opening of the Soviet archives in the early 1990s.
When I began to read Yaacov Ro’i’s compilation of 14 scholarly articles in The Jewish Movement in the Soviet Union, I felt like the actor in the V-8 juice commercial—“I shoulda had access to this volume before we began researching!”
I enjoy a good novel, a thrilling mystery and a compelling memoir but I revel in an academic work that clarifies and explains. I raced through the articles soaking in the data and analysis and checking the footnotes to see if Leslie and I had read the same sources. About halfway through the volume, I began to wonder what...
Perhaps because I was a high school teacher, the Soviet school system fascinated me. I enjoyed listening to Alla and Vera tell tales of their lives in their English language schools. Once we captured their stories, it was time for more objective research.
Although I’m grateful for the ability to research from my computer at home, I still feel the need to check the stacks at the university library just in case there’s a treasure awaiting discovery. Indeed, within fifteen minutes of arriving at Wilson Library, I felt like shouting “eureka!” There sat Inside Soviet Schools by Susan Jacoby—a study she conducted while Vera and Alla were students in their Leningrad special schools.
The detail Jacoby provided such as the curriculum guide and daily schedule for kindergarten offered context for Vera and Alla’s memories. Schools, Jacoby writes, “prepare for the serious business of life.” (73) Jacoby, however, does not write in...
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen. Crown Publishers: NY 2013.
Let’s begin with a few basic facts.
1. While we have grocery stores in the US, citizens in the Former Soviet Union have for decades waited in endless lines trying to “procure” food.
2. As Anya Von Bremzen states, “Inevitably, a story about Soviet food is a chronicle of longing, of unrequited desire.” (p.2)
Since we just completed two Passover seders, I must pose the question -- why is Anya Von Bremzen’s memoir different than all previous memoirs?
Other writers may be eloquent or witty, but this author is both. I love the comparison of her Mom’s dream life to black and white movies from Stalinist times “sleek cold war thrillers laced with KGB spooks; melodramas starring duty-crushed lovers.”
Second, because this is a shared memoir of Anya and her 79...
Last year at this time we were anxiously anticipating our trip to New York City for the Jewish Book Conference where hundreds of Jewish authors present a short, oral synopsis of their book for an audience representing Jewish book fairs across the country. We focused on our presentation but we didn’t anticipate how it would feel to meet Jewish authors. After we received our name tags and directions, I looked up and saw David Laskin. The only other time I was as star-struck was at a US History Conference where I saw David McCullough descending on the escalator. Imagine teenaged girls spotting Paul McCartney in 1967 and you will have a sense of my excitement level. David Laskin, even jet lagged, is very approachable. He had just returned from a trip to see the Israeli branch of his family and was willing to talk to me. He also calmed my nerves...
I snapped up the invitation to speak at a zoom meeting for the Jewish Affinity Group from Columbus School for Girls. Self-quarantining for almost a year has made me hungry to talk about Jewish Luck. It's certainly clear from the news that Vera and Alla's perceptions about the "New" Russia are just as relevant now as they were when Vera first encountered Putin in Leningrad.More than the intellectua...
What I learned from American Kompromat by Craig Unger (2021) Dutton: NYC has prompted me to write a blog.
Trigger Warning: This book contains potentially distressing content that could trigger trauma that we have experienced regarding the previous US President.
I whisper this mantra to myself: "We're safe now. He's gone. We're safe now." The purpose of this exercise is to reduce my blood pre...
"Faster than a speeding bullet." .Organized anti-government rallies in 109 cities across Russia from jail for January 23 and January 30, 2021. Watch each weekend.
"More powerful than a locomotive." Able to make a miraculous recovery from Novichok poisoning on Aug. 20, 2020 after remaining in a coma for nearly a month. His is the only known case of survival of that strain of Novichok.
We were featured speakers at Hadassah Brandeis Institute and Levy Summer Series. Our speaking engagements include JCCs, synagogues, libraries, book groups, retirement communities, schools, and organizations (e.g. ORT, Hadassah, and Women's League). References are available.
"I was very fortunate to be able to hear Meryll and Leslie speak at a Hadassah event in Israel. Each of the ~50 participants really enjoyed the event because Meryll and Leslie were so engaging. While they had a natural rapport with the audience, you could also tell they had prepared well so they could connect with our particular group's interests. I learned a lot from listening to them, and I found their sisterly interaction unique and fun. If you want an enlightening and uplifting experience, attend one of their book talks." Lisa Shimoni, Modiin Israel
"Truly, you have written a story that makes accessible the reality of existence in Russia, through the eyes of individuals who lived through the various regimes and dictates. It is fascinating and very well told. As I read Vera and Alla's story, I learned more Russian history than I had known from a textbook. That's a big deal, women! You tell the tale with vivid detail and hook us on the two women and their stories, then weave in the history to illuminate their journeys. It is such a necessary book. I am thrilled that the two of you collaborated, as I can see the uniqueness of your personalities come through in the stories, and that, too, makes the book a gem." Margaret Leibfried, Danielson Group consultant
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Nourish mind, body, and soul with Meryll's Tasting Torah, which will bring oneg (joy) and limmud (learning) to your Shabbat, broaden your culinary horizons, and draw your Shabbat guests closer together.