Featured book for August
Elena Gorokhova: A Mountain of Crumbs
Why you might be interested:
Leslie and I became voracious readers of Russian emigrants’ memoirs before we wrote Jewish Luck. We wanted to make sure that Vera and Alisa’s memoir added something new to the body of literature and we were interested in seeing how Russian authors presented their culture to a non-Russian audience.
One of the most gripping memoirs we read was A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova. Like Alla and Vera, Elena is Leningrad born. Although she is older than Alla, she attended the same English language school, #238. Elena, however, is not Jewish but she shares a disdain for the vranya (deception) of Soviet life with Alla and Vera.
Gorokhova’s language is lyrical, and it’s clear from her voice that she has mastered the nuances of the English language. We were hooked as soon as we read...
Simon Sebag Montefiore (b. 1965) doesn’t need us to trumpet his achievements, but in case you haven’t read all his books, I thought I’d mention this versatile author who has written both history and fiction. The common thread among his books is Russia. (except for the book, Jerusalem, which I intend to read before my next trip to Israel in November).
I read The Court of the Red Tsar for an International Baccalaureate Teacher’s Seminar over a decade ago. All of us history teachers were fascinated by his extensive research. It seemed like once the archives in Russia opened in 1994, Montefiore hopped on the first flight to the FSU ready to take notes. The Court of the Red Tsar dazzles history teachers-and anyone else who reads it- with new details about Stalin’s rule and his control over his ministers. His prose flows and most of us IB History teachers decided...
Masha Gessen’s book, Esther and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace (New York: Dial Press, 2004), cropped up in our research while I was scouring the literature for memoirs of Russian Jews. I wanted to ensure our narrative was not a repeat of another tale. (It’s not). Gessen’s beautifully written tribute to her grandmothers was a model of honest writing and a how-to sample for weaving two biographies in one book. Later, when we focused on the Putin regime, we found Gessen’s newly released book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Gessen captured Putin with her sparkling prose and insightful analysis. She offers the reader an opportunity to understand a man who seems incomprehensible. The third book by Masha Gessen that we read as background before writing Jewish Luck was Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian...
Good News about the Old World.
Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in the Shtetl. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.*
Where is your family from? If you’re an Ashkenazi Jew with relatives who immigrated before the first world war, chances are they were born in a shtetl with memories of poverty and fear.
As a young girl, Vera tried to figure out the connection between herself and “those people” from Sholom Aleichem’s stories. Reading The Golden Age Shtetl solved the puzzle for me of the roots of women like Vera and Alisa, my vibrant capitalist friends who seemed to embody centuries of business know-how --- skills that were anathema to the Russian Orthodox church.
To unlock this thriving time in the shtetl, one must turn back the pages of history before 1881 ,the first pogrom, long before Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye was forced by the...
Yom HaShoah - The Holocaust and Soviet Historiography.
What did Soviet Jews knew about the Holocaust? Our book is not anchored in the Holocaust, but not knowing about this major event in Jewish History was a fact of life for Vera and Alisa. To find out more about this topic, see:
Gitelman, Zvi, editor. Bitter Legacy Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR. Bloomington: The Indian University Press, 1997.
Watch a video clip demonstrating the knowledge about the Holocaust of today's Russian teens.
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
Buy the Book
Click here to order your copy of Jewish Luck: A True Story of Friendship, Deception, and Risky Business on Amazon.com.
Make a donation to Sholom Home and enjoy Jewish Luck at the same time. Jewish Luck is now available at the Sholom Home West gift store. Meryll and Leslie will donate 50% of the proceeds back to Sholom Home. Enjoy!
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.