Alena Ledeneva is an intrepid Russian-born professor now teaching in Great Britain, who conducted in-depth interviews with 50 respondents between 1997 and 2003 to understand the “rulebook” of the post-Soviet Russian economy as it is actually played out. How Russia Really Works is a fascinating account of the problems of modernization from a failed centralized “planned economy” in which no one, except the power elite, was invested, to a market economy for many who would find the terms “business ethics” or “business law” oxymoronic. However, the problems predated the Soviet state.
Ledeneva cites Sergei Witte, the progressive prime minister who served at the end of the nineteenth century, “’I am not in the least afraid of foreign capital, since I consider it is in the interests of our country…What I am afraid of is just the opposite, that our way of doing things has such specific characteristics, so different from the...
There is a lot to like about Elliott Holt’s novel, You are One of Them. I was hooked by the title – a play on the Russian term “svoi chelovek” one of us, which had been so important to Vera and me. In the Cold War atmosphere, we Americans and Russians did not see our commonality, but our differences. It was “us versus them.” Had the title not captured me, the first sentence would have, “The first defector was my sister.”
Unlike our book, this is a novel and reminiscent of my favorite young adult books. Sarah has her own angst within her family and feels like an outcast until she meets Jenny, the best friend that she idealizes. Like Alla and Vera, the friendship of these two girls is also rocky and a bit competitive. Terrified of nuclear war and convinced of her own superpower of persuasion, ten-year-old, Sarah convinces...
Sholom Aleichem (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich) 1859-1916
In February we feature the well-known writer whose stories about MenakhemMendel were the basis for the Soviet film, Jewish Luck. This film along with Vera’s use of the term “Jewish luck” prompted us to also title our book, Jewish Luck. Mosfilm changed Sholom Aleichem’s storyline to conform to Soviet propaganda, but it’s clear why Marxist ideologues thought a Sholom Aleichem story would draw the Jewish population to the theater. He was popular and he was funny. You may have heard him called the “Jewish Mark Twain.” When Mark Twain heard the comparison, in response, he styled himself, “the American Sholom Aleichem.”
Sholom Aleichem’s economic circumstances were tenuous. At times, his family was relatively prosperous, at other times, they lost everything. Illness stalked the family and following the pogroms of 1905, he left for the United States along with millions of other Russian Jews. Sholom Aleichem...
FEATURED BOOK FOR JANUARY:
Why you might be interested: Gal Beckerman frames the story of the Soviet Jewry movement as a redemption story. We don’t all know that story as well as we think we do. If you remember “Save Soviet Jewry” billboards, prisoner of conscience bracelets, and twinning with a thirteen year-old-Russian for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you lived during the struggle but may not understand what happened behind the scenes. Alisa and Vera claim that most Americans and Europeans are not very well-informed on the dissident movement and believed everything they read in the American papers. They have their view and they would approve of Gal Beckerman’s well-researched and compelling history of the movement.
Just as Beckerman discovered in his research, we found that the paradox of the USSR not allowing Soviet Jews to completely assimilate and also not allowing them to express a positive Jewish identity pushed many Soviet Jews to assert...
FEATURED BOOK FOR DECEMBER:
In November we wrote about a nonfiction work that directed our feet in St. Petersburg.
This month we’re highlighting a novel that treads on some of the same territory we reference in our book—the hunt for one’s place when displaced. The setting is the US and not Europe or the Caribbean. What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn follows a young Russian woman in New York City whose life parallels another Anna K—Anna Karenina.
I read this after Leslie and I completed our manuscript. I found that not only did the novel parallel Anna Karenina, but we wrote some passages about the lives of our Vera and Alisa that were remarkably similar to Reyn’s Anna. Perhaps, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all Russian mafia are the same. The author permits the reader both an insider and outsider view of a Soviet emigrant and captivates the imagination through Anna’s dreams.
For more information about this...
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.