I was five when I walked into a noisy Israeli kindergarten as a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union, nervously holding my mother’s hand. I remember looking at the children playing and feeling excited about my new life. All of a sudden, the children stopped playing, looked at me, and began laughing. My lovely mother dressed me up in a white lace dress, thick tights, sandals, and a large red bow in my hair. After being ridiculed, I realized I needed to erase my Soviet identity to fit in. I remember the first moment I actually felt Israeli. It was the day Yevgeny came to kindergarten.
Evgeny – Alex Rif
The day Evgeny arrived in kindergarten,
The sun shone.
He was smaller than me,
Paler than me, and he smelled
This time, it was me
Who explained to him,
In articulated Hebrew words,
That socks and sandals are ugly,
That a herring sandwich is smelly,
And that he should speak Hebrew,
This is not Russia.
The day Evgeny arrived in kindergarten
I was happy.
For 20 years, I have tried to become a “real Israeli”: an “A” student who did a year of community service, an officer in the Israeli Army, an MA graduate from the Hebrew University, and a public servant. It was not until I was accepted into mainstream Israeli society and experienced professional success that I realized something was missing – I was denying my true identity.
I was twenty-five years old when I embarked on a journey to reconnect with my roots by writing about my immigration experiences. I wrote about my parents what I couldn’t talk to them about.
Recurring Dream – Alex Rif
My mother tells me
That when we immigrated to Israel,
And the financial situation was tough,
She sold her body to men.
In other words, my mother did not work as a house cleaner,
My mother was a whore.
And I was shocked,
Not by the transaction itself,
Because if you can sell your soul, you can sell your body,
But by her demand
For a fair wage
From someone who fucks her in the ass.
My mother was not a stinking Russian immigrant.
My mother was a liberal,
With explosive sexuality
And a forbidden desire.
She was not a doormat,
My mother was ready
To go down,
For a chance to rise up again.
My mother was a whore!
As a first-generation daughter to a Ukrainian immigrant family, I grew up noticing that the culture of more than one million Russian-speakers who immigrated to Israel in the 90s rarely received any public acknowledgment, leading to the creation of misconceptions and stereotypes. This not only made Russian-speakers feel like outcasts but also made Israeli society miss out on many talented people with a rich cultural background.
In this substantial group of 1.2M million people, I was part of ‘Generation 1.5’ – the children who were born in one country but went through most of their socialization process in a different one. They have two cultures, two languages, but they often spend their entire lives searching for a home.
I soon realized that I want to make room for more voices like mine, and went on to establish the Immigration Poetry Nights, in which Generation 1.5 artists discussed their immigration experiences through poetry. But I wanted a more significant impact.
History – Alex Rif
If we hadn’t left
It wouldn’t have collapsed.
One million pairs of hands, the best minds
One thousand four hundred shekels pension per month.
Immigration is like a launch into space.
At 42 years, deaf, mute.
Karelia, Kolyma, Ural Mountains,
Order number 227, shoot at anyone retreating.
The fifth line in the Soviet passport: Jew.
Artyom, Lena, German,
Arik, Alin, Amichai.
Beautiful, intelligent, successful women.
Beautiful and other things.
And then a woman said:
We ran out of suckers.
I then went on to form The Cultural Brigade, rebranding the culture of Russian-speaking immigrants as part of the Israeli mainstream with projects such as the Israeli Novy God, Operation Veteran, Evidence Season, and others. I made it my life’s mission to connect the Israeli society to its silenced voices so that my two-year-old son would have a better future.
Last year, I published Silly Girl of the Regime, which tells my immigration story through fifty Hebrew poems. The awards I received for it were particularly exciting because, for the first time in the history of Israel, they honor the voice of an entire wave of immigration.
In my blog, I will try to give a voice to Russian-speaking Israelis, their stories and culture, from history in FSU to present life in Israel. Thank you and Dasvidanya 🙂
*All the poems were kindly translated by Alex Moshkin. Pardes Publication. Editor: Yael Globerman