Between 1989 and 2000, from the fall of the Berlin Wall until the rise of Vladimir Putin, nearly a million Jews left the former Soviet Union for Israel.
Today, these immigrants and their descendants account for 20% of the population of the country, having forever changed its politics, culture, norms and ideals. Once the target of stereotypes and the butt of jokes, and taken advantage of by the political establishment, they have become, as evidenced by the current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the political establishment themselves.
But throughout the complex integration of the largest wave of immigrants in Israel’s history, their past and the rich and rooted lives they lived before has remained largely absent from the public conversation. Israeli society exerts a powerful pressure on immigrants not only to integrate, but to renounce, at least publicly, all previous selves and identities; perhaps some of the stereotypes these immigrants have had to face appear precisely because they have refused to do so.
Russian Jewish novelist David Shrayer- Petrov’s Doctor Levitin, now available in a new translation, can serve as a remedy to this erasure, at least for readers in English. The novel tells the story of Soviet refuseniks through the captivating, heart-wrenching tale of one family’s decision to emigrate to Israel in the late 1970s – and that decision’s terrible consequences.
Read the full story from 2018 in The Jerusalem Post.