Article

Immigrant cinema: Russian Israelis on screens and behind the cameras

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

Abstract

In 2005 the new reality show Israeli Project Greenlight premiered on local cable. As in the original American show, the prize was half a million dollars and a chance to make a first film. The competition attracted hundreds of aspiring filmmakers. Against all odds, a twenty-three-year-old Russian immigrant from the Israeli periphery, Felix Gerchikov, won. He went on to make The Children of USSR, which took the first prize in the drama category at the 2005 Jerusalem Film Festival. This is a story of the "Israeli dream" come true. But it is also a sign of changes in Israeli culture.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

Article
Full-text available
The concept of the New Jew was one of the most important founding myths of Zionism. During the construction of a Jewish state in Palestine, the New Jew was hailed Sabra (with reference to the kind of prickly pear popular in this region). In the twentieth century, the figure of Sabra became an important element of the identity and culture of Israelis. The main purpose of this article is to show the evolution of the mythical narrative typical for the cinematic incarnations of Sabra, which in recent decades has taken place in Israeli war films.
Chapter
Miri Talmon, in her essay “Utopian Transgressions: Intimate Relationships across Social Boundaries,” notes that romance motion fiction, and in particular romantic comedies, offers an emotional and ideological confirmation of the stability and durability of romantic love in a rapidly transforming, constantly changing society. Romantic films, telenovelas, and romance TV drama series bring to the screen a utopian promise of the power of love to transcend social boundaries and hierarchies. Israeli cinema and television are created in a multicultural, immigrant society. Both motion fiction arts are fascinated by intercultural and inter-ethnic romance and its possible contribution to a cohesive, integrated society. In this chapter, Talmon focuses on the first season of the Israeli TV drama series Ananda (2012–2015), created by Dana Modan. Modan brings into the series her feminine and generational sensibilities, as well as the utopian trajectory of the romance genre. Ananda tells about a Jewish Israeli woman and an Arab Israeli man who fall in love against all odds in India of all places. The chapter discusses how the protagonists’ intimate relationship, which transcends national/social/cultural/religious boundaries in this made-for-TV utopian universe, as well as the discourse which surrounded this TV drama beyond the fictional romance offer alternative narratives and images, which bridge the social differences and reconcile them through harmony, intimacy, and true love.
Article
In 2009 Natan Sharansky, formerly an iconic Soviet refusenik and now an Israeli politician, was named chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the wing of the Israeli government historically charged with fostering Jewish immigration to Israel, traditionally known as aliya. Sharansky, however, immediately reformulated the central mission of the Jewish Agency away from aliya and toward the strengthening of secular Jewish identity around the world. The Forward reported: At the center of Sharansky's plan is the notion of peoplehood. He and a tight group of ideological allies—mostly other Russian Jews—believe that the Jewish Agency must now become a global promoter of Jewish identity, particularly among the young. Peoplehood, according to its proponents, is defined as a sense of connectivity between Jews who share a common history and fate. With Sharansky's ascent to this particular position and the concurrent shift in the Jewish Agency's mission from fomenter of migration to builder of secular Jewish identity, Soviet Jews have moved to the center of conversations about Jewish identity and culture. These new developments give reason to think seriously about Soviet Jewish culture and its impact on global Jewish culture. Indeed, a growing number of books and articles on the subject indicate that there is a new body of scholarship, defined by a cultural studies approach to the Soviet and post-Soviet Jewish experience. These new studies come from varied disciplines, such as history, anthropology, film studies, and literary criticism, to name a few, but they all put culture and cultural production at the center of scholarship on Soviet and post-Soviet Jewish community and identity. We call this emerging field "Soviet Jewish Cultural Studies." This newly developing field sweeps across temporal and spatial boundaries. It encompasses Jewish experiences in both the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, as well as within the borders of the Former Soviet Union and outside of it, in Israel, North America, or elsewhere, wherever Soviet and post-Soviet Jews have migrated. What the subjects of all of this research have in common is the experience of having lived under the Soviet Union with its radical experiments in Jewish identity and culture. Scholars working in this emerging field generally do not look at Soviet and post-Soviet Jews through the more traditional lenses of vanishing diasporas, Soviet anti-Semitism, and the disappearance of Yiddish and Hebrew cultures. Rather than approaching the Jewish experience of Soviet Jews with presumptions of what it means to be Jewish, and whether in fact Soviet Jews measure up, this scholarship asks what it means to be Jewish in a Soviet and post-Soviet context. In what ways is Jewishness performed and represented? By taking a birds-eye, interdisciplinary view, we want to redefine the field of Soviet Jewish Studies, and to use particular examples of the new research to suggest what a cultural studies approach reveals about Soviet and post-Soviet Jewish culture. We will demonstrate first that scholars of Soviet Jewish Cultural Studies have focused on new forms of Jewish practice that have sometimes supplanted traditional religious practices. Secondly, we show that this body of scholarship in Soviet Jewish Cultural Studies complicates the idea that twentieth century Jewish history is a history of assimilation, a movement downward from authentic Jewish practice rooted in Jewish languages to the end of a distinctive Jewish life. Most importantly, this new scholarship takes a global rather than national perspective, since post-Soviet Jewry is one of the most transnational in contemporary Jewish life. Thus, in a post-Soviet, post-Zionist, post-assimilationist moment in global Jewish culture, this group of Jews with their unique cultural history may be placed at the center, not periphery, of the global Jewish experience. Therefore, the body of scholarship forming Soviet Jewish Cultural Studies has much to offer to scholars in Jewish and Russian Studies, as well as Diaspora Studies. In some ways, Jewish identity in the Soviet Union was very much fixed. Jews were identified first by their passports, which clearly defined their ethnicity (natsional'nost' in Russian) as Jewish. Even today, with that rubric in passports gone, experience suggests...
Article
In Identity, Place, and Subversion in Contemporary Mizrahi Cinema in Israel, Yaron Shemer presents the most comprehensive and systematic study to date of Mizrahi (Oriental-Jewish or Arab-Jewish) films produced in Israel in the last several decades. Through an analysis of dozens of films the book illustrates how narratives, characters, and space have been employed to give expression to Mizrahi ethnic identity and to situate the Mizrahi within the broader context of the Israeli societal fabric. The struggle over identity and the effort to redraw ethnic boundaries have taken place against the backdrop of a long-standing Zionist view of the Mizrahi as an inferior other whose “Levantine” culture posed a threat to the Western-oriented Zionist enterprise. In its examination of the nature and dynamics of Mizrahi cinema (defined by subject-matter), the book engages the sensitive topic of Mizrahi ethnicity head-on, confronting the conventional notion of Israeli society as a melting pot and the widespread dismissal of ethnic divisions in the country. Shemer explores the continuous marginalization of the Mizrahi in contemporary Israeli cinema and the challenge some Mizrahi films offer to the subjugation of this ethnic group. He also studies the role cultural policies and institutional power in Israel have played in shaping Mizrahi cinema and the creation of a Mizrahi niche in cinema. In a broader sense, this pioneering work is a probing exploration of Israeli culture and society through the prism of film and cinematic expression. It sheds light on the play of ethnicity, class, gender, and religion in contemporary Israel, and on the heated debates surrounding Zionist ideology and identity politics. By charting a new territory of academic inquiry grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, the study contributes to the formation of “Mizrahi Cinema” as a recognized and vibrant scholarly field.
Article
Full-text available
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, nearly two million people escaped the former empire to pursue new lives in Israel, the United States, Germany, and other countries. By the mid-1990s, the "new Russian immigrant" had begun to emerge as a character in both commercial and art-house cinema in these countries.1 Because cinematic representations of immigrants often reveal more about the cultures producing and consuming such images and narratives than they do about actual immigrant experiences, the Russian immigrant character points to particular national responses to new waves of immigration at the onset of post–Cold War globalization, reflecting gendered, ethnic, and religious contradictions and inconsistencies within popular conceptions of national identity. In this article, we examine films about female Russian immigrants to Israel as sites of debates over nation and integration in the Israeli context, as well as sites of larger debates over accommodations and adjustments necessary for participation within the international community, particularly the international art-house film market. The new Russian immigrant character marked an important departure from representations of Russian characters outside Soviet-bloc cinemas prior to the collapse of the USSR. Previously, spies and defectors had embodied the majority of representations of Soviet citizens, particularly in Hollywood Cold War action-adventure films and spy thrillers. Since the fall of Soviet communism, Russian immigrants have appeared most visibly in films that, either directly or indirectly, are concerned with the Russian Mafia. These new Russian immigrant characters are typically male, such as the Russian mafiosi in Karma Local (US 1998; dir. Darshan Bhagat) and The Quickie (France/UK/Germany 2001; dir. Sergei Bodrov), as well as in the acclaimed television series The Sopranos (US 1999–2006; prod. David Chase). Although a female counterpart to the Russian mafiosi also appears in thrillers and action-adventure films, such as Birthday Girl (UK/US 2001; dir. Jez Butterworth), the figure of the Russian woman generally holds a different significance. Russian males are confined largely to the self-contained, predominantly homosocial, diasporic world of the Russian Mafia that evades assimilation into its host country. By contrast, Russian women more often assimilate into their host countries through heterosexual coupling, whether via prostitution, romance, or marriage. Recent international art films featuring such characters include Black and White (US/Russia 1992; dir. Boris Frumin), Postmark Paradise (US 2000; dir. Thompson E. Clay), Russian Doll (Australia 2001; dir. Stavros Kazantzidis), and Balalaika (Turkey 2001; dir. Ali Özgentürk). Israeli cinema has also produced several similar films, including the television film Kalinka Maya (Israel 1997; dir. Eitan Londner), the absurdist satire Circus Palestina (Israel 1998; dir. Eyal Halfon), the sensationalist drama The Holy Land (Israel 2001; dir. Eitan Gorlin), the postmodern pastiche What a Wonderful Place (Israel 2005; dir. Eyal Halfon), and two romantic comedies: Saint Clara (Israel 1995; dir. Ari Folman and Ori Sivan) and Yana's Friends (Israel 1999; dir. Arik Kaplun). We choose to focus our analysis on Saint Clara and Yana's Friends because both films address questions about Israeli immigration, particularly shifts in immigration policy in response to national identity, and both enjoyed considerable visibility on the national and international film circuits. We read Saint Clara and Yana's Friends as immigration narratives that posit assimilation of female immigrants into Israeli society as amenable, indeed possible, only through romance with a sabra (native-born Israeli) man. Alone, Clara and Yana represent inassimilable immigrants, ones whose very identities embody indifference to, or disengagement from, Israeli-Zionist ideologies. Because these immigration narratives are told through the generic formulas of romantic comedy, they feature representations of women, who, invariably, mobilize their youth, beauty, and sexuality for survival within narrative structures of the relative powerlessness of immigrants. Saint Clara and Yana's Friends thus converge and depart from stereotypes of Russian women as femmes fatales, mail-order brides, or prostitutes on the international film circuit. By exploring the new character of the Russian immigrant woman within the specific context of Israeli cinema, we contribute to the study of the politics of Israeli cinematic representations of ethnicity, pioneered by Ella Shohat and continued by Yosefa Loshitzky and Nurith Gertz. Historically, cinematic representations of immigrants have expressed the politics...
Article
Full-text available
Larissa Remennick chairs the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She received her doctorate from the Institute of Sociology of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1988 and worked as a demographer and epidemiologist in the Soviet Union before emigrating to Israel. She is the author of the book-length monograph The Cancer Problem in the Context of Modernity: Sociology, Demography, Politics, which appeared in a special issue of Current Sociology (1998), and of some thirty articles and book chapters. These include "A Case Study in Transnationalism: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Israel of the 1990s" in Diasporas and Ethnic Migrants: Germany, Israel and Post-Soviet Successor States in Comparative Perspective, edited by R. Muenz and R. Ohliger (Frank Cass, 2002); and "Identity Quest among Russian Jews of the 1990s: Before and After Emigration" in Jewish Survival: The Identity Problem at the Close of the 20th Century, edited by E. Krausz and G. Tulea (Transaction P, 1998). 1. Since 1989, more than 900,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union have resettled in Israel, joining about 150,000 Soviet Jews from the earlier immigration wave of the 1970s (between 1980 and 1988 there was almost no Jewish emigration from the USSR). In total, former Soviet Jews constitute about 20% of Israel's Jewish population of 5.3 million, forming a minority equal in size to Israeli Arabs. In some towns, however, the proportion of Russian speakers has reached 30 to 40% (e.g., Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beer-Sheva, Karmiel). Hence, the "ethnic density" of Russian Jews in many locales and social settings (e.g., schools and workplaces) is very high, with a resulting strong impact on the host society (Remennick, "Identity"). 2. The immigration of Jews to Israel is based on the Law of Return enacted in the early 1950s, which defines as a Jew anyone whose parent(s) or grandparent(s) on either side are Jewish and who has not converted to any other religion. Jewish immigrants can bring along their immediate family members, regardless of their ethnic identity. Jewish immigrants (olim in Hebrew) are seen as return migrants (or repatriates) coming back from multiple diasporic countries and are entitled to Israeli citizenship and various forms of public aid (such as free Hebrew courses and housing subsidies) to help them resettle. 3. From the very outset of the post-1989 immigration wave from the FSU, the Israeli educational establishment has been strongly opposed to the introduction of Russian as an elective foreign language, let alone as a language of instruction. This reflects the "melting pot" ideology still dominant in the official stance toward immigrants. Although language policy is seldom discussed explicitly, immigrant languages have always been marginalized in Israel, especially world languages with great cultural heritage attached to them, of which Russian is certainly one. The massive influx of Russian speakers and the ubiquitous use of Russian have been perceived by political decision makers as a threat to the dominance of Hebrew, which is seen as the bedrock of Israeli national identity. As adult Russian Jews have resisted attempts at their expedient "Israelization" and have instead developed a thriving cultural life of their own in Israel (see Remennick, "What does"), the 1.5 and second generations have become the main battleground between assimilative and pluralistic forces. To boost the language shift among young Russian immigrants, educational authorities have limited access to the systematic study of Russian by all possible means, including the universities (only some 250 students nationally are enrolled in courses on Russian language and literature). Examples of a "temporary compromise" on this policy include permission to take Russian as a matriculation discipline for students who immigrate after age 15 and classes on Russian literature in the Mofet system. But only a minority of some 180,000 immigrant students have been exposed to any regular study of their first language at school; while some oral command of Russian is usually maintained at home, the level of Russian literacy is...