I’m old enough to remember when people used to talk about Soviet Jewry. Religion, all religions were suppressed in the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union while fervently anti-zionist, recognized Jews as a nationality – that is they weren’t Russians; Ukrainians, Kazakhs, or anything else no matter where they lived or how they long they lived there. They were Jews, but they weren’t really allowed to express any kind of Jewish identity. In addition to historic anti-semitism, there was institutional anti-semitism and discrimination throughout the Soviet era. I’m sure it’s still no picnic for Jews in Russia now. But back in the 1970’s when Jews were desperately trying to leave but weren’t allowed to, it was a really big deal. There were massive demonstrations in the United States in support of Soviet Jewry, primarily with the message of allowing immigration, as well as ending the policies that led so many Jews to seek it.
In those days, Soviet artists and performers no matter what their nationality were not allowed to freely travel. It was huge when they managed to escape their handlers and “defect” to the West. Imagine that. Leaving your country was “defecting,” proof positive of dissidence. It was historic when dancers like Nureyev or Baryshnikov sought refuge in the West. Sometimes defectors left behind their spouses, even children when they “escaped.” When Soviet performers form official companies made sanctioned visits to the United States, sometimes they were met with protests. But generally when visiting cultural ambassadors were performing in the US, we didn’t expect these captive artists to speak out against any of the heinous policies of their government. We didn’t hold it against them if they seemed to at least tacitly support the regime. What choice did they have?
However, let’s stretch our imagination for a moment. What if if back then, the Soviet Union had allowed some conductor and singer to travel freely, to even reside in another country without losing the right to return to Mother Russia? And what if those “free artists” had made statements in the past supporting their leaders? Now imagine a new “crackdown” on the Jews, new laws being passed that make it a crime to even speak about a Jewish identity, new semi-sanctioned pogroms. What if these artists didn’t even speak against that? Didn’t announce that they could not support those policies? What if one of them made a statement saying she did not personally discriminate against anyone including Jews, a statement in which she didn’t directly reference the crackdown or the specific Continue reading Please Don’t Make Me Burn My Tickets, Mr. Gelb