Tag Archives: Siberia

Today’s Jewish Diaspora communities at once threatened and resilient

Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora, by Annika Hernroth-Rothstein. Edited by Tiffany Gabbay. Bombardier Books. 208 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Sometimes a relatively compact book has a lot to offer. It’s so unusual to find a book whose author has a fascinating and necessary idea about Jewish culture, digs into the topic, and comes up with a result that is dazzling in its factual base, its interpretation of gathered evidence, and its engaging voice.

This Jewish journalist from Sweden set herself a challenging mission and the results are illuminating. The stories she tells are as once consoling and a bit frightening as well. Where is the Jewish diaspora today? It’s in places you might not expect.

Come with Annika Hernroth-Rothstein (hereafter simply “Annika” on her magical mystery tour – a tour that took two years.

After an introduction in which she described the sources of motivation for her project, the author launches her diaspora guide with a study and reminisce about the Djerba community. Djerba, an island in Tunisia, is a good starting point. She introduces her to guides and community leaders who shape her introduction to this unfamiliar place. She learns about the town of Hara Kbira, almost exclusive Jewish. It has twelve synagogues. As in other Jewish centers within Muslim countries, these people operate discretely and without calling attention to themselves. The town has a full range of Jewish institutions and outlets. They have struggled against persecution and assimilation and found a way to survive and flourish. The island is home to fifteen hundred Jews whose commitment assures, to the extent possible, a future sprung from an impenetrable core. These people know that they must “plant their feet firmly in the past.”

Modern day Uzbekistan is a place where people have lived since the “Old Stone Age.” Annika outlines is remarkable history through the shifting of empires. She reminds us that Uzbeks fought in the Red Army against Nazi Germany and “500,000 of the soldiers were Jewish. This nation gained independence in 1991. A humorous scene involves what Annika calls an “Uzbek Orthodox flirtation.” She described the conflict between the Ashkenazi and Bukharian Sephardi communities. Throughout its history, the Jewish Uzbeks have fought against assimilation, and the community has often “teetered on the brink of extinction.” Accusations of dual loyalties posed serious problems. Through all of these, Uzbekistan’s Jews have survived. The community continues to maintain its strong presence in “a peaceful, multi-religious melting pot. These Jewish citizens are at once “equal,” and yet not “truly free” under the USSR shadow that still darkens today’s Russia.

A favorite chapter for many readers is likely to be the one on Morocco. Arriving in fabled Marrakesh the day before Passover, Annika enjoys the synagogue service Lazama Synagogue build in 1492 “and now housed inside of a sixteenth century Riad Mellah (ghetto). She toys with the commonplace that in Morocco the lives of Muslims and Jews have been intertwined, but sshe also notes that this is true only in certain restricted area. Annika moves gracefully for the old, historic places of Jewish community to the more modern ones, noting that Jews had served in important diplomatic positions. Jewish life in Morocco can seem and perhaps be one of subservience to the Muslim community. It is a life adaptation that is no uncommon in the diaspora.

She reminds us that tens of thousands of Jews arrived in Israel between 1948 and 1956, shrinking Morocco’s Jewish community.

Can you imagine that such a book would contain have a healthy section on Siberia? Well it does.

Annika relates the fact that – perhaps not ironically, Siberia means “The End” in the regional dialect of Ostyak. Siberia is immense. But for many Jewish immigrants is offered a new beginning. It is a place rich in natural resources that demand a labor force to take advantage of them. Millions of people have benefitted from the the Trans-Siberian Railway, including those helped build this marvel.

Annika finds the towns she visits somehow familiar. It’s like a homecoming to this Jew of partial Russian ancestry, It is no surprise to find a Chabad-Lubavitch presence whose leaders are the “head and heart” of the Irkutsk Jewish community, which is home to at least five thousand Jews. The synagogue is jammed, assimilation seems under control, and Jewish institutions, educational and otherwise, are active. Strangely, Putin is an ally of Russian Jews, who are deeply patriotic and also open about their Zionism.

This is only one of the many chapters filled with surprises.

Aside from the four chapters skimmed to give a taste of this valuable study, there are additional chapters detailing the past and present communities of Jews in the following places: Cuba, Iran, Finland, Sweden, Palermo, Turkey, and Venezuela. Annika’s adventurous nature, her passion for Jewish culture and history, and her openness regarding her personal experiences exploring these varied communities is a treasure and a joy.

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a former political advisor for the conservative coalition of Sweden, and now a full-time journalist and author. She contributes to such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Israel Hayom, Commentary Magazine, National Review, Mosaic Magazine, The Washington Examiner, and The Jerusalem Post. When she is not writing, she travels the world and is a sought-after public speaker on issues of religious freedom, European politics, and the Middle East.

For even more about the author, go to https://annikahernroth.com/



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“On the Landing: Stories by Yenta Mash”

Ellen Cassedy, trans. Northern Illinois University Press. 192 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

Review by Philip K. Jason

The sixteen stories in this collection, carefully selected and translated from Yenta Mash’s life’s work in Yiddish, form a series of quiet explosions. Though they sometimes cry out, the voices are strangely subdued, recording as they do life behind the Iron Curtain in the decades of Soviet strangulation of subject peoples. Communities in Bessarabia, Moldova, and Siberia were at best unofficial prisons for aspiring souls and curious minds and at worst, official ones. For the surprisingly large, if relatively unknown, Jewish communities, the burdens included that of anti-Semitism.

For some, including Mash, immigration to Israel during and after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the 1970s was a mixed blessing. There was so much that was unfamiliar, so much to get used to. More importantly, there was so much to remember before the memories would vanish.

In one story in this collection, Mash takes us into the lives of two young women, foresters working long hours for a bare subsistence. They cut down trees, prepare the trunks and branches for usable lumber, and carry them to be examined by their boss. The narrator is dependent on her more skillful coworker, Riva, without whom she would be lost. It’s the dead of winter, and there is no expectation of respite from the frozen misery of their lives. These intimates are the family breadwinners. From time to time, they make one another laugh. Though their relationship turns sour in later years, readers are left with their strength and indomitable spirits. What’s enchanting in this story and others is the comfortable way in which the characters carry their Jewish selves—with a mixture of knowledge and habit that sometimes seems more nourishing than any other part of their existence. . . .

To see the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: On the Landing

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Weaponized virus threat sends special CIA team into action

Thawed! by Lawrence De Maria. 175 pages. Kindle E-book $2.99. Cole Sudden C.I.A. Thrillers Book 3.

Not many novels open at research stations in Siberia, but Mr. De Maria makes his initial scene on the frozen tundra of Siberia a vivid attention-getter. We first meet Vadim Bylinkin, the Russian helicopter pilot who ferries supplies and contraband to the isolated super-frozen arctic stations. At a particular station, world-changing research is underway under the leadership of Grigor Rusayev. A joke about “Tundra Dick” sets the tone as Grigor drools over Katarina, the red-haired botanist on the research team. But what’s going on here is more serious. The lead scientist has brought to life (or something like life) an extinct virus locked in permafrost for 30,000 years. A virus that can be weaponized. thawed20162

The Russian military investigates after the research station suffers a disaster, but those who are after the virus turn out to be highly capable and totally dedicated Islamic terrorists who have infiltrated the Russian operation.

Meanwhile, at the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, the ever resourceful and of often sarcastic Cole Sudden is buffing up his second career as a novelist. Being a roguish CIA agent is clearly not enough for him. How far he can go with his Jake Harms mysteries without risking his hidden identity is an open question. The facility where he is meeting with CIA colleague Nigel Buss hides an agency team of assassins. That’s why Cole is there. They run activities best kept away from the headquarters campus in Langley, Virginia.

By establishing Cole as a novelist, Mr. De Maria can play games with his readers. The ways in which Cole Sudden’s writing career mirrors that of his creator makes for a lot of insider fun.

De Maria

De Maria

When readers discover that Grigor Rusayev is sharing information with two French scientists associated with the University of Marseilles, they will wonder about the consequences of an obviously illegal partnership.

The Russian military is sent into action after something goes horribly wrong at the research station. The disaster is first witnessed by Bylinkin from the air. Moscow assumes the Siberian situation and the virus research is under control. However, Islamic fanatics have infiltrated the Russian enterprise with their own jihadist agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as found in the November 9, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach /  West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Thawed!

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Young PI goes from Tampa to Siberia and back to solve murder mystery

The Veiled Lagoon, by Henry Hoffman. Martin Sisters Publishing. 214 pages. Trade paper $15.95.

This is Mr. Hoffman’s second “Adam Fraley Mystery” and his fifth novel overall. The case Adam investigates comes about in an unusual way. A man named Charlton Quigley contacts him because is suspicious of the newspaper report about a young woman’s accidental death.

Quigley’s acquaintance with the late Vickie Murin stems from the fact that she was the waitress at a coffee shop he frequented. During their many conversations, Quigley had developed a sense of her character and circumstances that led him to mistrust the reported facts. He is willing to pay Adam, whose ad Quigley found at the back of his church’s newsletter, to look into the matter.  VeiledLagoonCover

Oh, by the way: Vickie’s husband is a detective in the Sheriff’s Office, a man who seems to have gotten over his loss a bit too quickly.

Since the novel begins with a scene describing Vickie’s murder, that is not the mystery. Rather, as in the classic Columbo television series, the steps by which the criminal is brought to justice are the building blocks of suspense. The obligatory battle of wits between detective and perpetrator could loom larger in Mr. Hoffman’s novel, but there is plenty to hold the reader’s attention.

First and foremost is the introduction of a new character, let’s hope as a series regular. Tamra, whom Adam hires as a secretary and assistant (officially “office manager”), is a real treat for the reader. Her “bright steely demeanor,” her “discerning green eyes,” her “dark red hair” and her abundance of the critical ingredient called “moxie” add a force to the novel that makes this reader miss her when reading scenes from which she is absent.

Her intelligence, eagerness to learn, and desire for adventure all combine to make her a supercharged Della Street. There are signs of possible romance in the office, though Adam is still dazzled somewhat by his college mentor, a woman at least as fascinating as Tamra.

Henry Hoffman

A series of chapters set in Siberia introduce us to fascinating natural and cultural landscapes. Why does Henry Hoffman take us there? When Adam discovers that Detective Murin is a fairly recent immigrant from Russia who has a childhood sweetheart, Alina, living in a Siberian town, he arranges a trip to deepen his understanding of his suspect’s background. Murin seems interested in bringing this woman back into his life – a motive for murdering Vickie. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 2, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the January 8 Fort Myers edition, and the January 16 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – Veiled Lagoon 1 and here Florida Weekly – Veiled Lagoon 2

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