Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Efim Maratovich Dournopieka, the director of the Roza Vetrov Tourist Bureau, lives the sort of life associated with running a successful private business.
I have an interesting little byplay going on with a MR. Volkswagen who works occasionally over on the TOL Blogs site.

He responded rather harshly to me for disagreeing with an article he wrote (and misspelled) called:

"Lukashenka admists he rigs elections"
(Be sure to read the comments section)

So today, when I read his ridiculous Belarusians don’t want to fight NATO Blog, I couldn't resist going after him again.

I like the other guy at TOL blogs. I have written to him several times and he seems a reasonable and articulate character, though for the life of me I do not understand why he has never fulfilled his promise to make a link to my blogs. I mean, he has got BR23 up there and he… well, I won't be disrespectful to his situation, but there has not been a new post since the accident and they even have Tobius Ljungfull up there and he flat out quit blogging because there wasn't any money in it. But I mean really, why not BEING HAD? I seem to be rather popular these days, everyone is reading the BHTimes and even this blog gets some readers from time to time, well, when I get political anyway. HEY! Blogroll me already!

More subtlties…

I ran into some anti-Semitism the other day, but it was not the hard sort. I have a lot of typing and translating that needs to be done these days and so I have developed a network of individuals who do this work. For the most part, everything is ok, but a few days ago I caught one of the typists editing one of my interviews for content. If you want to read the eventual product, you can see it HERE. I had done the interview myself but had asked one of these associates to transcribe the tape. What I got back was a pretty reasonable and accurate representation of what had been said, but extremely conspicuous were the absences of when Efim Dounopieka told us that there had been corruption during the time when he started the firm and almost any references to the Jewish Community.

Now I know that you are thinking that I might be being a bit paranoid here, but this really happened. The person who was doing the typing was not influenced by the KGB; she just got freaked out at having to write that there are bandits or Jews in Pinsk. Apparently she wanted that secret to be kept. Maybe she thought I would not notice.

I have run into a specific attitude here regarding Judaism amongst the locals and one conversation I had with an officer over at Dom Provlenye (of course) summed it up for me pretty well. One day he came to me on the street and told me that he had heard that I played chess and wanted to play with me. In response, I invited him to the synagogue to play with us on Saturday evening after services.

"Oh no," he said, "I can't go over there."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I am not Jewish, I am Belarusian." I offered that we would not be praying, just playing chess and that there is a difference between religion and nationality, but this just made him smile. I was being foolish you see.

I actually had the same thing happen in a conversation with a friend who works at the food shop across the street this morning. She has a bad back and arthritis and I gave her some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories ($2 here) one time which helped a little and so now we are friends and so the conversation always goes a bit beyond what I am buying. So I was buying some milk and sour crème and she remarked on my riding attire and asked how far I went each morning. After I went on about the benefits of biking, she mentioned that she also sees me go every day over towards the..ehem…synagogue.

"Yes…" I asked, "and…".

"Nothing…" She answered and frowned a bit. I was of course being informed in rather articulate Belarusian that I was committing a blatant social feux pas. If a Belarusian refers to something, no matter what they actually say or don't say, you can pretty much assume they are saying something horrible about it.

"You know," I said, "the Jewish community has been very, very kind to me. And if the truth be told, Pinsk hasn't offered up all that much: They screwed me when I came here both at the university where I was supposed to teach some English and at the theatre over that play I wrote. And they haven't been all that great to me since either. I like my relationships with the Jewish community here and I like what I get to give them back. You're not going to get me to poo poo them no matter how hard you try, and in fact, I really think you are being a bit… you know… yourself with this attitude."

I got a head nod in response.

I actually get this all the time, but I also have a lot of people who like me personally, so they sort of see the association as something like "my dirty little secret". Like I say, it is pretty subtle but it is there. Now that I am venting though, I should probably add in here that I get at least one "some of my best friends are Jewish" each day as well. This sort of thing is always good to hear of course, but it is as irrelevant a fact as it is irritating to have to listen to. And this is from my good friends. Thank you for putting me so at ease.

One of the rabbis told me of a Jewish friend who, when he is depressed, likes to look at heavy, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic websites.

"Why would he do that?" I asked.

"Because when he reads them he finds out that he is rich, that he has great global power and that he pulls the strings for nation leaders. It makes him feel much better."

But this is the way it is and apparently, this is the way it has always been here. In a lot of the interviews I have made with elderly Jewish folks here I have asked them about anti-Semitism in their lives and they always say that they were working and so they didn't notice it really. "If you do your job,' they say, "people would leave you alone." I wonder though if this would be the highest order of living in that the best one could ask for would be solitude. But then again, if all anyone ever says is negative things, the relief from closing your door probably feels pretty good after all.

One last subtlety…

One of the better jokes going around has Lukashenka at a press conference talking about how wonderful life is in the republic these days.

"Life is getting better and better in Belarus." The president says, "It has gotten so good in fact that even the Jews are coming back!"

More soon…


Anonymous Mike Miller said...

Adam, on several occasions you have referenced Russian gentiles saying they were "Russian" as opposed to being Jewish when they were describing their ethnicity or nationality. I think this logically must have several reasons. Is it possible that one reason was that Soviet identity documents listed a person's ethnicity and that Jew was listed as the ethnicity for the Jews?

Is it is also historically accurate to say that Jews in Eastern Europe and then the Soviet Union were somewhat segregated from "mainstream" society?

Perhaps this segregation would build a notion of a different ethnicity into the minds of the Gentiles? Could any of these things contribute to the many Russians/Belarusians gentiles describing Judaism as an ethnicity?

However, also, as a side note, and I don't mean to be inflammatory with this but I believe that Jews in Eastern Europe desired to only marry Jews and not gentiles. (Remember Fiddler on the Roof ? ) I have heard several versions of the reason for this. Is it possible that if Jews desired to only marry other Jews that this might be a contributing factor to the manner in which Russians and Belarusians interchange the concept of religion with ethnicity where Jews are concerned? You are on the ground in Pinsk, you are obviously in a good position to comment on this. I don't imply that there are not portions of the gentile Russian/Belarusian population that are just xenophobic, and desire to be inflammatory and injurious and just plain obnoxious when they can. Any large population group will have these types that desire to say ignorant things for hateful purposes. I think any reasonable person can imagine this. But for the rest of the Russian/Belarusian population to interchange such seemingly simple concepts must have a logical origin based on historical facts. And also here in America, we are pretty sensitive to such incorrect interchanging of religion and national origin. Perhaps such grammatical / syntaxial torts don't have the same resonance in the Russian/Belarusian culture as they do our own.

And lastly, what is the opinion of Russian/Belarusian Jews about their own ethnicity? Do Jews in Belarus feel they are "ethnically different" from the Gentile population? How do the Jews in Pinsk feel about the idea of their ethnicity being described by their religion? As an American I am fairly uncomfortable with such gramatical/definitional transpositions, but I am an American. Your thoughts?

Mike Miller

Friday, December 01, 2006  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

You are right about the identity documents and so it is true that there is a legal basis for what the man said. On the other hands, refusing an invitation to play because the chess game might take place in a synagogue is a different story. I spent 30 years not being all that observant about my being Jewish but during that time I never denied it; I was in fact Jewish. But I have many, many good friends who are Christians, and they come from allover the world. And in none of these relationships have I backed off from acts of friendship simply because the party was to take place in a church meeting hall. And, on a few occasions I have even been to church because my hosts at the time went and I decided to go along with them. Has the world ended because of this? No it has not. Have I become Christian? No. See my point? Turning someone down because he is different is a sign of an undeveloped mind.

However, this being said, I must acknowledge that there is here a base ethnicity that comes from the geographic location. Yes, Germans are Germans and French are French and Russians are Russians. This the situation is not like it is in the states where there is a mixed multi-culture. On the other hand, I am also from here geographically and have the cultural traits as well. How much of the Israeli or American Jewish populations come from here? It's a huge percent. So this must be remembered as well.

But as far as the issues of segregation and intermarriage, the former Soviet Union was down on religion in general and down on the Jews especially. Do Jews intermarry? A portion does. Probably a smaller portion than how Christians might intermarry between the various churches and doctrines; this is probably because Jews do make a big deal about this. But it is not 100%, not everybody is serious in their religion, and in general, it is still a matter of young people getting together.

But about your final point about Jews feel different from Gentiles… we do. Live with it. I mean, if a Christian feels special love from On High because he is Christian and this makes him feel good, good for him. But a Jew always feels it, whether he practices or not or even if he doesn't believe. Being Jewish does absolutely mean something and there is no possible way to deny it. It is always there. It's what makes us Jewish.

Friday, December 01, 2006  

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