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The nostalgic evenings have become political

Haaretz, Dec. 14, 2000

The nostalgic evenings have become political

"We can get along with the Arabs, but not with the Jewish left"

By Lily Galili


The organizer, Mikhail Shubman, promised that it was going to be just an
evening of song for the new immigrants from Russia, in honor of Hanukkah.
He kept his promise: There was singing, and they even mentioned Hanukkah,
here and there. But the event which took place two days ago at the Gerard
Behar Center in Jerusalem was mainly a very political evening, rife with
rightwing statements and barbs at the politicians of the left. Hanukkah
goes very well with a "strong leader," the object of the immigrants'
desire.

Even the sufganiyot (doughnuts - a traditional Hanukkah food) were
political: In a song called "Political Doughnuts," Yuri Lipmanovitch, a
30-year old computer programmer, sang that Meretz chair Yossi Sarid bans
sufganiyot, because members of the Habad Hasidic movement - those who
coined the slogan "Bibi is good for the Jews" in the last election
campaign - distribute them to the public. "What is this Hanukkah holiday,"
wondered Lipmanovitch sarcastically in his song. "We got along so well
with the Greeks [the rulers of Judea at the time of the events
commemorated by Hanukkah], until these Jewish fanatics came along and made
war." There was a reference later in the song to former Soviet premier
Brezhnev, who, to the delight of the audience, was compared to Sarid.

About 250 new immigrants, young and old, who made the effort to come out
in the pouring rain, knew exactly what they would get. Evenings of
political songs have become an institution in the immigrant community. The
evening's emcee, a reporter for the Russian- language newspaper Vesty and
a broadcaster in Russian on radio's Channel 7, mentioned a similar evening
which took place in February, when they protested the withdrawal from the
Golan "with good results." Later, on the eve of the Camp David summit,
there was a concert dedicated to Jerusalem "and we saved Jerusalem." The
third such evening, this week, was meant "to minimize the present
political catastrophe as much as possible."

The success of the previous evenings filled these immigrants with a new
spirit. In the past, they used to come to evenings of nostalgia, during
which the Israeli experience was translated into songs inspired by Russian
songs, incorporating motifs of Pushkin, Wissotsky and Brodsky.

Now, they are imbued with a feeling of increasing power. They have no
doubt that it was their protest which prevented the catastrophes of the
past; they no longer doubt their power to prevent the next political
catastrophe. This week, they had a look of "we told you so" in their eyes,
and their conversation betrayed disdain and pity for the misled and
misleading Israeli left. Even without election surveys, it is easy to tell
at which end of the spectrum they place themselves.

There was a lot of talent in the auditorium. A talent for writing, a
talent for singing, and great enthusiasm, which was enlisted for the
battle. This time, new artists joined the veterans. Shubman met one of
them in Tekoa, and another in Kiryat Arba. "I simply did not meet anyone
who sings really good Russian songs with leftist content," he explained.

Not only do the participants think that the left does not sing well, they
also think the left does not speak to the point. That is the opinion of
Grisha Luxemburg, a very talented poet and composer, who immigrated to
Israel in the 1970s. When he had finished singing, he told the audience
that "we can get along with the Arabs, but not with the Jewish left."
Before this finale, the poet promised that "one day we will return to
Gaza, which will be a beautiful Jewish city." The song which he wrote was
dedicated to a friend who was burned in a tank in the Yom Kippur War. "A
tank is not Auschwitz, in which one burns," he sang on stage.

The theme of the Holocaust was incorporated into several of the songs
dealing with current events. Mark Apfelsaft wondered in his song "Why are
we withdrawing again?" while mentioning [the Nazi death camps] Maidanek
and Buchenwald, which are still in our hearts; Lipmanovitch invited his
listeners to a "Fish Festival," in which the Jews are the food being
served. "Fishing season has begun," he concluded his song in Hebrew. "It's
a song before war," he announced, to thundering applause. The audience
also responded enthusiastically to young Grigory Yufis, a nurse in a
psychiatric hospital, who composed a cynical song about the peace process,
to the tune of a well-known Russian victory song from World War II, in
which General Barak begs to give something back, "if only someone will
take it."

It was a very nice, well organized evening. Much of the credit is due to
Larissa Gerstein, deputy head of the Jerusalem municipality, who also
appeared in some lyric selections. The head of the Jerusalem branch of the
National Union-Yisrael Beitenu [the Russian immigrant party headed by
Avigdor Lieberman] helped with the organization. And in the audience - and
on stage with a short tune - was MK Yuri Stern, a member of the party. But
the spirit expressed much more than a political leaning, it reflected an
entire world view, which is closed and prepared for catastrophe.

"That's how it is with the Russians," summed up Mikhail Poliakov, "they
always have some element of tragedy, which fits in well with life in
Israel." Poliakov, who is studying economics, immigrated to Israel 12
years ago, and shared an apartment in the student dormitories with some of
the artists. "I came because of them," he explained. "Just as there are in
Israel cliques of people who shared the same mess tin in the Palmach [the
strike force of the pre-state army, the Haganah], so we shared the
battlefield in the fight for absorption. I don't exactly agree with their
opinions, but anyone who thought that we would go along with the Ashkenazi
[descendants of European Jews] elite, was badly mistaken." By "Ashkenazi
elite," Poliakov meant the left.

One of those who contributed to the evening was Sofa Ron, a senior
political reporter for Vesty, and a former member of the directorate of
the [rightwing] Moledet party. She did speak about Hanukkah: Ron explained
to the audience the story of the Hellenistic Jewish minority which turned
Jerusalem into a Greek polis, and turned itself into an elite which began
to deprive the others of their rights, and actually invited the
Greek-Syrian King Antiochus to become involved in the internal affairs of
the small province of Judea. Everyone understood what she was talking
about.

In summarizing the evening, the emcee sighed and asked what would happen
when Netanyahu was elected, because it is hard to find rhymes for his name
as easily as for Barak, whose name means "hut" in Russian. After a play on
the words "hut" and "home," which is part of the name of Lieberman's party
[Yisrael Beitenu = Israel is our home], no election slogan was needed.

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