A Purim "Shpil" in Soviet Moscow

It was early 1987, and Jewish emigration was at a virtual standstill. What better way than a drama of victory over ancient enemies to sustain our own hope of escape?


A teacher of Hebrew at the Moscow Synagogue in 1990. Steven L. Raymer/National Geographic/Getty Images.

A teacher of Hebrew at the Moscow Synagogue in 1990. Steven L. Raymer/National Geographic/Getty Images.

Observation
Feb. 29 2016
About the author

Maxim D. Shrayer, born in Moscow in 1967, is a professor at Boston College and the author, most recently, of Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story, a National Jewish Book Award finalist. He is also the editor of Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories by his father, David Shrayer-Petrov, a Wallant Award finalist.


The time was 1987, the place Moscow. Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union was at a near-standstill. In 1986, out of the roughly 1.5 million Jews remaining in the USSR, only about 900 were allowed to leave. Tens of thousands of refuseniks—Jews who had applied for permission to emigrate, been denied or placed on hold, and were meanwhile punished for their effrontery and persecuted—were left in what seemed like an interminable state of limbo. Among them were my father, my mother, and I, then close to my twentieth birthday.

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More about: Arts & Culture, History & Ideas, Purim, Religion & Holidays, Soviet Jewry