In a West Bank settlement home, a middle-aged man strums a tune in a soulful Soviet singer-songwriter style that was popular in the 1960s. A Soviet sailor’s cap sits jauntily on a plaster bust nearby. But the lyrics of this Russian song — “Judea, you are my land. Any way you say it, I am a Jew” — could never have been uttered publicly in the Soviet Union.
This image turns up in Dmitriy Khavin’s documentary “The Territory,” which is showing in New York on January 30. The film provides an up-close and personal introduction to the Soviet immigrants who now call the West Bank home. According to the film, they represent about 100,000 of the 500,000 settlers in the West Bank. They’ve carried their Soviet heritage with them, but many of the settlers in film also express deep connections to Jewish identity.
Like Khavin’s earlier films, “Across the Narrow Bridge” and “Artists of Odessa”, “The Territory” explores the post-Soviet Jewish experience. In the early 1990s, Khavin and his family left Odessa for New York. A friend from Jerusalem told him about a group of Russian-speaking settlers in the West Bank. Intrigued, Khavin started reading their blogs to learn more. Eventually he decided to see for himself.
Khavin sat down with the Forward in New York to talk about “The Territory” and post-Soviet Jewish identity.
How did you come up with the idea for the film?