The Arty Semite

For Former Soviets in the West Bank, Jewish Identity Goes With 'The Territory'

By Susan Armitage

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?

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Monument to Isaac Babel Erected in Odessa

By Vladislav Davidzon

Courtesy of The World Odessit Club

Eighty-five years after bestowing “The Odessa Tales” and “Red Cavalry” to both the Russian and the Jewish modernist literary canons; 71 years after a 20-minute show trial resulted in execution by firing squad; 54 years after his posthumous rehabilitation by Soviet authorities, and several decades after plans were first laid, a monument to Isaac Babel has been erected in his home town of Odessa, across the street from his former apartment building on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskaya streets.

Located in a plaza in front of the lumpy neo-Soviet columns of high school number 117, the monument depicts a frocked Babel sitting next to a massive “wheel of fate,” scribbling in a notebook while gazing dreamily into the distance.

The tribute was dedicated September 4 by The World Odessit Club, a loose confederation of associations that produces nostalgic get-togethers. Expatriates of the cosmopolitan port town collected money for the sculpture over the better part of the last five years, one donation at a time.

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