During the decades when hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees left the Soviet Union for new lives here, most believed they were forever cutting their ties with a country long considered to be an anti-Semitic land of oppression.
Yet with the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only are ex-Soviet Jews able to visit their former homeland, but Russian culture is increasingly following the יmigrיs to New York.
First, onetime media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky, who now lives in Israel, brought Russian-language cable television direct from Moscow, in the process knocking a New York-based Russian TV station off the air. Then, last year, the only Russian-language daily newspaper here, Novoye Russkoye Slovo, was bought up by Kiev-based magnate Vadim Rabinovich, who turned the paper's focus from Russian-Jewish life in New York toward coverage of events in the FSU.
Last week, the process of reconnecting the Russian-Jewish population with their old country took another step forward as the biggest stars of the Russian entertainment scene came to Radio City Music Hall to present Zolotoi Gramofon, (Golden Gramophone), the Russian version of the Grammies.
The event was the highlight of Russian Heritage Week, which also included the annual NYANA Festival in Brighton Beach and a glittering reception for Russian-Jewish community leaders by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion. Russian Heritage Week is sponsored by the Russian American Arts Foundation, whose brassy impresario Marina Kovaloyov also runs Israel-related events together with the Jewish Agency and on behalf of the Russian Division of UJA-Federation.
Among those performing for an enthusiastic overflow crowd at the Radio City event were musical superstars Boris Moiseyev, Cristina Arbakaite and Yulia Savicheva; rock combos with names like Smash, Tea for Two, and Nya Para (Not a Couple).
Stopping by to offer congratulations to the performers were international Russian celebrities like Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Oksana Baiul and champion boxers Vladimir and Vitaly Klichko, and American luminaries like Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The show was a celebration of Russian culture, though several performers slipped in references to their own Jewishness, including Kirkorov, who happens to be the much-younger husband of Alla Pugachova, Russia's most famous singer, and Moiseyev, a peroxided Elton John look-alike.
After the show, audience members seemed thrilled to have had the chance to hear Russia's best musical talent in a classy Manhattan venue.
"Russian culture is in our blood," said Aida Tsiburskaya, a retired engineer from Moscow who attended the concert with her daughter Clara. "I don't think it is a contradiction for Jews to love Russian culture. Yes, some of the people are anti-Semitic, but Russian cultural life has always been filled with Jews."
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