A good old family group photo from the Kovarsky’s latest get-together – my Russian in-laws.
Yes, if it wasn’t enough that I find myself in an already multi-national, multi-religious UK/Danish-Israeli/Jewish relationship, there is the added twist that Asya and her family emigrated from the then Soviet Union to Israel in the early 1990s; as a result, family life here takes on a very distinctive Russian flair.
Visits to the family home in the kibbutz or to Asya’s grandparents in the nearby dust-bowl city of Be’er Sheva leave me slightly lost – a world where conversations are conducted primarily in Russian, where Russian-language TV channels or dubbed-films dominate the television set, and where a variety of Russian foods and drinks occupy the fridge. Take away the desert and the 35 °C and we could almost be back in Mother Russia.
No more so than last week where the family congregated in a small Georgian restaurant in the centre of Jerusalem to celebrate the home-coming visit of a distant uncle who had made it big in the US (Houston, Texas as a doctor to be more specific) – his story sounding something out of a film; the epitome of the Russian immigrant fleeing a collapsing Soviet Union to chase the American Dream, hardships and all.
It’s always a bit daunting entering these big family gatherings, my broken Hebrew of little use here. Surrounded by yet another foreign language, listening to tales from the ‘good old days’ in communist Moscow (I presume…), a variety of Russian delicacies over-flowing the table, vodka shots at the ready – it sure is a far cry from growing up in provincial Denmark. So even if I do feel quite lost 95% of the time, even if Russian food isn’t always that enticing, even if they have penchant for cheesy music, and even if the meals do go on for long hours, it’s all worthwhile in my books – no more so when I get the “Welcome to the family” toast… 🙂