Festival of Contemporary Russian Jewish American Culture at Center for Jewish History on Sunday, March 5

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Festival to feature daylong conference, live music in honor of launch of special issue of the journal East European Jewish Affairs

Festival co-hosted by American Jewish Historical Society and Center for Jewish History

New York, Feb. 23, 2017 – A first-time, daylong Festival of Contemporary Russian Jewish American Culture will be celebrated in New York on Sunday, March 5, introducing attendees to scholars, writers and visual artists whose work exemplifies the best in the field.

The festival, co-hosted by the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) and the Center for Jewish History, will consist of three panels of speakers that will be free and open to the public, followed by an evening ticketed music concert. The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th Street).

The timing aligns with the publication of a special edition of the journal East European Jewish Affairs, “The New Wave of Russian Jewish American Culture,” supported by a grant from Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation which develops and enhances Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.

The special issue of East European Jewish Affairs to be debuted at the conference focuses on the various modes of artistic composition in which Russian-speaking Jewish Americans have played leading roles in the last 20 years – including art, film, literature, and music – with a focus on Russian-speaking Jewish American women.

Festival highlights will include Anya Ulinich, award-winning author and current deputy art director at the Forward, whose original graphic image is featured on the cover of the journal’s special edition; Polina Barskova, a cutting-edge poet, who writes in Russian and teaches at Hampshire College; and photographer Alina Bliumis, who follows in a long line of Russian Jewish photographers and whose work engages very American questions about identity.

Said Ilia Salita, president and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group, “Just as generations of immigrants have before them, young Russian Jews who came to the United States in the 1980s and 90s are today driving American literature and American art from strength to strength. The uniqueness of this cohort’s multi-cultural identity makes their art special and relevant to their peers, and is poised to both invigorate the American Jewish community and make a pivotal contribution to American culture more broadly. This festival offers undeniable proof of these Russian American Jews’ success to date, but beyond that, it makes a compelling argument for the Russian-Jewish community’s vital and unlimited potential as well as for our work to nurture and strengthen its foundation in a critical effort to ensure its vibrant future.”

Added Anna Katsnelson of Columbia University, “The most recent wave of Russian-speaking Jewish immigration to North America (1970s - 1990s) incubated a rich panoply of talented artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers; all of whom conveyed cultural capital from the Soviet Union to the West, and who will be featured at this festival.”

The Festival of Contemporary Russian Jewish American Culture will open with remarks from:

  • Rachel Lithgow, AJHS executive director
  • Ilia Salita, president and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group
  • Dr. Anna Katsnelson, guest editor of the special edition and adjunct assistant professor at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University
  • Dr. David Shneer, co-editor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs and the Louis P. Singer Chair in Jewish History at the University of Colorado

The remainder of the day will consist of three panel discussions on current issues in the field of Russian Jewish American cultural production, literature and visual arts. 

The first panel, “The Scholars” (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), will be moderated by Anna Shternshis, co-editor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs and author of the recently released When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life under Stalin, from Oxford University Press. Panelists will include:

  • Baruch Beckerman, Bar Ilan University
  • Anna Katsnelson, Columbia University
  • Maggie Levantovskaya, Santa Clara University
  • Jeffrey Taylor, Western Colorado University
  • Karolina Krasuska, University of Warsaw
  • Inga Veksler, Rutgers University

The second panel, “The Writers: (1:30-3 p.m.), will be moderated by Anna Katsnelson. Panelists will include:

  • Anya Ulinich, prize winning author of Petropolis and Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel; deputy art director at the Forward; her original art is featured on the journal’s cover
  • Eugene Yelchin, acclaimed author of Breaking Stalin’s Nose and Arcady’s Goal, whose visual art is featured in the journal
  • Ellen Litman, author of The Last Chicken in America, associate professor of creative writing at Connecticut College, whose original short story is featured in the journal
  • Polina Barskova, acclaimed poet and scholar, associate professor at Hampshire College, whose original poem is featured in the journal
  • Julia Loktev, a filmmaker, whose work includes Moment of Impact (1998) and Day Night Day Night (2006), an interview with whom appears in the journal

The third panel, “The Visual Artists” (3:30-5:30 p.m.), will be moderated by Nick Underwood, managing editor of East European Jewish Affairs. Panelists will include:

  • Alina Bliumis, photographer and author of the book From Selfie to Groupie; her work is included in the journal
  • Yuliya Levit, photographer whose Speak Memory project explores stories of Russian-speaking Jewish World War II survivors
  • Artem Mirolevich, acclaimed painter, whose work is featured in the journal
  • Yevgeniya Baras, New York based artist, who held a solo show All Inside Itself, Close at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery and whose paintings are featured in the journal
  • Misha Korosty, New York based painter, whose work is featured in the journal

In between panel discussions, attendees will experience visual slideshows of the featured artists’ work.

The conference portion is free and open to the public. RSVP is required at rsvp@ajhs.org


The festival will culminate with a musical performance (8-9:30 p.m.) by Svetlana and the Delancey Five. Svetlana is a recognized New York City-based vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Tickets for the concert are $25 for general admission, $15 for students, seniors and AJHS members, and $36 at the door. Tickets are available for purchase through the American Jewish Historical Society.

On Saturday night, March 4, as a preview for the festival, co-editor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs, Anna Shternshis, will be holding a book launch party open to the public to celebrate the publication of When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life Under Stalin (Oxford) at the Evans Gallery (249 West 60th Street) at 7 p.m.

To celebrate the book, Shternshis and singer-songwriter Psoy Korolenko will present a new program, “How Sonia Met Boris,” to include Soviet Jewish songs and jokes in Russian and Yiddish. “These stories and artefacts transport us to the world of dilemmas, self-deprecating humor and controversies of the Soviet Jewish experience,” Shternshis shared.

The festival is co-sponsored by the Louis P. Singer Chair in Jewish History at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Genesis Philanthropy Group, and East European Jewish Affairs.



Genesis Philanthropy Group’s mission is to develop and enhance a sense of Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide. GPG initiates and supports projects and institutions that are focused on ensuring that Jewish culture, heritage, and values are preserved in Russian-speaking Jewish communities across the globe. Additional information about Genesis Philanthropy Group is available at gpg.org.


In its fifth decade, East European Jewish Affairs serves as the leading global journal dealing with both Jews in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as Ashkenazic Jews wherever in the world they may be. Serving as a bridge between Jewish Studies and Russian and East European Studies, as well as between the scholarly community and the public, the journal publishes scholarly submissions of single- or multi-authored articles, review essays, and annotated archival documents as well as commissions original works of literature and art. Additional information about East European Jewish Affairs can be at http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/feej20/current .


The American Jewish Historical Society is the oldest, ethnic, cultural archive in the United States. AJHS provides access to more than 25 million documents and 50,000 books, photographs, art, and artifacts that reflect the history of the Jewish presence in the United States from 1654 to the present. Additional information about the society can be found at www.ajhs.org.


The Center for Jewish History illuminates history, culture, and heritage. The Center provides a collaborative home for five partner organizations: American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The partners’ archives comprise the world’s largest and most comprehensive archive of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel. The collections span a thousand years, with more than 5 miles of archival documents (in dozens of languages and alphabet systems), more than 500,000 volumes, as well as thousands of artworks, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films, and photographs. Additional information about the Center can be found at www.cjh.org.