Another Russian Saying:

This weekend, I was also reminded of a more recent Russian saying. There was at one point a well-known Russian line (I've seen it credited to Ilf & Petrov's The Golden Calf) that "a car is not a luxury, it is a means of transportation." I'm a bit hazy on the precise meaning of the saying, but that doesn't quite matter here. What matters is that in the 1970s, when most Jews -- and, with them, their family members -- but virtually no Russians were allowed to emigrate, someone coined this variant: "A Jewish wife is not a luxury; she is a means of transportation."

Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Yeah, this reflected a change i sentiment toward Jews and being Jewish that a lot of people in my parents' generation really appreciated. The "pyataya grafa" (5th line) in the old Soviet passport, the line indicating ethnicity, was traditionally a big source of stress for Jews, since being revealed to be a Jew could have some unpleasant consequences.

The stamp you really wanted in there was "Russian," not "Jewish." If you were 1/2 ethnic Russian and 1/2 ethnic Jewish, you could pick, and people generally picked "Russian." When Jews started to leave, this all changed. People who were denying that they were Jewish their entire lives, suddenly were trying to change their passports from Russian to Jewish, or marry Jewish.

To someone like my grandfather, who was told outright, after med school that "Jews don't get into cardiology," this was all very ironic.

[To be sure, I don't know if that was the official policy - that's just what he was told.]
4.10.2006 7:46pm
In America we have an expression that covers the "wife as transportation" meme but I've only ever seen it on bumper stickers: "My other ride is your wife."
4.10.2006 9:22pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Most of the Russians in Israel are not really Jews although they have some Jewish ancestry. But they seem to be nationalistic enough.
4.10.2006 10:11pm
...Max... (mail) (www):
What do you mean -- credited? Chapter VI. Or did you see it in an earlier source (other than Ilf's Notebooks)?

4.11.2006 1:52am
Cheburashka (mail):
The way I heard the joke was this:

It's 1982, and the KGB knocks on Alex's door in Moscow. "Sasha," they say, "we saw you applied to leave the Soviet Union. Are you a traitor? You don't believe in communism?"

"No, no," Sasha replies, "I love communism."

"It's your job then, you don't like your job?"

"No, no, I love my job."

"Your apartment? You need a bigger apartment?"

"No, no, my apartment is fine."

"What's the problem then? Why do you want to leave?"

"I don't want to leave. My wife and my daughter, they want to leave. I love Russia."

"But Sasha, you applied for the exit visa. Let them apply, if you want to stay, you should stay."

"Yah, but I'm their only Jew."
4.11.2006 12:14pm