November 01, 2019

The Last Soviet-Americans

The Last Soviet-Americans

In order to get from the center of the Black Sea port of Odessa to that city’s best stretch of beach, you ride for 40 minutes on a tram. To find the best beach in New York City, it takes about an hour from midtown Manhattan: you hop on the subway and cross all of Brooklyn to nearly the last stop – Brighton Beach.

Even before exiting the train, you can look through the window and see Russian-language advertisements plastered on the red brick walls of the mid-twentieth-century apartment buildings. A portrait of Healer Natalia gazes down from one wall. Faded Cyrillic script on another façade offers heirs help getting their inheritance. A newer poster offers a service for sending remittances to the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Brighton is not the realm of opulence and the Russian mafia that some imagine. Maybe it was back in the 1980s, the heyday of Russian-Jewish emigration. But those ambitious young Soviet pioneers who arrived between the brief democratization of the 1960s and the perestroika of the 1980s are now pensioners.

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