With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia

With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia


Maxim D. Shrayer

Series: Jews of Russia & Eastern Europe and Their Legacy
ISBN: 9781618116598 (paper)
Pages: 104 pp,; 18 illus. 
Publication Date: October 2017

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In his captivating new book, based on new evidence and a series of interviews, author and scholar Maxim D. Shrayer offers a richly journalistic portrait of Russia’s dwindling yet still vibrant and influential Jewish community. This is simultaneously an in-depth exploration of the texture of Jewish life in Putin’s Russia and an émigré’s moving elegy for Russia’s Jews, which forty years ago constituted one of the world’s largest Jewish populations and which presently numbers only about 180,000. Why do Jews continue to live in Russia after the antisemitism and persecution they had endured there? What are the prospects of Jewish life in Russia? What awaits the children born to Jews who have not left? With or Without You asks and seeks to answer some of the central questions of modern Jewish history and culture.

Maxim D. Shrayer, a bilingual author and translator, is a professor of Russian, English, and Jewish Studies at Boston College. Born in Moscow in 1967 to a writer’s family, Shrayer emigrated to the United States in 1987. He has authored over ten books in English and Russian, among them the internationally acclaimed memoirs Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story and Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration, the story collection Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, and the Holocaust study I Saw It: Ilya Selvinsky and the Legacy of Bearing Witness to the Shoah. Shrayer’s Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature won a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, and in 2012 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Visit Shrayer’s website at www.shrayer.com.



In Maxim D. Shrayer’s study With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia, the complicated nature of what it means to live as a Jew in Russia is delicately addressed. ... Having written and translated numerous books, including two memoirs, Shrayer has become an expert in Russian-Jewish literature and culture.
— Monica Osborne, The Jewish Journal, 2018
[With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia] is a slim, engaging and elegant read that goes beneath the surface to reveal a multi-layered portrait of Jewish life in Russia today.
— Penny Shwartz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Lucid and insightful, Maxim D. Shrayer reminds why so many Russian Jews left the country they once called their own, and explains why those who stayed are still unsure if they belong. Clearly written and very readable.
— Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist and author of "Gulag" and "Red Famine"
An illuminating first-person narrative about the minority of Russian Jews who have remained, against all odds, in their mother country—and also about Russia, a country continuously losing its Jews. At this point, we know more about the refuseniks of the past than about Russia’s Jews of the present. Any information about these remaining Jews—a peculiar crowd, vulnerable and powerful at once—is precious. This book does an excellent job in telling their collective and personal stories with the ease and humor of an experienced Jewish storyteller.
— Alexander Etkind, Mikhail M. Bakhtin Professor of History of Russia-Europe Relations, European University Institute and author of "Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience"
From the perspective of an émigré who spent his formative years in Moscow, Maxim D. Shrayer reflects on his visit to his native city in 2016. His interviews with several types of Jews and his own acute observations, those of an ‘outsider-insider,’ yield penetrating insights into the complex situation of Russian Jews today. No longer the objects of overt public antisemitism, their ties to Jewishness are ever more tenuous as their numbers continue to decline rapidly and as they, like many other diaspora Jews, ‘integrate’ ever more into Russian society.
— Zvi Gitelman, Preston R. Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Michigan and author of "A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present"
In this concise and clear-headed book Maxim D. Shrayer has managed to convey all the complexity of the present-day condition of Russia’s Jewry. Sociological analysis is intertwined with a former refusenik’s acute personal observations; youthful memories of Moscow (all émigrés are forever frozen in the age when they left) are superimposed on adult ruminations of a father showing his eleven-year old daughter around his native city. A remarkable investigation, emotionally colored and unerringly precise.
— Luba Jurgenson, Professor, Université Paris IV-Sorbonne and author of "Création et Tyrannie: URSS 1917-1991"
For anyone with an interest in Russian Jewry or post-Soviet Russia this book is a must-read. Wonderfully written, it is full of thought-provoking insights about the past and future of what had once been the largest Jewish community in the world.
— Samuel D. Kassow, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, Trinity College and author of "Who Will Write Our History: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive"
Did the Creator make a mistake by placing the Jews in the confines of the Russian Empire, asks one of Isaac Babel’s characters. Maxim D. Shrayer asks a different question: Did the Creator try to correct this mistake by letting the Jews out of Russia in the course of the last several decades? The answers Shrayer provides in his rich, multi-layered and thought-provoking book put into conversation two different narratives of the Jewish past, one of the Jews who have left, the other of those who have stayed. One cannot grasp the future of the Jews of Russia without reading Maxim D. Shrayer’s book.
— Serhii Plokhy, Mykhailo S. Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian History, Harvard University and author of "Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation"

Table of Contents

Prologue: “G-d gave me as a Jew such a place in life”
1. A Visit to the Museum
2. A Streetcar Named Oblivion
3. Gauging Russian Antisemitism
4. The Ambassador of Jewish Pride
5. Staying or Leaving
6. Almost Folklore
In Closing: Jewish Clowns in Moscow

List of Photos
Works Cited
Index of Names