1: Song excerpt, Safam’s “Leaving Mother Russia,” 1978.
Boston-based band Safam wrote the song “Leaving Mother Russia” in 1978. It was popular among Jewish communities involved in the Soviet Jewry Movement, and Safam continued to perform the song long after the end of the Cold War. The first-person narrator’s name in the song, “Anatole,” is a reference to Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, perhaps the most famous refusenik (a term for Jews who applied to leave the Soviet Union for Israel and were refused permission to emigrate). Sharansky spent almost a decade in Soviet jails, and the campaign for his freedom became associated—for many Jews in the West—with the belief that all Soviet Jews wanted to leave the USSR.
Suggested Activity: In “Roman Berman,” it becomes clear during the dinner at the Kornblums' house that the Kornblums and their Canadian Jewish friends already have some knowledge about Jews in the Soviet Union, and that this knowledge has shaped how they view the two Soviet Jewish families sharing a meal with them. Ask students: How would the Kornblums and their friends have learned about their guests before they even met them?
Then listen to the song clip or the entire song “Leaving Mother Russia,” and invite students to follow along with the lyrics projected on a screen or with paper handouts. After listening to the song, provide the students with background information about Anatoly Sharansky. Let students know that the Kornblums and their friends likely would have encountered this song, and ask them how that may have affected their view of the Bermans and other Soviet Jews. Ask them: How does Safam—an American Jewish band—imagine the voice of Soviet Jews? How might the band’s desire to speak on behalf of Soviet Jews prevent Soviet Jews from speaking for themselves? What does it mean that the song was written in English rather than in Russian? Who is the audience of the song? Who has access to it? What does it represent? How do the lyrics in the song compare with the Berman family’s narrative about their experience in the Soviet Union and their reasons for leaving from Mark’s perspective?
Source: Safam, “Leaving Mother Russia” in Encore, 1978. http://www.safam.com/popup-music-encore.shtml