Floating above the obligatory hammer and sickle, the centerpiece of this red Soviet Union flag is a six-pointed Star of David. The overtly Jewish symbol is front and center in the profile picture of an unusual — and wildly popular — Facebook group called “Russian Jew Vines.”
Here, American-raised children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union poke fun at their parents and grandparents in short Russian- and English-language videos. One recent clip ran a mere six seconds and got thousands of views. It’s a short conversation between a Russian-Jewish mother and her son:
“Mom, I’m dating a new girl.”
“Is she Russian?”
“Is she Jewish?”
“Are you out of your mind? That’s it, I’m calling grandma!”
Physics student Phil Beylison, 19, who created the video, said it’s based on actual conversations he had with his parents when he was dating a non-Jewish girl.
“My parents were happy when it didn’t work out,” Beylison said.
But it’s not about his personal life: It’s about how Russian-Jewish families are basically all the same.
“My friends have [had similar conversations] with their mothers and grandmothers. At some point it became funny because every single mom said the exact same thing, every single dad said the exact same thing, every single grandma said the exact same thing in certain situations,” he said.
Beylison was born in New York to Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union — his mother is from Uzbekistan and his father is from Belarus. He said he and his second-generation immigrant friends began posting the videos for fun in high school and were amazed by how popular they became.
‘If you are Russian and Jewish and you dare to bring home less than 100 on a test, expect to hear this’
Another contributor to the page is Anthony Volotsenko, 19, who was also born and raised in New York to parents from Odessa, Ukraine. He made a skit about how Russian parents react to kids receiving 90% on a test. Considered an excellent grade in most American homes, many progenitors would offer a proud congratulations. But not Russian parents.
“If you are Russian and you are Jewish and you dare to bring home less than 100 on a test, expect to hear this,” Volotsenko says in the short introduction to his video on Instagram.
“Where did the other 10% go?” ask the parents in the video. “Why do I pay for your school? Is everything going in one ear and out the other?”
The videos are spoken in a funny mix of Russian and English, and focus on the humor only truly understood by the bilingual, bicultural children of immigrants.
“At some point we were thinking of incorporating subtitles but we decided against it because humor is very [language-specific]; a lot is lost in translation,” Beylison said.
The ongoing adventures of Baba Fira
Perhaps garnering the most attention is Gary Cherkassky, a 28-year-old New Yorker whose parents immigrated from Ukraine when he was less than two years old. He became an internet sensation with Baba Fira, a character based on his 80-year-old grandmother. Consider her the archetype for all Russian-Jewish grandmothers.
‘We were thinking of incorporating subtitles but we decided against it because a lot is lost in translation’
Cherkassky (a.k.a. Garik Suharik, a.k.a. Gary Spielberg) dresses up in oversized glasses and a grey wig, acting out conversations he actually had with his grandma.
In the videos, Baba Fira has all kinds of adventures — she travels to Israel to pray at the Western Wall for her grandson to lose weight and find himself a girlfriend. She drinks vodka out of chocolate cookie shot glasses; she almost has a heart attack when her grandson says he wants to be an actor (and not a doctor or lawyer). But mostly she just tries to feed him.
Other than his grandmother, Cherkassky also satirizes conversations with his parents and a young female character named Yana. For her part, his mother, Alona Guz, said her son’s success with Russian comedy videos proves that she was right when she encouraged her son to speak Russian at home.
“At one point, he didn’t want to speak Russian, but now it’s his life credo. It’s all from the Russian language,” she said. “I think every family should keep their culture. It’s very important.”
The Russian-Jewish babushka (grandmother), the senior member in most Russian-speaking families, is also going to be the star of Beylison’s upcoming video skit, he said. He said the video will focus on grandma forcing food on her grandson.
‘The Russian grandma is always making you food. If you don’t eat it, you’re disrespectful. After you eat it, then you are fat’
“The Russian grandma is always making you food. If you don’t eat it, you’re disrespectful. After you eat it, you’re fat,” he said. (This reporter can definitely identify.)
The Russian funsters may not necessarily be religiously observant, but the Star of David on the Soviet flag is “the perfect symbol,” said Beylison, since the Russian language unites Jews the world over “even [if] they didn’t come from Russia proper.”
Also, Beylison just likes the joke.
“It’s two things that are never seen together. Communism as an ideology is not religious. These two symbols never go together. That’s why it’s ironic,” he explained.
“For a long time, we thought about changing it but we couldn’t think of anything that would be as universal,” said Beylison. “You see it and you know what kind of humor will be on the page.”