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Less well known, even among those who grew up with these cartoons on something of a perpetual loop, is that the series’ creative team was made up almost entirely of Yiddish-speaking Jews who had lost their families and homes in the genocidal campaigns during WWII...
Jewish artistic works from the Soviet Union are typically thought of as “underground,” and made their way to the West via smugglers and defectors. Yet, as this animated series demonstrates, despite systematic anti-Semitism and narrow dogmatism, a lively and active Jewish culture developed in the centralized animation studio Soyuzmultfilm—the largest animation studio in all of Eastern Europe—right in the middle of Moscow. The embedding of Jewish material into the series by its Jewish creators calls into question the narrative that Jewish self-expression was wholly suppressed in Soviet popular culture.
Cheburashka’s mysterious origins provide one of the central intrigues of the series, and Cheburashka’s embodiment of the Soviet Jewish type is primarily an issue of emplacement. The first episode opens with a fruit vendor opening up a crate of oranges and finding an adorable cross between a brown bear and an imported orange. Looking at the strange creature, the grocer reads the crate packaging in exaggerated English, “Oh-ran-jes!”. Not coincidently, Israel was the main source of orange imports to the Soviet Union
The resourceful Crocodile Gena jumps in to help with Cheburashka’s ambiguous identity. Crocodile Gena attempts to look Cheburashka up in a thick dictionary, reading aloud: “Chai? Chemodan? Cheburaki? Cheboksary?” (Tea? Suitcase? Dumplings? [City of] Cheboksary?). Where Crocodile Gena may have found the entry for “Cheburashka” in the dictionary, he instead finds Slavic ethnic foods and local Russian place names along with the discordant term “suitcase,” a loaded symbol that throws doubt on Cheburashka’s national loyalties by signaling the theme of immigration.
It was Crocodile Gena’s all-too-simple job in the zoo that drew the Jewish director Roman Kachanov to the project: “Can you imagine?” Kachanov repeated on numerous occasions at the studio, “a crocodile who works at the zoo as a crocodile!” Unlike the rootless Cheburashka, the 50-year-old crocodile was born in the early years of the Revolution and holds the honorific “Crocodile” before his name—parallel to the title “Comrade” given to people at their places of employment.
Crocodile Gena is an Old Bolshevik who walks around with a pipe dangling from his mouth in Stalin chic—but at the end of the day, when Crocodile Gena is free to leave the zoo, he sits at home all alone with nothing to show for all of his compromises.
Among the riffraff that answer the advertisement is the long-haired intellectual lion Lev Chander, the most “Jewish” character outside the complex character of Cheburashka. It is easy to detect a resemblance between the lion character and popular Soviet images of Sholem Aleichem with his facial features, swept back hairstyle, and penchant for formal dress. Director Kachanov and Shvartsman, who were both fluent in Yiddish, named the lion “Leib Chander,” a non-Slavic name with a distinctly Yiddish-sounding cadence that would translate as “Lion’s Shame” (or, the great shame). The lion’s Jewish character is reinforced when Leib Chander gives a slight bow and makes his introduction to the accompaniment of a slow and melancholic violin melody. As Tobik (the Good One) and Leib Chander (the Great Shame) walk off together into the romantically dimming light, Crocodile Gena observes in the grave voice of a philosopher: “Do you know how many people who live in our town are lonely like Tobik and Chander? And, no one sympathizes with them when they are sad.”
Indeed, perhaps the most resonant part of the series was Crocodile Gena’s strategy to find friends and their collective strategies to organize as a group. After all, Cheburashka meets his friends and forms a small community through personal advertisements written and copied by hand in the privacy of Crocodile Gena’s home, word of mouth, apartment meetings, and grassroots organizations, which mirrored the way that Jews organized themselves and created communities beginning in the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Galya meets Tobik “on the street” outside of a yellow building with a neo-classical façade that echoes the Moscow Choral Synagogue with its yellow color and neo-classical façade. The street outside the Moscow Choral Synagogue was in fact a meeting place for Jews, and some scholars even cite the spontaneous demonstrations held outside the synagogue during Golda Meir’s October 1948 visit as the impetus for the first repressive policies towards Jewish national consciousness.
Ivanov-Vano astutely picked up on the ways that the film expressed a particular Jewish experience, as the Jewish creative team doubled semiotic systems in ways that enabled them to displace their own ethnic backgrounds on their puppets to express personally significant themes within the preexisting language of Soviet culture. Yet despite the apprehensions of the Artistic Council, the series was released nearly intact.
While the Jewish nationalist awareness of the series’ creators no doubt informed Cheburashka’s transnational character, Cheburashka is no Zionist, at least not in the American sense of the term. He certainly harbors no desire to leave the Soviet Union and return to his native land.
В обчем, очень убедительно. Только вот вызывает антирес и такой еще разрез. Как мы все (в отличие от американских читателей Tablet'a) помним, абсолютно все "еврейские" детали (Лев-Лейб Чандр, апельсины, Тобик, Дом дружбы...) взяты создателями мультика из книги Эдуарда Успенского. Так что получается, что мысли и чувства советсткого еврея выразил совршенно русский человек.
Было бы очень интересно узнать, как автор объясняет этот парадокс. Но статья, увы, об этом молчит, и упомянутая монография, подозреваю, тоже.
Пы. Сы. Интересно, кстати, помнит ли еще кто-нибудь, откуда взята цитата, давшая название постингу?