Movers and Svetas: Aspects of the Russian Aliyah

Most things in life never turn out to be quite how we imagine them. A notable exception to this, however, is Russian movers (although not being one to generalise, I use “Russian” to describe any individual from any one of the 15 former Soviet Republics).

Having stood me up on the previous day without so much as a phone call, Vitali’s stony-faced crew turned up at 6:30 the following morning, last Thursday week, without so much as a “boker tov”.

Vitali, the boss – or, more aptly, prime mover – with whom I had conducted all telephone negotiations (he had been recommended by a friend), was not among them, remaining throughout a kind of shadowy, Blofeld-like figure, directing operations from afar.

With a little imagination, one of the three removal men could, just maybe, have been “unzere” (though, perhaps, with a rebellious great-gran who had been a little over-curious as to the contents of Cossack breeches). The other two, however, including team leader Alex – who set the tone for our relationship by immediately stubbing out his cigarette on the wall of the Melchett stairwell – were clearly more Putin or Klitschko than Sharansky or Grushenko. And early requests for them to handle certain items with care were met with stares cold enough for me to immediately relinquish any thoughts I had as to the importance of my furniture.

The ‘90s Russian aliyah has been an enormous success, with Israeli mutterings about their new compatriots – spongers here only for the benefits, once heard all too often – now a thing of the distant past.

"Start-Up Nation" my ****

Accusations, too, that Russian women are gold diggers and (as if it were a bad thing) easy – a chorus of “Mrs. Knickersonanov!!” would go up from the bar whenever one would enter MASH – are now heard only from Israeli women envious that they do not possess similar skill in treating (and, in many cases, keeping) their man. And, while we hear so much about Israel’s wonderful innovation and exports, can anyone think of a finer import? Indeed, though I could never quite picture her under the same chupah as my mother, the Aliyah Department should have placed Sveta well above the tax-free refrigerator on my list of aliyah benefits.

But the contribution of Russians to almost every facet of Israeli life has been huge, not least their sons now serving in crack IDF combat units.

There is a sizeable minority of Russian olim, however, who – from just one look at them – cause one to wonder what exactly they are doing here, their only link to anything Jewish perhaps being a single great-grandparent, or merely just a spouse with one. And these, predominantly, were the Russians with whom I was placed for my basic IDF training, in 1999.

Our unit consisted of a Cuban (who had escaped Havana in a barrel), an Ethiopian, an Indian (to my great frustration, seemingly the only f*cking one who couldn’t speak a word of English), and 36 new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of the latter, the majority were thirty-somethings hardened by having served in the bloody conflict in Afghanistan, but who now – thanks to the astonishing stupidity of the IDF – were being taught how to handle M16s by frechot fresh out of high school.

The inevitable consequence? A kind of Russian-Israeli Dirty Dozen: orders ignored, scoffed at even, and young officers clearly terrified of their commands.

I had an altercation with one of my new comrades on our very first day of basic training, after which I resolved that – sharing a tent with them every night, and with no shortage of bullets and/or pillows – I had best make every effort to be agreeable (it doesn’t come naturally). That same comrade and his best mate, both Jewish, though from the Kavkaz region – which, by all accounts, makes the nastiest parts of Merseyside seem like the Cotswolds – turned out to be my best buddies during those utterly pointless few months. And they were always most intrigued about Blighty. Not for them, however, the predictable questions about Manchester United and the Royal Family . . .

“Tagid li (tell me), Mike,” they would begin, “kama oleh zona be’Anglia (how much does a prostitute cost in England)?”

“Chamishim pound (fifty pounds),” I would always reply without hesitation, not wanting them to think me a loser.

Chit-chat and idle pleasantries (or, rather, their total absence) aside, however, Vitali’s crew were great. The third member, a four-inch burn (perhaps the Ukrainian equivalent of a lovebite) on his shoulder, single-handedly bore my washing machine down two flights of stairs with a look of “When are you going to give me something serious to lift?”

There were no emotional farewells when the job was done, or even “thank you’s” for the decent tips . . . though, then again, there was also none of the quibbling, that one invariably gets with the natives, about money. Spasiba.

So I am now shimon ha’tzadik mike . . . and whatever Reb Osher Yitzchok – who, according to my Golders Green sources, has fled the rioting shvartzers (not that he would dream of using such a word) for the relative serenity (if not Gentility) of Princes Park Avenue – may say, I have always known, deep down, that the epithet (and I am not talking the shimon bit) would fit.

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9 responses to “Movers and Svetas: Aspects of the Russian Aliyah

  1. Eugene Monkleton-Montefiore

    hilarious, melchett! i’m a first timer. cousin rupert recommended the blog warmly… and i haven’t been disappointed!

    as for russian totty, the first time i ever… you know… up the… was also with a lovely called svetlana (whom i met on holiday in dubai). and she didn’t need any persuading… was as straightforward as asking her if she was willing to try brown sugar instead of white!

    keep up the sterling work!


  2. Welcome to mm, Eugene (just out of interest, how did “cousin Rupert” come across it?)

    And thank you for your commonsense in using ellipses rather than continue to complete that particular chain of thought (I have readers from Ra’anana, you know).

    On the other hand, I am not so sure about the wisdom of indulging in extramarital relations – not to mention of the poopengeschäft variety – in Dubai. I trust, at least, that they were not on the beach.

    Unusual name . . .


  3. Davina Levita-Ree

    I just got back from toning my fabuous abs at the gym and had the most fantastically BRILLIANT surprise when I switched on my IPad and discovered Eugene’s comment on this lovely Jewishy blog that my sis Selena came across a few months ago during one of her ethnic attacks.

    Eugene and Rupert sound SO “a la Jane Austen” and SO clever for finding this blog. It would be DIVINE if we could talk on Facebook (Selena and I share a page – it’s such a Jane Austen thing to do) and then maybe meet at The Tampopo on the Fulham Road one evening for a glass or ten of wine. I just have this feeling that we are going to have so much in common – what with being of secretly Jewish descent(!) and all that (like my cousin David Cameron).

    Anyway, sorry, must dash. Serena and I are crashing a party in South Ken tonight and I must go out and buy a little number to wear.

    Peace and Shalom (It is SO liberating to be able to be SO ethnic!)


  4. Eugene Monkleton-Montefiore

    no, mike, it wasn’t on the beach… it was in her!

    ra’anana? never heard of it. only been to israel once. with my dear late great-uncle cecil… my bar mitzvah present (yes, i had one… even knew all the blessings by heart!)

    been meaning to visit again. just a little put off by all the nonsense. dreadful bunch those arabs, driving around south ken like they own it… though i guess, in a way, they do!!

    i knew a melchett at oxford. splendid fellow. even less jewish than us… sounds like you might be rather more so, mike.

    yes, jemima and I are the only monkleton-montefiores… the union of eugene montefiore (ie moi!) and jemima monkleton. she’s not one of us, mike… though we did name our first daughter zadie and are fully paid-up members of north ken reform.

    will ask rupes how he came across blog. got to run… squash!

  5. Davina Levita-Ree

    Silly me. I should have realized that your name is not really double-barreled but just one of those feminist cocktails you men are forced to adopt when you are dragged to the altar. Selena said that I was being far too forward with my suggestion yesterday (what she actually said was – “It is so NOT Jane Austen”). Now I feel rather stupid, you being married and all that. Actually, it never stopped Mumsie who, at the moment, is living with a Pro Polo player in Buenos Aires; he has this loony Spaniard wife (VERY Charlotte Bronte) who won’t give him a divorce.

    What about Rupert?

  6. Judy Labensohn

    This is great, Mike. You are so funny. Even a former American can appreciate your humor. Good luck in your new home. Judy at

  7. High praise from a Yank! Thank you, Judy.

    Ra’anana, Eugene, is a place north-east of (and about 25 minutes’ drive from) Tel Aviv. Many South African expats live there, as well as modern – and less modern, like John Fisher 😉 – Orthodox English-speaking Jews in general.

    Did you stay in touch with Svetlana after Dubai? I suspect – especially if there is anything in a name – that Jemima does not quite feed that particular urge of yours!

    Sadly, my surname is not as distinguished-sounding as Melchett, which just happened to be the street, in Tel Aviv, on which I lived for 12 years (until a fortnight ago). The blog, however, will keep the name . . . especially since I could one day very well find myself living on a street called Penis (deceptively – though understably – spelt “Pines” on Tel Aviv road signs).

    Still intrigued as to how “Rupes” came across us . . .

  8. Davina Levita-Ree

    Daddy will be so disappointed to hear that you are not related to Lord Melchett. His great-grandfather was at Cambridge with Melchett and, according to Daddy, always considered him a good connection – being a rich Jew and all that. He (Daddy) was quite excited when I told him about your blog – said that Jews always know what is really going on – keep their ample noses to the ground, so to speak.

    Must run – meeting my friend Fiona for coffee and shopping at Westfield in half an hour.

    Any news about Rupert? – Selena has been asking.

  9. After that runaround with the fictitious “Uncle Albert Gogan” earlier this year, I was a little suspicious of Eugene and Davina and decided to check them out.

    Although, just as it is impossible to prove the existence or otherwise of God, Google is not the ultimate arbiter of the existence or otherwise of a human being, I do believe it is a reasonable approximation.

    Well, Eugene, Jemima and their various surname combinations threw up absolutely nothing other than a gentleman born in 1899 who would, presumably, not have been in a position to achieve much in Dubai unless, of course, the incident took place sometime between 1920 and 1935.

    Davina was a more interesting case, however. After initially getting nowhere , I did discover a Herbert Levita-Ree who had a minor, ignominious , role in the Profumo Affair back in the sixties that ultimately brought down the Macmillan Government. Herbert was, in fact, even portrayed, by a young Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter) in a bit part (unattributed) in the film “Scandal”. Herbert had two sons – Edward and Guy. Guy went on to a career in banking and made a small killing when HSBC took over Midland.

    And now we get to the interesting bit – Guy, who has been married and divorced three times and lives in London – has two daughters from his first marriage – born in 1988 and 1990 named, according to the family tree I finally hit on , Davina Samantha and Selena Helena.

    So, Davina, I apologize for doubting your authenticity and look forward to reading you regularly on the blog – but I do suggest you forget Rupert; he might just turn out to be a cartoon bear.

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