Today, part 2 (of 6) of Gregory Freidin’s reasons for being “obsessed” with  Isaac Babel:

In the early 1960s, my family moved to a neighborhood a couple of miles north, Maryina Roshcha (Mary’s Grove), which turned out to be teaming with Jews who belonged to or in some way were associated with the underworld. Some were violent gangsters, others dealt in stolen good, drugs, pimping. A few were associated with the by then defunct Jewish Theater. My friends came from that milieu. Many have done or were about to do time. The local synagogue could have been a set designed by Chagall, populated by shtetl Jews who looked like a cross between a garden gnome and a mushroom, except at that time I did not know Chagall from a hole in the wall. All of it was a big surprise to me. There was a lot to see, and I did not avert my eyes. Remarkably for the capital of the Soviet Union, these local Jews formed such a strong community (and violent, too) that even the Russian hoods thought it cool to speak a little Yiddish. Coming from a professional and thoroughly secular family (except for the Passover at Grandma’s), I had thought that all Jews were doctors, scientists, or engineers but because of state anti-Semitism, occupied the lower rungs of the status ladder. My new neighborhood was a whole other story.

Read: part 1 of this series.

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