Kishon, the Humorist and Realist.
Thrills in His Translated Works
'Drop in USSR Jewish Numbers and Yiddish
Indicated in Population Analysis by JTA
By JOSEPH POLAKOFF
(Copyright 1971, JTA, Inc.)
WASHINGTON-On the basis of
Soviet statistics available here, at
least one-fourth, or more than
800,000, of the Soviet Union's Jew-
ish population embraced another
identification for the purpose of
the census conducted last year. The
1970 count showed the total of
Jews at 2,151,000 or less than : one
per cent of the country's popula-
tion, the lowest proportion in So-
vie. history, according to an analy-
sis by the Jewish Telegraphic
Soviet specialists indicated to
the JTA that the vast majority of
those who changed their identifi-
cation probably made their deci-
sion after the Soviets broke rela-
tions with Israel in 1967. Most of
those changing their "nationality"
have "converted" to Russian and
some to Ukrainian.
The down-surge in those declar-
ing themselves as Jews to the
census enumerators presumably
surprises even Soviet officialdom.
Up to the time of publication of
the 1970 census statistics in Pravda
on April 17, the Soviet govern-
ment's Novosti Press Agency as-
sumed ne country had about 3,-
000,000 Jews. This figure appears
in Novosti's publication "Soviet
Jews: Fact and Fiction." Novosti
also said: "Had it not been for
the war (World War II) there
would have been at least 4,000,000
Jews in the Soviet Union. Al-
most 2,000,000 were killed in Nazi-
The 1959 census put the Jewish
population at 2,268,000 or about
117,000 more than in • 1970. This
compares with the 1939 census of
3,020,000 Jews and 2,680,000 in
1926 when the Soviet area was
considered smaller than at pres-
ent and did not contain important
sectors of traditionally Jewish hab-
itation. The recorded decrease in
the number of Jews between 1959
and 1970 cannot entirely be attrib-
uted to emigration since not mo:e
than several thousand left the So-
viet Union during those 11 years.
Since World War II, the Soviet
Union has annexed Moldavia
(Bessarabia on the Romanian fron-
tier), the Baltic states of Lithu-
ania, Latvia, and Estonia, and
the eastern Polish provinces.
The drop of 117,000 in the num-
ber of declared Jews between
1959 and 1970, according to the
JTA analysis, is almost equal to
the drop of 107,000 in the number
of Jews who declare Yiddish as
their mother tongue. In 1959, the
number whose mother tongue was
Yiddish totaled 488,000. In 1970,
the number was 381,000.
Specialists here observed that
Novosti's estimate of 3,000,000
Jews probably derived from the
M.V.D. (Ministry of Interior, that
is, secret police) which controls
the internal passport system. Jew-
ish estimates that the total was
between 3,000,000 and 3,500,000 were.
based apparently on calculations
of natural growth commensurate
with the remainder of the Soviet
Union and their estimates of enu-
merations in 1959.
A specialist informed the JTA
the figure in 1970 should be higher
e nd not lower than in 1959. How-
ever, given the fact that in many
urban areas in the Soviet Union
the net reproduction rate, on the
average, is not the 2.3 children
which is demographically required
to replace the population and that
t tyr Jews are overwhelmingly urban
residents, then this factor may
contribute to its present official
level. The 1959 census indicated
5 per cent of the Jewish popula-
tion lived outside urban areas.
The population count in 1970,
taken during the week of Jan.
15-22, marked the firsi interval be-
52-Friday„ May 21, 1971
There is no
easily in Israel, but streets are
not among them. In our cities
there are streets that have no
names at all, or at least their
names are not marked. My friend
Ervinke usually describes the
way to his house as follows:
"Start out from the Mogra-
bi and walk toward the sea
until you come to a man. in.
overalls repairing his motorcycle
and cursing the government.
Turn l e f t and count 22 olive
trees; at that point you will be-
come aware of an obnoxious
smell. Turn to the right and fol-
low a stone wall until you come
across the carcass of a tomcat,
turn again to the right and walk
on until you come to the Yugo-
slav library facing the cinema,
where I'll be waiting for you, be-
cause from there on it's rather in-
"And this is how I fared on a
trip to Jerusalem, at the time
the new municipal council had
decided to rename the streets in
keeping with the city's biblical
There is history linked with
philosophy in Kishon. For exam-
ple, in "Look Back, Mrs. Lot!," he
has an essay on "The Blaumilch
Canal," and the explanatory note
"All Israelis are struck with a
dangerous mania: developing the
"But the Jews are lazy and slap
together a house.in three days, so
that they may loaf about for the
rest of the week.
"Should the 'reader, under the
impact of this book, decide to visit
Israel, he will see with his own
eyes how to this day we suffer from
a chronic and incurable building
"If some lunatic takes it into his
head to erect a town in the middle
of the 'wilderness, nobody consid-
ers this queer. As a matter of fact
we have a number of such lunatics.
And towns in the middle of the
There are more than 50 pieces
in "Blow Softly in Jericho," and
each provides occasion for enjoy-
ment. The casual reader will be
able to read at leisure enjoying the
brief writings as enlightening liter-
ature as well as laughter-provid-
ing. Most readers won't be able to
put the book down until all of it is
perused. This is true of the "Mrs.
Lot" paperback and all his other
doubt about it:
Ephraim Kishon is Israel's major
JEWISH POPULATION IN SOVIET UNION IN 1959 AND 1970 (1) (2)
(Figures in Thousands)
humorist. His stories delight his
Hebrew readers. He is the keen
USSR (as whole)
observer who is as sharp in viewing
RSFSR (Russia) .
the political scene as he is in satir-
his fellow citizens.
English readers attest to his
skills. In translation, his stories
are as thrilling as they are in the
Total for 9 Republics
An Atheneum volume of Kishon's
(1) Jewish population means those inhabitants of Soviet Union who had
"declared" themselves to be Jews. (Census-taking instructions in Vestnik stories, 'Slow Softly in JerichO," is
Statistiki (Statistical Herald) No. 12, Dec. 1968).
proof of the great role of the man
(2) Statistics for 1959 and 1970 shown in above tabulation are taken from whose lighter vein writings really
Pravda of April 17, 1971, Page 3. (The statistics below for 1926 are
from "The Population of the Soviet Union: History and Prospects, are impressive commentaries on
Geneva, League of Nations, 1946, p. 51).
(3) Percentage represents relationship of number of Jews to total popula- events of our time.
tions in the USSR and in the nine of its 15 Republics shown. (Pravda,
Whether he writes about the
April 17, 1971.)
Unlisted residual between Jewish population totals in Soviet Union as whole
State Department or the Cairo
and for nine republics are not specified in Pravda's report.
antagonists, Kishon places his
JEWISH POPULATION IN SOVIET UNION IN PRVIOUS CENSUSES
finger on, the developments in a
(Figures in Thousands)
crucial age. And he does it in
USSR totals (4)
fun that makes pragmatic sense.
Totals for 1939 and 1926 exclude Moldavia (Bessarabia), the Baltic Re-
Collectively, Kishon's works are
publics of Estonia. Latvia and Lithuania, and that part of Poland acquired
emerging as classics. He is the
by the Soviet Union in 1939.
(4) Pravda April 29, 1948.
mid-20th Century Hebrew Sholem
YIDDISH AND OTHER LANGUAGES OF JEWISH POPULATION
(Those whose mother tongue is
language of the peoples of the USSR
Thanks to Penguin Books, one of
the same as their nationality)
Census of 1970 Only
his earlier classics now is available
Russian 16.3 Pct.
Other languages 28.8 Pct.
as a paperback. Kishon's "Look
(5) According to Pravda's percentage figures (Pravda, April 17, 1971, p. 3) Back, Mrs. Lot!," has been issued
those Jews who said Yiddish is their mother tongue totaled 488,000 in
1959. In 1970, the census total had declined to 381,000. The percentage as a popularly priced paperback,
figures for Russian and "other" languages represent segments of those supplementing the newest works.
who declared themselves Jews and whose first language may be Yiddish,
The genius of Kishon is express-
Belo-Russian, Georgian, etc. and whose second language is Russian or
"other." In 1970, of those who declared themselves Jews, about 351,000 ed in an explanatory note he wrote
spoke Russian as their second language. In addition, about 602,000 spoke
a second language other than Russian. Taken together, it would appear to his "Jerusalem Anabasis" in
that almost half of the Jews in the USSR speak a second language - "Look Back, Mrs. Lot!" and we
fluently. These population figures on languages are JTA's calculations
based on Pravda's percentage figures.
"Many things can be found
tween censuses that has not been
characterized by major losses of
life as a result of either internal
or external factors.
The resulting figure for Jews in
the 1970 census may be due to
two factors as a consequence of
polarization, one source said. Many
Jews have become defiant and
declared themselves Jews even
though they have lost most traces
of their Judaism. Many others be-
came fearful of declaring them-
selves although they may have
done so previously. Since the So-
viet-Israeli break in relations fol-
lowing the Six-Day War, official
Soviet repression of Jewish cul-
ture and the harsh campaign
against Zionism has markedly
A State Department officer, who
has traveled extensively in the
Soviet Union, said "One can't
really know how many Jews there
are there." He pointed out that
many Jews now have Russian
names and not listed as Jews in
their passports. "One thing is pretty
sure," he said. "There are more
than the census would show."
The 1970 figures, according to
Pravda, show that virtually the en-
tire decline in 11 years of 117,000
self-declared Jews took place in
Russia and the Ukraine. The
largely Moslem Republic of Uzbe-
kistan whose capital is Tashkent,
showed an increase of 5,000 Jews.
Similarly, the Republics of Geor-
gia and Moldavia indicated in-
creases of 3,000 each.
Slight decreases were enu-
merated in Estonia and Lithu-
ania. Once a bastion of Jewish
culture, Lithuania in 1970 re-
ported only 24,000 Jews. Simi-
larly, Byelorussia, with its an-
cient Jewish communities like
Minsk, reflected a decrease from
150,000 to 148,000 between the
last two censuses.
In all nine of the 15 Soviet Re-
publics reported in Pravda with
reference to Jews, the Jewish to-
tals decreased in relation to the
total populations. The largest per-
centage decrease, despite the
growth in the number of Jews,
was in Moldavia where the Jew-
ish population fell about 18 per
cent in comparison with the total
population. The Ukraine's Jewish
total dropped 20 per cent. In prac-
tical terms, this means that in the
Ukraine, where 11 years ago there
had been 20 declared Jews in the
THE DETROIT .IEWISH NEWS
general population of 1,000, there
are now 16.
"Jewish Autonomous Oblast"
Thus far, no population figures
from the 1970 census have been
reported for the Jewish Autono-
mous Oblast (roughly county)
whose capital is Birobidzhan, in
Eastern Siberia, a part of the Rus-
sian Socialist Federated Soviet Re-
public. Touted by the Stalinist
regime in the 1930s as the new
Jewish homeland, that area in
1959 had a total of 162,856 peeople
of which those who declared them-
selves Jews total 14,269 or 8.8
per cent. A wry joke is that the
Jewish Autonomous Oblast is nei-
ther Jewish nor autonomous.
In the Soviet Union, a Jew is a
nationality like Russian or Geor-
Only an oral declaration of eth-
nic affiliation is required to change
one's identity for the census. No
documentary proof is needed.
Thus, a Jew who wishes himself
or his minor children to be iden-
tified as a nationality other than
Jewish, simply needs only to tell
that to the census taker.
Theodore Shabad, reporting
from Moscow to the New York
Times, wrote that many -Jews,
particularly in the Russian Re-
public and in the Ukraine, chose
to identify themselves as ethnic
Russians rather than Jews be-
cause of "pressures for assimila-
"Emigration of Jews, estimated
at 15,000 in the last 20 years could
account for only a small part of
the reported decline," Shabad
wrote. "If indeed the Jewish pop-
ulation is about 3,000,000, it would
mean that several hundred thou-
sand, for reasons of their own, had
chosen to identify themselves as
Russians" and have sought to con-
ceal their Jewish origins.
A Conversation Series
By Shlomo Kodesh
TAR BUTH FOUNDATION
WHAT'S MORE PRESSING?
Cast: Shimon and Levi. Scene: An inter-city bus about to leave for Jerusalem
FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF HEBREW CULTURE
.-Vr pv7) :o•wriziin
Shimon: Finally. I've arrived. I was already afraid that I would be too late
for this bus. Pardon me, sir, I see an empty seat next to you. May
.rittiTt nlioort nit -gm'? Tirts? 14o Ar.)FFT
I sit down?
I'm sorry. The place next to me on this bench is taken, and you
may not sit in it.
Shimon, You said it was taken, but obviously it is vacant. No one is sitting
next to you on the bench.
You are correct. No one is sitting there now, but soon someone
will sit there. it's my wife's seat. She went out for a minute 'to
trouble. I couldn't get here early, and now I'm in a lot of trouble.
hour. All you have to do is he patient and you will travel in
-l'i'f1);.7'? 717 ?
rlim tem'? talp, ;75
What's the 'excitement, friend? What's the rush'? Jerusalem has
been standing. (hank God, for several thousand years. It will be
waiting for you, if you reach it a half hour later. (in another half
'13`6 .`3W3:31.e? 173K .jpr)
MSS? 't; menv
9'7 r11.0":11 -1"?-0:-
L i? .-n14-; crniD L., t3 '7?tt itrIpipn 07.1!
Shimon: That's good advice for a normal situation, but not in my situation.
irk! rj15 :rust
ni3 7 5
I can't wait for a second bus. I ant in a great hurry. Circumstances
‘73K . - 31D11 - I11???5 :prav
itPF .r; ,;
rliv? raqt nkly rr
comfort On the next bus.
compel me to travel to Jerusalem immediately.
al"? -riS7 .71F1.3n Turn] 171 ; 9 ?
"The early bird catches the worm." Rut you are exaggerating your
"trouble". A direct (non-stop) bus leaves for Jerusalem ever) half
Dip?? rl.nacp, 71V:( '73R 7
Shimon: Pardon me, I understand. Now I really don't know what to do!
is forbidden to take standing passengers to Jerusalem. Double
93:v o1Dl t 7ipt".23 '1:: '71_7
.tps:splp Tr: I n/
buy something in the station buffet. She will be back shortly.
The driver let me board the bus on condition that I find a seat. He
n crt ?
,mutt MT. '731 7'9
n?rjr) N^71 .bs;yo'r,`fx
Shimon: That's all very true. But ,hat am I to do when I have a sick
child in the Hadassah hospital' He was operated on two days
ago. My wife is with him. I must manage to arrive in time for
.-no-m- 007in n•;3 rit?in
the surgeon's visit. to hear from him about the boy's condition.
That's another story already.
very sorry to hear of your
have an idea. We'll crowd together a little and s:t three on she
bench. We'll manage someho,,,trid you will reach Jcrus;,lem en time.
illness. Let's hope I, will recuperate_quickly. But what shall
we do with you? (Look), here, ma wife is coming in. tastes,
rpm ?rpt:t nityt, mr?
vsarri Yrr;:7•1.: 1-71?1.t,yr:.9:-1 '711 rrf?¢.7.,
Excerpted from the book vIsrael With A. Smite", published. by Tarbuth Founciption, 515 Park Ave.",