Two Russian-language newspapers
reach the hearts and minds of
Detroit's evolving Russian community.
JULIE EDGAR STAFF WRITER
very month, a tiny band of journalists meets
in a small Oak Park apartment, most of the
time around the dining-room table.
Their mission for the past 16 years: in-
forming and enlightening the displaced Russ-
ian community of metropolitan Detroit.
By now, the staffers of Fonarik, all of them
w over 70, are good friends. But none shares
the same history. In the former Soviet Union,
Lev Kuperstein was a lawyer, Tatiana Pol-
sky was a teacher, Fanny Shenker was a
journalist and Shayna Erlikh was a biolo-
gist. They hail from Odessa, Moscow, Kiev
Fonarik's editor-in-chief, Dr. Luba Berton,
a compact, energetic woman of 70, founded
the newspaper in 1980 while she ran the ac-
culturation program for Soviet Jews at the
Jewish Community Center. Around that
time, the first wave of immigrants was get-
ting its bearings here; the second influx came
Dr. Berton, a retired professor of English
literature and the only native English speak-
er in the group, had met Ms. Polsky in
Moscow while she was on a teaching ex-
change program in 1975. Ms. Polsky, who
had a bit of newspaper experience in Moscow,
became Fonarik's chief assistant editor when
she arrived in the United States.
"It satisfies me because I'm doing some-
thing for me and something useful," Ms. Pol-
sky said. "After the issue is ready, I can rest.
I'm happy to see people are anxious to read
it." She said copies she places in her build-
ing, Highland Towers on Greenfield in South-
field, disappear in three hours.
"Many people in this building rely on it,"
Ms. Erlikh added.
A second local upstart, Detroitskiye Vesty ,
made its appearance in March. Its staff is a
family of three — Mikhail Sheffer, his wife
Irina Melnikova and their daughter Marina
Sheffer — who had been active in producing
a Russian cable television show on Conti-
nental Cablevision but left over creative dif-
ferences. November's issue was their ninth
ofDetroitskiyeVesty, and like the others, was
mostly produced in their Southfield home.
They believe they put out the "smarter" of
the two Russian-language newspapers in
town; the abundance of ads is proof. Even
Dr. Berton admits it is "more professional"
And while the two papers vie for the same
audience — the estimated 3,000 to 7,000 na-
tives of the former Soviet Union in the metro
area — their sensibilities are distinctly dif-
Detroitskiye Vesty, loosely translated as
"Detroit Herald," delights in historical ex-
ploration like Fonarik, but it is more polished
and tends toward the analytical. A recent
story looked at the tremendous manpower
and technology used to rescue U.S. pilot Scott
O'Grady, who lived on insects in a Bosnian
forest after his plane was shot down.
The only mention of the O.J. Simpson tri-
al appeared after it ended; then the paper
printed world reaction to the verdict.
Recent front pages featured a profile of the
woman who inspired Sir Walter Scott's clas-
sic Ivanhoe and a biography of Chief Ponti-
ac. The paper has carried interviews with a
famous Russian jazz saxophonist and a Russ-
ian stage actor who lives in Israel. A reporter
covered the Ann Arbor visit of the mayor of
Dr. Berton admitted that Fonarik —
"small lantern" in Russian — tends to ap-
peal more to an older reader who hasn't
learned English, or at least is not comfort-
able enough to read an American newspa-
per. It was so named to suggest its purpose,
"shedding a small light on their path in the
unfamiliar society, the new world," she ex-
The newspaper initially served as a sign-
post for newcomers, addressing mundane
things like opening a bank account and in-
terviewing for a job. And it also served as a
kind of guide to Jewish living.
"Most of them coming from where they
came from were atheist and had absolutely
no clue as to what made them Jewish. They
knew they were Jewish because the fifth line
on their passport said 'Jewish.'
"We helped them understand holidays and
traditions. I started the paper as the voice of
the (acculturation) program and the paper
went to every newcomer as soon as he came
in, and we had a good listing of those who had
come in the previous eight years," she said.
The tabloid still cauies information about
the rudiments of Jewish and American hol-
idays and customs, but it, like the commu-
nity it serves, has settled into a comfortable
pace. It reliably covers events in the com-
munity, including veterans affairs, elections,
the arts, and birth and death notices.
Fonarik also pays attention to national
and world events: November's front page was
devoted to the assassination of Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin and featured an obit-
uary of novelist Henry Roth. The same issue
featured a piece on the 3,000th anniversary
After grant money from the Jewish Fed-
eration of Metropolitan Detroit ran out,
Fonarik began charging $5 per year to sub-
scribers, but continued distributing the pa-
per free. Dr. Berton said between 600 and
DA NEWS page 38