Gavriel Shapiro memoir chronicles leaving the Soviet Union

In the early 1970s, getting out of the Soviet Union was no easy feat, especially for Jews. In his memoir, “Thanksgiving All Year Round,” Gavriel Shapiro, Cornell professor of comparative and Russian literature, recounts his struggle to immigrate to Israel – including arrests, job loss, imprisonment and trial – and risking everything for freedom.

Leaving the totalitarian state after two years of struggle was a pivotal point in his life, says Shapiro. The main message of his memoir, he said, “corresponds to Theodor Herzl’s famous maxim, which my father inculcated in me: ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’”

The book begins with Shapiro delving into his ancestry and Russian Jewish history, then moves on to discuss his experience growing up in Moscow after World War II during the rise of Jewish national awareness.

The extensive research required for the ancestry chapter made it an extremely challenging and gratifying part of writing the memoir, Shapiro said. The narrative in which he chronicled his “transformation from a timid assimilated Jew to an active member of the Jewish movement” was most rewarding, he said.

Shapiro writes of his life after immigrating to Israel, where he worked at the Voice of Israel, studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and served in the Israel Defense Forces prior to pursuing an academic career in the United States. He received his graduate degree at the University of Illinois.

Shapiro will talk about his struggle against the Soviet regime for the right to immigrate to Israel Nov. 16 at 4:30 p.m. in 142 Goldwin Smith Hall. The event, “Recollections of a Personal Passover,” is hosted by the Jewish Studies Program and co-sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature, the Russian Language Program and the Cornell Russian-Jewish Club.

Agnes Shin ’18 is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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