Regina Ilyinichna Spektor’s piano pop music is often described as “bubbly” or “quirky” — and a whole range of other, even more positive adjectives.
The average listener never would guess that she lived with intense anti-Semitism for years.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, the Russian-Jewish songwriter, 36, opened up about the anti-Semitism she faced growing up in Russia, where Jews were not allowed to practice their religion or customs for decades under Soviet rule. She explained that the persecution forced Russian Jews to bond with each other.
“The only reason I’m Jewish is probably anti-Semitism,” she said. “Think about Soviet Russia — religion is illegal. So there’s no cultural Judaism, no tradition. The only thing that made Jewish people marry other Jews is that they didn’t want to be called ‘kikes.’ They knew they wouldn’t hear the word ‘zhid’ come out of their husband’s face when they had their first marital fight. So it’s the only reason a lot of us exist.”
She explained that she felt harassed for being Jewish even after her family moved to the United States around the time she was 9. That was during the late 1980s, when Jews finally were allowed to go. The Spektors settled in Fair Lawn with the help of HIAS, the Jewish immigration agency, and Regina attended the Frisch School for two years before switching to Fair Lawn High School.
“Instead of being the Jewish girl in a Russian school, I became a Russian girl in a Jewish school,” Spektor said. “I had dumb teenagers telling me to go back to my f••king country. Telling me we were taking their jobs. I got so pissed off I was like, ‘You’d better believe I’m going to take your job, I’m going to take your job and three other jobs, too.’”
She added to the Guardian that her brother, a black-hat-wearing Orthodox Jew, still often is a target of anti-Semitic harassment.
“They get on him, shouting ‘Shalom,’ that kind of thing,” she said. “But I see anti-Semitism everywhere. It’s built into the fabric of our lives.”
But while it’s anti-Semitism that made her Jewish, her latest album’s title draws from Jewish roots. “Remember Us to Life” came out in September, just days before Rosh Hashanah; the phrase is part of the holiday liturgy.
Spektor rose to fame in the mid-2000s after touring with bands like the Strokes, the Kings of Leon, and Keane. However, she’s probably best known now for writing “You’ve Got Time,” the theme song for “Orange is the New Black.” She’s performed at a number of Jewish-themed events, from a concert on the National Mall commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel in 2008 to a White House reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month in 2010.
She is married to another Russian Jewish musician, Jack Dishel, who played guitar for the Moldy Peaches. The couple has a 2-year-old son.
JTA Wire Service