Outer Richmond Life

...and Zionist Sour Cream.

We’ve been on the move again, which is why I haven’t been able to write anything. But we’re back in America again, in San Francisco — currently in the house and neighborhood where I spent my formative immigrant years: the Outer Richmond. I’m reminded of how gray and closed and provincial this place is and why my depression lifted immediately when I left it back in the early 2000s. But I gotta admit it’s comforting here, too. Just look at the premium Soviet immigrant products available for sale in the neighborhood: Zionist Sour Cream!

The packaging is great — and not just the flag, either. The brand itself is a perfect example of my people’s language tendencies. Here we have a popular sour cream called “Israelskaya Сметана,” which strangely transliterates the Russian word for “Israeli” using Latin characters but keeps the word for “sour cream” in the original Russian. It’s mashing up a single Soviet immigrant brand with two totally different alphabetic systems. Why? Immigrant brain, that’s why. I don’t even think it’s even intentional: this is just the way immigrants here think, with two languages totally mixed up together. No one — not the brand designer, not the brand consumers — think there’s anything weird about it. It looks normal, the way it should be. And by the way, no one knows what Israeli sour cream actually is. As far as I can tell, it’s just normal sour cream but marketed to Zionist Soviet immigrants.

Anyway, I got a couple of The Soviet Jew updates in the pipeline. And we’ll be starting the podcast up again soon. So stay tuned. We’ll be staying in San Francisco for a while, I think.

—Yasha Levine