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Debut Memoir by Lev Golinkin selected as Jewish Community 2015 One Book

Debut Memoir by Lev Golinkin selected as Jewish Community 2015 One Book


For more information contact:

Joanna Rothenberg | 312.322.1724

Betsy Gomberg | 312.322.1756


In conjunction with the subject of this year’s book,
Spertus Institute to present a series of programs
about Jewish life in the former USSR

(CHICAGO) For the fifth year in a row, Chicago’s Jewish community will mark Jewish Book Month with One Book | One Community, in which a single book is selected as the focus of activities and resources throughout the city and suburbs.

This year's selection is A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by debut author Lev Golinkin.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership will again spearhead community events, with a series of programs beginning in October about Jewish life in the former Soviet Union.

Capping the program series, author Lev Golinkin will make two area appearances on Sunday, December 6, one at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park and the second, a celebration tied to the start of Hanukkah, at Spertus Institute.

In addition, resources for book groups and individual readers will be available online this fall at

Author Lev Golinkin, a graduate of Boston College who now lives in New Jersey, was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1980. At the time — during the final decade of the Soviet Union — antisemitism pervaded Soviet life. When immigration was made briefly possible due to international pressure, his family risked everything to make a new life for Lev and his sister.

Although A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is Golinkin’s first book, reviewers from prestigious publications including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have praised his ability to find humor in the trying episodes of his childhood.

He wryly refers to attending the “most Jewish-tolerant school.” He recalls, “Of course, I still received my share of beatings, but I suppose it was the school with the gentlest, most understanding beatings that a Jew could get.” When his family found they were travelling from Vienna (one stop on their journey as refugees) to a place in the United States called Lafayette, he hunted for it in the atlas, then recalls his amazement at finding multiple towns with that name. “They were everywhere,” he said. “I found them in the mountains, I found them on the plains, I found them tucked into little forgotten corners. Ohio had two—in the same state! How do these people function?

The memoir’s name stems from the items accompanying nine-year-old Lev and his family on their daunting journey: his backpack, his stuffed toy Comrade Bear, and vodka to be distributed as bribes as they ventured toward the unknown.

Years later, Lev, now an adult just out of college and poised to attend medical school, finds himself uncertain about his future. At the suggestion of his advisor, he sets out on a second journey, this time to retrace his family's long trek. To offer his thanks, he locates the strangers who helped his family and fought for their freedom, and in the process, forges a new future by better understanding his past.

About A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, Spertus Institute Assistant Dean for Jewish Studies Beth Schenker said “As we approach the 25th anniversary of the fall of the USSR, there are a number of new books exploring the experiences of Soviet Jews. This book stood out for us. With both clarity and humor, Lev Golinkin gives us an intimate understanding of what it was like for the wave of Jews who sought a way out of the Soviet Union and built new lives as immigrants in a new land.”

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Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, and concerts — take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online. For more information, please visit

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.


Jewish Book Month is an annual event on the American Jewish calendar dedicated to the celebration of Jewish books. It is observed during the month preceding Hanukkah, thus the exact date changes each year. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 6, and events celebrating Jewish literature will take across North America throughout November and December. For more information, visit