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Faculty Resources

A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

2017-2018 Resource Guide

This year's book suggests a wide array of themes and topics that can serve as jumping off points for your program.

Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Soviet Jewry movement/Former Soviet Union
  • The emigration/immigration experience in general
  • Family history and storytelling
  • The Russian speaking Jewish community in the USA today
  • Developing a sense of self and identity (especially for kids/teens)
  • Cold War politics and its relevancy to today’s world (current events in Russia and the Ukraine)
  • Russian or Soviet food/culture
  • The value and impact of “repairing the world”/tikkun olam
  • The value and impact of “all Jews are responsible one for the other”/kol Yisrael areivim zeh lbazeh
  • How the public (politics/world events) impacts the private (religious identity and expression, for example)
  • The use of humor to address difficult subjects
  • The eternal link between politics and religion

Book Discussion Questions

  1. What did you learn about anti-Semitism in the Ukraine in the 1990s?

  2. Explain the Golinkin family dynamics while in the Ukraine and how these dynamics changed along the family’s journey.

  3. As a coming of age story, what were the experiences that most influenced Lev in a positive or negative way?

  4. When the Golinkin familycrossed the Russian border they felt terror. Why? How did they overcome it?

  5. The work “zhid” has a profoundly influence on Lev. (How) does he make peace with it?

  6. What did Lev’s Boston College advisor Kilcoyne mean when he tells Lev, “If you want a meaningful future...then you must root yourself, reach out, and understand” (pg. 285)?

  7. What ways can our Jewish community reach out to those in our midst who were born Jewish but who have not yet been exposed to Jewish education, traditions, culture?

  8. Did the book change or influence your thinking about the way(s) your synagogue outreaches to families? If so, how?

  9. What aspects of your Jewish identity do you feel proud of? Ashamed of?

  10. How has your family history been a source of pride for you or a challenge to your Jewish identity? Were you involved with or do you remember the Refusenik movement? What was similar or different about Lev’s experience?

  11. Did reading this book change or reinforce your opinion about current immigration to the USA? 

  12. What prayer(s) or famous quotations from Jewish thinkers/text might we site to offer similar sentiments?

  13. Why does Lev end the book with the Prayer of Oscar Romero*?
    *Oscar Arnulfo Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador on February 22, 1977. At that time, a military government that violently repressed the people ruled the country of El Salvador; widespread social and political tension was growing. Romero became an outspoken voice of the impoverished and persecuted of the country; he became a well-known critic of violence and injustice. On March 24, 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he was celebrating Mass.

History and Museums

Ellis Island- the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. 

Museum of Russian Art: Jersey City. 

Program Ideas

  • “Backpack” projects –Gather backpack/school supplies for those in need

  • Backpack Challenge: You’re leaving your home/country, and you can only bring with you what will fit into a backpack. What would you choose and why?

  • Family emigration/immigration stories -trace your family’s history, compare Jewish culture and experiences across different lands

  • General emigration/immigration history-especially Former Soviet Union

  • Do a “teddy bear” drive for children in need. One option: Bears from Bergenfield/Claire’s Bears 

  • “Tikkun olam” projects of various kinds (Lev’s experience with Appalachia Volunteers/Habitat for Humanity was lifechanging, and touches on key Jewish values)

  • Panel discussion on immigration.  What does it mean to be an immigrant? Emigrant? Emotional, financial and psychological implications

  • Compare and contrast Russian immigration to the USA in the 1970s versus the 1990s

  • Panel discussion with former leaders of the “Free Soviet Jews” movement.

  • Russian Jewish cuisine. Cook and taste. Invite a local chef to talk about the culture of food.

References: A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: Program Resource Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

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Contact Information:

University College 
Zaffirini Student Success Center 223 
Phone 326-2134 
Fax 326-2129