Today, Marina Rubin is a mainstay of the lower Manhattan poetry scene. But in 1989—when most of the stories in her new collection, Stealing Cherries, take place—she was a refusenik, a new immigrant from the Ukraine, a survivor of Soviet anti-Semitism, and a clueless preteen girl lost in the Brooklyn wilds.
That’s where these stories begin. Short and sudden, none longer than a page, the tales of Stealing Cherries are funny and embarrassing and sad and honest. In “The Weekend,” she remembers being invited to the Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights for Passover, where “self-effacing families with a gazillion children and barely any furniture fought against rich jewelers for the mitzvah of providing our room and board.”
“Judaism for Dummies” tells of two teenage boys who have a spiritual epiphany, change their names from Boris and Michael to Moses and Baruch, then get stymied when they return to their dorm and can’t get to sleep with the Shabbat light on.
Tradition intersects with cultural displacement as Rubin tells tales of dating mishaps and wardrobe malfunctions. Cherries is not your typical story of Russian refuseniks—and that’s exactly why we love it.