Lazar Fleishman, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, reflects on his life and career. Fleishman describes his upbringing in Riga, Latvia; the influence of his music education on his later career; and his early exposure to literature and poetry banned in the Soviet Union. He goes on to describe his emigration to Israel, his academic work there, and his transition to the Bay Area, teaching at UC Berkeley and later Stanford. Fleishman shares memories of his friends and colleagues in Latvia, Israel, and the United States and the success of building Slavic studies at Stanford. Fleishman also reflects on his work on Boris Pasternak, including conducting his own research; hosting international conferences on Pasternak; and bringing Pasternak’s papers to Stanford.
Parents before and during World War II and early life in Latvia • Parents’ concealing Jewish heritage • Languages spoken during childhood • Learning he was Jewish in the mid-1950s • Jewish life in Riga, Latvia • De-Stalinization • Friend Solomon Volkov • Success of classmates in music: Philippe Hirschhorn, Josef Rissin, Gidon Kremer • Parents’ expectations for him • Studying violin at Riga Music School • Music scene in Riga • Favorite composers • Early interest in visual art • Love of poetry and discovering Boris Pasternak’s work • Entrance to university to study Russian language and literature • Influence of music background on career and research • Friends Evgeny Toddes and Roman Timenchick • Exposure to banned literature and art • Emergence of samizdat typescripts • Friendship with literary critic Andrei Sinyavsky • Decision to pursue an academic career • Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago • Changing attitudes towards Jews in the Soviet Union following the Five-Day War and impact on pursuing graduate education • Yuri Lotman • Official dissertation on Pushkin and unofficial one on Pasternak • Emigration to Israel • Start of academic career in Israel • Working with Omry Ronen • Israeli Slavistics in the 1980s • Publication of serial Slavica Hierosolymitana • Friendship with Ilya Rips • Studying in Israel • Encountering a different variant of Russian culture and a new freedom in Israel • Transition from Soviet Union to Israel • Forging connections to Jewish heritage, religion, and traditions • Ronen’s background • Coming to UC Berkeley and Stanford in the late 1980s • Stanford’s efforts to build up the humanities • Creation of Stanford Slavic Studies journal • Slavic research and resources in the Bay Area • Colleagues at Stanford: Ed Brown, Joseph Frank, Gregory Freidin, Andrew Wachtel • Impact of perestroika on Slavic Studies • Thoughts on placing Stanford’s foreign literature and language departments under one divisional umbrella • Russian literary studies at Stanford compared to peer institutions • Approach to teaching • Teaching Russian poetry • Working with undergraduate and graduate students • Graduate students: Kevin Platt, Irina Shevelenko, Andrei Ustinov • Changes in student body at Stanford • Researching Pasternak • Similarities between Pasternak and his own life • Bringing the Pasternak papers to Stanford • Highlights of the Pasternak papers • Pasternak conferences at Stanford • Takeaways from Pasternak’s work • Evolution of research interests • Russian avant-garde books and émigré literature • Russian literature and culture in Berlin and abroad • Family • Current work