Updated: Jan 10
Born in Minsk, Belarus in 1870, Lev grew up in a religious Litvak (Jew from historical Lithuania - which includes Belarus) family - in fact, his father was a Rabbi in Minsk.
As a young man, “indignation” and a deep sense of justice drove Lev. Much like his son Sam, he dislikes listening to authority, particularly when that authority is oppressive and authoritarian, and wants to be able to create his own destiny. Finding his family’s traditional life not to his taste, he decides to leave the shtetl at the age of 17 so he can see and experience the outside world. He arrived in the cosmopolitan port city of Odessa and decided to stay there.
Like Sam, in many ways, Lev is an iconoclast (perhaps this is why they don’t get along). He doesn’t like being told what to do and he hates it when people say they know what’s best for him. Unlike Sam, however, who is much more theatrical and over the top, Lev expresses his iconoclasm very seriously. He is often perceived as intimidating by many people and gives people “uncomfortable” looks and glares.
Lev became a staunch atheist while in Odessa. He became a newspaper writer and was involved in left-wing labour movements (precursors to the Bundist movement). The Bundist movement and its predecessors did not believe in using Hebrew over Yiddish and chose to speak Yiddish. A strictly secular organization, Bundists renounced the Holy Land and many Bundists were Yiddishists, meaning they were advocates of Yiddish culture and language. This is the environment where Lev met Raisa.
After marrying Raisa Rifkina (who became Abramova after marriage), Lev and Raisa decided to immigrate to America due to the pogroms rocking Ukraine in the 1890s.
Raisa and Lev settle on the Lower East Side and become newspaper editors and writers for a number of Yiddish newspapers.
Learn more about Lev in this podcast episode: