On Novy God, Russians in Israel won’t let COVID-19 dim the lights

For many, the holiday is about much more than a big, boozy party.

Russian immigrants in Ashdod celebrate the holiday of Novy God (New Years) just before midnight, on December 31 2012. Celebrations include dancing, singing, and special appearance of actores dressed as Ded Moroz (grandfather frost). (photo credit: DRORI GARTI/FLASH90)
Russian immigrants in Ashdod celebrate the holiday of Novy God (New Years) just before midnight, on December 31 2012. Celebrations include dancing, singing, and special appearance of actores dressed as Ded Moroz (grandfather frost).
(photo credit: DRORI GARTI/FLASH90)
Novy God, the Russian New Year’s celebration, will take place on a smaller scale than usual Thursday night due to the lockdown regulations but Russians in Israel say that the tradition is more important than ever this year.
As police spokespeople appeared on all the morning television shows on Thursday warning that anyone attempting to celebrate with people other than those they live with will be breaking the law and will be subject to fines and/or arrest, some Russians here said that for them, the holiday is about much more than a big, boozy party.
Nevertheless, the authorities were not taking any chances and will be posting thousands of police on the roads to prevent large gatherings. The Israel Electric Company took the unusual step of announcing that it would cut power on New Year’s Eve to repair infrastructure in Arad, Netanya, Karmiel and other cities which happen to have large Russian populations. MK Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beytenu) said the IEC had shown a “lack of sensitivity and consideration” toward Israelis who immigrated from Russia and the IEC reversed its decision.
Another threat to plans to mark the holiday this year was to soldiers from Russian families who are usually given time off to celebrate Novy God, but this year the holiday leaves for the night of December 31 were canceled due to concerns over the virus. MK Yoel Razbozov of Yesh Atid appealed to Defense Minister Benny Gantz and many soldiers were given the evening off as usual, the Russian-language newspaper Vesti reported.
Vesti is filled with Novy God coverage, including an article on how to use an app developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to calculate your chances of getting infected with the coronavirus at a Novy God party.
But one Moscow-born music teacher said, “We’re not stupid. We’re not going to go to some big event and get corona. We’ll celebrate here with a few friends.” Reminded that the rules are to celebrate only with family members who live in the same apartment, she said, “We’re just having friends who live on our street. We’ll all wear masks. It won’t be like an ultra-Orthodox wedding with 10,000 people. But, of course, the police worry more about us.” She and her husband have already received their first dose of the vaccine, she said, and so have most of their friends. “We’ll just have a drink together,” she said.
While the stereotype of Russians celebrating Novy God is of heavy drinking, Maxim Reider, a photographer and music journalist who writes for The Jerusalem Post, said food was just as important a part of the holiday as liquor and he was happy to share his plans. He and his family are cooking a dish not generally on most Israelis’ tables: “We are staying at home and are making pasta with shrimps and Roquefort cheese, instead of the traditional Russian Olivier New Year salad.”
He explained that many Russians have Olivier salad, which is made with potatoes, vegetables, eggs, meat, and mayonnaise, and another salad called herring under a fur coat, which is made of layers of herring, boiled carrot and grated beets with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise was used to “turn even a mediocre meal into a gourmet offering.”
Caviar sandwiches are another staple of many Novy God feasts. “Caviar was expensive and hardly available in Russia, but people here think, ‘Now in our new life we can afford it,’  it is  an achievement with a nostalgic touch.”
While some Israelis look askance at the holiday because it involves a decorated tree like a Christmas tree — Vesti features a list of places to see Christmas trees in Israel — and because it is not the Jewish New Year, Reider said that Novy God is in no way a religious holiday, and it was one embraced by many who did not feel at home in the Soviet Union. “Back in the Old Country, New Year was the only non-ideological feast.”
The emotions evoked by Novy God are as important as the food, he said. “New Year was such a wonderful feast, starting from our early childhood. There was a fir tree with its wonderful smell, bought by your father (there were special improvised markets), and then you put beautiful toys on it, and later you will discover nice presents. And also for the adults — friends and family come together, I still remember it as a child, my parents’ friends coming to celebrate together.” His parents and their friends “belonged to the WWII survivors’ generation, and they knew how to appreciate and celebrate life.”
Reider said he was taking a leaf from their book as he looked forward to 2021. “Novy God is a celebration of hope for a better future.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.