Yefim Stolyarskiy, a leading figure in West Hollywood’s Russian-speaking community, died yesterday at the age of 94.
Stolyarskiy was born in 1923 in Brovki Pervyye, a small town to the west of Kiev in what is now the independent nation of Ukraine. The Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union in 1920. During World War II the territory of Zhytomyr, where Brovki is located, was occupied for two years by the Nazi army and was Heinrich Himmler’s Ukrainian headquarters.
Stolyarskiy fought the Nazis from June 1942 to 1945 as a division commander and a squad leader. He served a total of 30 years in the Soviet Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Stolyarskiy said he was wounded twice in the war. However, that didn’t stop him from continuing to fight Nazi Germany. “I wasn’t afraid of death,” he said. “I felt a high duty to defend my native country.”
Stolyarskiy was recognized for his service with a total of 24 army medals and jubilee awards and seven government awards.
With the Nazis defeated, Stolyarskiy and his fellow Jews faced another issue. While the Soviet Revolution put an official end to restrictions on Jews that had existed under the Russian czar, anti-Semitism began to re-emerge under Josef Stalin and grew more intense after the end of World War II. After the brief 1967 war between Israel and the Muslim states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, which sparked attacks in Russia on “Zionists,” many Jews began trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
Stolyarskiy was one of them. “”Magazine” Means Store: Jews from the Former Soviet Union in West Hollywood,” a report by Lynn Kronzek commissioned by the City of West Hollywood, notes that roughly two thirds of the 20,026 Jews from the former Soviet Union who were resettled by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation have at one time or another lived in West Hollywood. Stolyarskiy’s many roles in WeHo and greater Los Angeles included serving on WeHo’s Russian Advisory Board and also as president of the Los Angeles Association of Russian Veterans of World War II.
Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, who served as a West Hollywood City Council member and mayor for many years, called out Stolyarskiy’s civic activities in an email message to WEHOville.
“He moved to West Hollywood and became one of the city’s leading citizens, serving on city boards and commissions, and serving for over two decades as president of the Association of Russian WWII Veterans of Los Angeles, which once numbered in the hundreds,” Prang wrote. “He was a good and kind man with a fierce sense of community service and duty. He was an exemplary American and represented the best of our values. I learned a lot from him and I am proud to have known him and included him among my friends.”
Some see Russian-speaking Jews as an unusual clique in West Hollywood, a city whose governing body has a majority of gay members and which is known for the fact that 40% of its population identifies as gay. However, Stolyarskiy embodied some of the progressive values of the city’s founders that have made West Hollywood welcoming to the LGBT community.
In an interview with Kronzek at a Reform Congregation service outside WeHo in 2000, Stolyarskiy “expressed surprise that the men weren’t wearing talesim, Yiddish for the traditional prayer shawls worn during worship,” Kronzek wrote. kronzek said was surprised at that and questioned Stolyarskiy about his concern. He “vaguely recalled Jewish practices from his childhood,” she wrote, “On the other hand, he has been happily married for over 52 years to a non-Jewish woman of Ukrainian nationality.”
In addition to his marriage to a non-Jew, Stolyarskiy’s support for a multi-cultural world, Kronzek wrote, is evident in the fact that his daughter, Ludmila Stolyarskaya, and his son, Yevgeniy Stolyarskiy, both of whom are among his survivors, are fluent in Russian, Yiddish and English. Stolyarskiy’s wife of more than 50 years is deceased. He also is survived by his grandson, Max Starsky, and great grandchildren Sasha and Sean Starsky.
As another example of progressivism, Stolyarskiy explained to Kronzek in his interview why he and many of his fellow emigrants moved from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and announced their support for Al Gore’s unsuccessful campaign for president against George Bush. They were motivated by a push by Republican Congressional representatives to deny benefits to refugees who didn’t pass their citizenship tests in English.
“Mastery of a foreign language, and its excessive reliance on memorization, grows more difficult with age,” Kronzek noted. “The veterans, who currently range from 75 to 97, protested the Republican plan; in fact, this initial immersion in the American political system converted most of them to Democrats. They also formed close relationships with American veterans, who help teach them what they will need to know for citizenship.”