MARINA from Belarus and Ida from Ukraine were selling jewelry on fold-up tables by the beach, alongside Malka from Georgia. On the way over, I had met Natalya from Russia and Igor from Uzbekistan, who were holding hands as they strolled around a hilltop park, sunning themselves on a sparkling winter afternoon. Should it have been any surprise that Yana, the saleswoman at the nearby mall, grew up in Azerbaijan?
All around me in the Israeli city of Ashdod, people were chatting in Russian, darting in and out of stores with signs in Cyrillic, living the lives that they had once lived, as if they were in a mythical, far-flung former Soviet republic. I had come from Moscow to explore Israel, but when I reached Ashdod, a port on the Mediterranean that is shunned by most guidebooks, I almost felt as if I were back where I had started. Minus the snow. [...]