Israeli actor and former soldier speaks at UMass Hillel

Dean Miroshnikov discusses identity

Israeli actor and former soldier speaks at UMass Hillel

By Kyle Lai, Collegian Correspondent

Dean Miroshnikov, an Israeli actor, spoke about his experiences in shaping his identity through immigration, his faith, military service, and his acting career in a speech at the UMass Hillel Wednesday.

Miroshnikov, who was born to a Jewish mother in Ukraine, was raised as a Christian to shield him from growing anti-Semitism in his native country. At the age of nine, he immigrated with his mother to Israel, only to find that his greatest struggle did not arise from living as a Jew in Ukraine; instead, it came from living as a “Russian” in Israel.

“In Israel, everyone would make fun of my accent,” Miroshnikov recounted. “The schoolkids called me a ‘Dirty Russian.’”

Miroshnikov, then going by his birth name of Dimitri, found it immensely difficult to acclimate himself to Israeli society. The desire to belong was so strong that he changed his name to the less “Russian-sounding” name, “Dean Martin,” after the American actor, unbeknownst to his family. Miroshnikov also began distancing himself from his Ukranian grandfather, for fear of being discriminated against.

“I was ashamed to be associated with him,” Miroshnikov admitted.

Ilan Gritzman, a freshman sustainable community development major, stated that he had not encountered discrimination, in particular anti-Semitism in the United States, and found it significant that Miroshnikov discussed experiences in his life.

“I haven’t really faced anything major,” Gritzman said. “America is generally a very welcoming place.”

In his efforts to “be like everyone,” Miroshnikov joined the Israeli Defense Forces, where “everyone had the same goal.” Serving five years in uniform, Miroshnikov highlighted his military career as the “best time of life.” The diversity of the IDF, including recruits from Israel, Morocco, Ethiopia and many other countries, gave Miroshnikov a new perspective on his heritage.

Showing the audience a photo of him shaking hands with the Israeli prime minister after graduating from special forces training, Miroshnikov said, “for the first time, I was not ashamed of myself.”

Injured while in service, Miroshnikov was recognized by members of the community as a fellow Israeli, shocking Miroshnikov, who had never before considered Israel to be his home.

“A man with an Israeli flag walked into my hospital room….He called me a hero,” Miroshnikov said, “That man said, ‘thank you, for protecting our homes.’”

At the age of 21, Miroshnikov decided to embrace his Ukrainian heritage. He changed his name for the last time from Dean Martin to Dean Miroshnikov, to combine his birth identity with the identity he developed in Israel. Eventually, Miroshnikov would revisit Ukraine and reconcile with his father.

Upon leaving the military, Miroshnikov returned to the same pressure to adjust to societal norms. However, he clarified that the struggle no longer concerned his cultural beliefs, but instead his socio-economic aspirations. While he had dreamed of being an actor since childhood, his family expected him to pursue a career in business management.

“My mother said, ‘there’s no money in an acting career, there’s no work to be found,’” Miroshnikov explained.

After a single semester in business school, Miroshnikov dropped out and enrolled in an acting school. While the decision “went against everyone [he] knew,” it eventually paid off as he graduated from Israel’s top acting school. Today,  at the age of 29, his acting career is long and distinguished. He has appeared in numerous Israeli TV shows, several of which are critically acclaimed.

Miroshnikov’s story of discovering his identity and following his dreams resonated with several UMass students.

“I didn’t always know I was going to pursue a career in nutrition,” said Ayelet Portman, a nutrition major. “ I initially wanted to be a teacher because my mother was a teacher, but then I thought more realistically about my own desires, and I realized I wanted to be a nutritionist.”

Miroshnikov summarized his life lessons for the audience in three main steps. He explained that everyone should always set goals for themselves and continue to do so. Secondly, he emphasized the importance of valuing life’s struggles, as “the journey is always of value.” Miroshnikov finished his summary by declaring if one wants to succeed in life, they shouldn’t try to be someone else.

“Be yourself,” Miroshnikov said.

Kyle Lai can be reached at [email protected]