A message from the million Russian-speaking American Jews

By Alex Selsky, Jerusalem Post , 09.05.2017

“Only a strong State of Israel will be able to provide security to the Jewish People – not only in Israel, but also in the Diaspora.”

On May 8, the world marks one of the most meaningful days in modern history, and one of the most important days for the Jewish People and the State of Israel – Victory Day over Nazi Germany.

Without this victory, the State of Israel would not have been established and the majority of world Jewry, the Jews of Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as the Jews of North Africa and the Land of Israel, could have been eliminated by the Nazi “Final Solution.”

The Jewish memory relating to World War II is almost fully concentrated on Holocaust commemoration, and this is right and extremely important.

However, World War II was not only a story of Jewish victimhood; it is also a story of Jewish victory and bravery.

Around one and a half million Jews fought in the anti-Nazi coalition. In many cases the percentage of Jews fighting in various national armies was greater than the percentage of Jews among the wider population.

Around 500,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the Red Army. Some 120,000 were killed in combat and in the line of duty. The Germans murdered 80,000 as prisoners of war. More than 160,000 earned citations, at all levels of command, with over 150 specially designated “Heroes of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor awarded to soldiers in the Red Army.

Approximately 550,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the US Armed Forces during World War II. They served on all fronts in Europe and the Pacific.

Some 10,000 were killed in combat and more than 36,000 received citations.

Many Jewish soldiers took part in liberating the death camps. Another 100,000 Jews fought in the Polish army against the German invasion.

About 30,000 Jews served in the British army, including the Jewish Brigade from Eretz Yisrael.

The Victory Day over Nazi Germany is of major significance to the Russian-speaking Jewish community because of their unique personal connection to World War II. Most families have parents or grandparents who fought against the Nazis, as well as family members who were impacted by the Holocaust.

Every year on May 8, Victory Day, Jewish WWII veterans wear uniforms, adorned with Red Army medals and shiny pins, and honor the victory over the Nazi evil. They celebrate and march in Israel, the US, Canada and Europe.

Today, approximately 2.5 million Russian-speaking Jews live in the Diaspora.

About 1.5 million of them live in the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and in smaller communities like the UK and Austria. These Jews immigrated there during the last 25 years, while more than a million Jews from the FSU made aliya to Israel.

They are firm and vocal in their loyalty and pride for the State of Israel.

Israel serves as a basis for their traditionally national, not necessarily religious, Jewish identity. They are deeply convinced that only a strong and victorious Israel will be able to assure security and a prosperous life for the Jews in the Diaspora, who are constantly facing enormous challenges, like the massive rates of assimilation, the BDS movement and delegitimization of Israel, diminishing Jewish communities and a weakening of ties between Israel and the Diaspora.

One of the most prominent organizations working with the Russian- speaking Jewish community in the US is the American Forum for Israel. Its leaders see their main goal in strengthening the connection between the Russian-speaking Jewish Diaspora and the State of Israel as well as their integration into Jewish institutions in the Diaspora.

In 2015, the American Forum achieved a historic success in significantly increasing their representation from Russian-speaking Jewish communities in the US at the World Zionist Congress, the central legislative body, which determines the policy of the leading Zionist organizations.

According to Dr. Dmitry Shiglik, chairman of the American Forum, “Today, global Jewry has a unified cause, to stand with Israel as a strong, prosperous and undefeated country.

Only a strong Israel, politically, militarily, economically and spiritually, will be able to provide security for the Jewish People, not only in Israel, but also in the Diaspora. Every Jew in every corner of the world knows that Israel is our insurance, the center of our identity and heritage, our culture and our spirit.”

Dr. Igor Branovan, president of the American Forum for Israel, says, “For Russian-speaking Jews in the US, the connection to Israel is the basis of our Jewish identity. This connection is also very personal. There is a very close bond with the Israeli Russian-speaking community, as around 90% of American Russian-speaking Jews have close relatives and friends in Israel.

When something bad happens in Israel, it hurts us on a very personal family level. For us, supporting Israel means literally supporting our family and friends.”

One of the major supporters of the American Forum for Israel is Michael Gross, a well-known businessman and philanthropist, who was not born in the Soviet Union and does not speak Russian. However, Gross, a Zionist Orthodox Jew, raised in London, deeply understands the need to strengthen Jewish education and a connection to Israel within the Russian-speaking American Jewish community.

“The State of Israel and Jewish organizations worldwide should make an all-out effort to strengthen the connection between Russian-speaking Jews in the Diaspora and the State of Israel,” Gross explains.

“We have a limited amount of time before we face the crucial results of assimilation. Today, when antisemitism and its more ‘politically correct’ form, the assault on Israel’s legitimacy and BDS is raising its ugly head again, we ultimately need proud Jews to stand with a strong Israel. Russian-speaking American Jews are doing just that.”