Within a generation or two, as a result of assimilation, a break with relatives living in Israel and the lack of a minimal Jewish education, Russian Jews will no longer see themselves as “Jewish.”
Russian speaking Jews take part in a havdala event at Princeton University.. (photo credit:ROSS DEN)
Why are Russian-speaking Jews more vocal in their support for Israel than, say, their English-speaking counterparts? First of all, Russian-speaking Jews in the Diaspora were torn away from Jewish tradition and religion for an extended period. This is why Israel and the support of the Jewish state has become a type of anchor for their connection with national self-identification.
This takes place mostly in the West, where a majority of Russian Jews have yet to become fully integrated into their new communities, or accustomed to the cultural, political and other socio-economic norms of their new surroundings.
Secondly, a vast majority of us have close relatives living in Israel (more than 80 percent). These are sisters and brothers as well as parents; in other words, the closest possible blood relatives.
They force us not only to sympathize with Israel – but to really worry and care about them, to maintain constant contact with them, which is accompanied by the feeling of responsibility to keep aware of the events taking place in Israel via the TV and Internet.
Our concerns are based on our innermost emotions – concern for the health and well being of our close relatives and friends. For us, Israel isn’t just a far-away, warm-climate country but an aunt from Rishon Lezion, a brother from Hadera and even Mom and Dad in Tel-Aviv. This is exactly why only 20% of American Jews have visited Israel, while almost all (more than 80%) of Russian-speaking Jews have visited the Jewish state. Almost all Russian Jews – with the exception of those too sick or not having sufficient funds – have been to Israel.
You may not enjoy hearing the third reason for the connection between Russian Jews and the State of Israel, but it’s worth noting nevertheless. We often wonder how Jews could have immigrated to Germany. (I won’t recount the horrors of the 20th century.) But we need to ask ourselves: how are those Russian Jews who moved to America, Canada, Australia, etc., any different? Because we all happened to ignore Israel, and when things warm up there (war, terrorism) many of us either pack their bags and move to Israel, or painstakingly worry that they’re not there and try to somehow help their homeland.
The last, and least important reason that a majority of Russian-speaking Jews in the Diaspora hold very pro-Israel opinions is their connection with the Republican Party. In the US, 80% of us vote for the GOP. This is especially apparent in New York, Chicago, Florida, and California. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union who’ve lived in America for 25-40 years vote Republican while Jews who were born in the US overwhelmingly support the Democrats. We support Republicans over Democrats in large part due to the fact that they are more friendly toward Israel than are Democrats and because we’re obviously against making concessions to the Arabs and support talking to them in “their own language.”
The State of Israel and Jewish organization worldwide should make an all-out effort to strengthen the connection between Russian-speaking Jews in the Diaspora and the State of Israel. But not any less important is strengthening their ties to Jewish traditions, religion, history, philosophy and culture.
We have a restricted amount of time left before we are faced with a gigantic dilemma: within a generation or two, as a result of assimilation, a break with relatives living in Israel and the lack of a minimal Jewish education, Russian Jews will no longer see themselves as “Jewish.” Then, freedom will (God forbid) accomplish what Stalin and Hitler didn’t succeed in.
The author is president of the American Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry and a delegate on behalf of the World Yisrael Beytenu Movement to the 37th World Zionist Congress taking place in Jerusalem 20-23 October, 2015.