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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Value Proposition of Judaism in Russia

By Tzvi Raviv (MA/MBA)

The Genesis Philanthropy Group invited a group of Hornstein Students to Moscow this winter, and I was fortunate to be part of this unique experience. In the early 1990's my hometown of Aheqelon, Israel greeted the dissolvent of the Soviet Union. Russian immigration to Israel altered every sector of my small coastal city. We had new students in class that spoke only Russian, stores posted signs in Cyrillic, and discarded Russian language newspapers were found on busses and park benches. I too come from a Russian background, but unlike the post-soviet era immigrants, my family left Russia after the pogroms that followed the Russo-Japanese War. Unfortunately, their first stop was not the Holy Land. They sought refuge for increasing anti-Semitism in Russia in Argentina. Thus, my parents immigration to Israel in 1971 is a preamble to the Jewish-Russian immigration narrative. My ancestral connection to this narrative made me feel closer to the post-soviet immigrants who would eventually become my peers in school and in Israel’s Army. As recent immigrants to Israel, my family took an active role in the absorption of Jewish-Russian immigrants by hiring them and giving them opportunities to provide for their families and feel self-sufficient in their old-new homeland.

Prior to the visit, I read the book When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone, a history of the Soviet Jewry movement by Gal Beckerman. Beckerman’s book illustrates the difficulties to maintain Jewish life in Soviet times. A period in history in where people were thrown into jail for teaching Hebrew. Twenty years after the downfall of the Soviet Union things are totally different for Russian Jews. Since the downfall of the Soviet Union, Russian Jews are free to practice in Jewish life and to choose where to live, in Russia or abroad.

The visit to Moscow included visits to Jewish institutions in the city. While all the Jewish institutions that I visited do an exceptional job in their support of Jewish life, I will cherish the visit at the Jewish orphanage. The director of the Jewish orphanage is a lady with great love and care for the children, and the orphanage community seems like a big family. The residents of orphanage that age-out get support in starting an independent life.

Under the Soviet regime, Jews could not participate in Jewish life, while currently Jews in Russia enjoy religious freedom. Now days, like other diaspora Jews, Russian Jews have to choose to be Jewish. The Jewish establishment in Russia is facing a similar question as other diaspora communities are facing, what is the value proposition of Judaism today?

It is up to Jewish educators to support the formation of a positive Jewish identity, which is based on the richness of the tradition and Jewish faith. I hope upon my graduation from the Hornstein program to play an active role in assisting young Jews to choose Judaism.

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