Maintaining Jewish Identity
Tue, 07/24/2012

Steve Lipman’s excellent article, “New Generation Of Russians Now Making Its Mark” (July 13), clearly illustrated a growing phenomenon: a mutual interest on behalf of the American and Russian Jewish communities.

Over the last number of years, The Jewish Week has explored at length the Russian Jewish immigrant community and its relationship to the larger American Jewish community. Still, I feel an important point is often overlooked and that is the unique Russian Jewish identity that many brought with them from the former Soviet Union.

Many of those in their 30s and 40s came to these shores as young children. And while not necessarily being what is referred to here as “religious,” they grew up in homes with a very strong Jewish identity. In my own family as well as those families that I work with in our community, it is not uncommon to hear stories of people who went to great lengths to procure matzah for the seders,

arrange an informal Jewish wedding or arrange for a brit milah.

Actually, just being Jewish was difficult enough. The exclusion from universities, constant harassment by neighbors, co-workers and classmates — not to mention the government — made an already difficult life even more difficult.

These people were not necessarily former dissidents or refuseniks, Chabadniks or activists. Rather, “regular” people who did whatever was possible, often under great personal risk, to maintain a link to their Jewish identity.

I think it is thanks to the attitude toward their identity as Russian Jews as it was taught to them by their parents and grandparents that the current generation of Russian Jewish activists get their inspiration. With each year, those collective experiences fade into the background and unless an effort is made, will be forgotten.

Chabad of Rego Park/Jewish Russian Community Center of Queens
 

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