What We Can Learn From Russian-Speaking Jews Here

The Jewish Week, May 31, 2016.

What impact can Russian-speaking Jews have on American Jewish identity?

While it would be unfair to generalize too much about how Russian Jews experience their Judaism, there are some broad ways in which the identity of Russian-speaking Jews generally differs from traditional American Jewish identity.

First, and for obvious reasons (see any history of the Soviet Union), Russian Jews are less religious. They tend to relate to Judaism through culture, art and language.

Second, Russian Jews also tend to find American models of philanthropy alien. The Soviet Union never had America’s tradition of a robust nonprofit sector. Moreover, they don’t see their philanthropy as a primary expression of Judaism the way many American Jews do.

Third, Russian Jews have generally taken a pragmatic approach to intermarriage for many decades. Intermarriage has been seen as a factor of demographic growth rather than decline.

Finally, their relationship to Israel is stronger than that of the American Jewish mainstream, because the relationship is usually personal, not ideological...

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Top image: a sculpture by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.