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February 19, 1988 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-02-19

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Continued from Page 40

Jews will decline in number.
Between 1959 and 1979 the
number of Jews declined by
nearly half a million, with
emigration accounting for
less than half of the decline.
The Jewish population is
shrinking, not only as a result
of emigration, but also
because of a very low birth
rate, high mortality rates, an
increasingly aged population,
and inter-marriage. Already
in 1959 the average Jewish
family in the Soviet Union
consisted of only 3.1 persons
— that is, one child per fami-
ly was the norm, not enough
to replace population. One
demographer has estimated
that in the Russian and
Ukrainian republics, which
contain three-quarters of the
Jewish population, the me-
dian age of the Jews is around
50. Moreover, several Soviet
studies have shown that
when Jews marry non-Jews —
and perhaps a quarter to a
third of Jews marrying do
"marry out" — the children of
such marriages overwhelm-
ingly choose a non-Jewish na-
tionality when they get their
own internal passports.
Finally, as is usually the
case, younger people are over-
represented among the
emigrants. In 1980, for exam-
ple, the median age of Jews
leaving the USSR was 35.7.
This means that Jewish fer-
tility will decline even fur-
ther, as people in their
childbearing years have left
the country in greater propor-
tions than other age groups.
Thus the Soviet Jewish
population is very likely to
shrink rapidly in the coming
It would be wrong to con-
clude on the basis of the
demographic outlook and the
policy prospects that Soviet
Jewry is likely to disappear in
the near future. One of the
ironies of the Soviet Jewish
situation is that Jewish iden-
tity is probably stronger in
the USSR than in most
Western democracies, thanks
largely to Soviet policy. The
Soviet practice of officially
identifying each citizen by na-
tionality has maintained
Jewish identity and reinforc-
ed it, often against the wishes
of those who carry it.
Jews identified as such on
their internal passports are
reminded of who they are on
the many occasions that they
have to produce those
documents. In the eyes of
society as well they are con-
sidered Jews.
Many Soviet Jews do not ac-
tively identify as such: they
do not practice their religion,
speak a Jewish language, at-
tend Jewish cultural events,
educate their children in

Dr. Zvi Gitelman

Jewish culture, wear distinc-
tively Jewish clothes, or eat
Jewish foods. But they have a
passive identification confer-
red by the state and reinforc-
ed by anti-Semitism.
The anticipated Jewish
status has an application to
the general status of human
rights demands. The
Gitelman volume, published
in an impressive, large format
of 330 pages, with many more
photographs, is revealing in
all the factors of history. It
portrays the agonizing, and
takes into account the produc-
tive in community
Amidst prejudicial and op-
pressive legislation, great
cultural and spiritual
movements developed in the
areas segregated for the Jews
of Russia who at one point
rose to five million.
Resulting from the Haskala
movement, the enlighten-
ment ideal embraced many of
the brilliant leaders. Out of it
developed the Hebrew and
Yiddish cultures. There was a
battle between them at the
outset. Many treated Yiddish
as a jargon. Soon it became a
dominant force, a language to
be loved and advanced. This
section alone in the Gitelman
book lends it extraordinary
significance. •
The pogroms and humilia-
tions are filled with sadness.
They did not dampen, they
fortified the spiritual-cultural
devotions. They also inspired
the Socialist forces, the bat-
tles for human rights, and all
are part of this summarized
account about Russian Jewry.
The author's lengthy
prediction of an anticipated
future covers a vast area. It
will surely inspire further
study and acquistion of
knowledge vital to the effort
of attaining the anticipated
struggle for freedom to
emigrate, as well as the eras-
ing of the disadvantages con-
fronted by USSR Jewry. The
coverage of the themes under
consideration provides a
powerful historical analyses
in which the author, Prof. Zvi
Gittelman, emerges as an
authority par excellence.

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