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May 19, 1989 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

NOTEBOOK)

Making Soviet Jews
More Jewish

GARY ROSENBLATT

Editor

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One of the key
issues facing the
Jewish commu-
nity today is the
resettlement of
Soviet Jews here,
and more specifi-
cally, what can
be done to link the newcomers
to their Jewish heritage.
Until now, the American
Jewish community has scored
high marks for its ability to
provide Soviet Jews with the
basic tools — housing, job
training and language in-
struction — for starting a new
life in this country. But we
have failed largely in our ef-
forts to have these im-
migrants develop and main-
tain Jewish ties, either
religiously or in terms of
organizational affiliation.
As a general rule, though,
in the past decade or so,
Soviet Jews in the United
States have assimilated into
the mainstream culture so
quickly that when follow-up
efforts were undertaken by
the Jewish community to
learn about the acculturation
process of the immigrants,
most of them couldn't even be
found.
This raises serious ques-
tions about the very purpose
behind our dedicated, serious
efforts to help free Soviet
Jews. If that purpose is not for
them to fulfill the Zionist
dream and go to Israel (since
only a handful go), and if
most of them never explore
their own Jewishness or pro-
vide a Jewish education for
their children, why are we
spending so much time,
energy and money on freeing
them?
On a religious level, we are
commanded, as Jews, to
rescue our brethren who are
held captive. This mitzvah in
the Torah should be enough of
an impetus. But what would
the Torah say about rescuing
one's fellow Jews and then
standing by as they abandon
their Judaism?
The truth is that for many
of the Soviet Jews gaining
freedom today, "Jewish" is
simply a word stamped on
their identification cards.
Raised in a Communist so-
ciety, they have never had an
opportunity to practice
Judaism and their religion is
only a negative factor, an ac-
cident of birth that has
prevented them from being
accepted by a university or
hired in a first-rate job. I It is

not fair of us to expect them
to take the initiative in
cultivating their Jewish roots
when their ties to the religion
are so tenuous.
Until now, the Soviet
Jewish resettlement process
in the United States has been
tinged with unrealistic expec-
tations, poor timing and a
measure of hypocrisy. Many
American Jews expect the
newcomers to be Sharanskys
and Beguns, heroic Soviet
Jews who risked their very
lives to live as committed
Jews. When these Americans
learn that most of the Soviets
coming here now are
marginal Jews in search of
political freedom and finan-
cial security, they are disap-
pointed and even hostile.
And Soviet Jews can never
fully understand why these
American Jews, who have
chosen to live in the United

It is our
responsiblity to
give these Soviet
Jews an
opportunity to
explore their
Jewishness.

States rather than Israel and
who, for the most part, are not
highly observant, are disap-
pointed and upset that Soviet
Jews aren't choosing to live in
Israel and are far removed
from Yiddishkeit. At least the
Soviet Jews have an excuse
for not being observant —
they weren't allowed to be.
"We tend to judge the
Soviet Jews by our aspira-
tions and ideals rather than
by our reality or theirs,"
observed Gary Rubin of the
American Jewish Committee,
which held a consultation
recently in New York on "The
Acculturation of Soviet Jews
to American Jewish Life:'
Experts at the day-long
meeting discussed various
ideas and programming
methods, but the main point
was the need to make Jewish
acculturation a priority. Such
talks are going on locally as
well, with leaders of the
various Jewish agencies
meeting to explore how best
to reach out, Jewishly, to the
newcomers.
One issue for local leaders
to keep in mind in their
outreach efforts is timing.
A Soviet Jew who has lived
here for more than a decade
once told me that while the
Jewish community was eager

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