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August 31, 1990 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-08-31

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Reclaiming Soviet Jews

Continued from preceding page

A Soviet Jewish family arriving in America and being greeted by relatives.

"What's important are activities tnat
will have carryover effect into the second
and third years," he says. "Are they
observing Sabbath then?"
He finds fault with the practice of con-
ducting unconnected, insular programs.
Instead, Rabbi Poupko prefers an ac-
culturation system "where every Jewish
activity proposed is seen as generating
another Jewish activity." A Shabbat
welcome basket should generate enroll-
ment in day camps. Attendance in day
camps should lead to participation in
bar/bat mitzvah programs, which lead to
synagogue membership, more Jewish ed-
ucation and, eventually, a gift to the fed-

Great expectations

Feet-to-the-ground expectations on the
part of American hosts can smooth the ac-
culturation process.
"Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles
to involvement is the fact that our expec-
tations of them may be unrealistic," ac-
cording to Anita Friedman, executive di-
rector of the San Francisco Jewish Family
and Children's Services. "So it may be
particularly important for American
Jews to learn more intimately about the
newcomers in our midst, as Soviet Jews
learn about their new neighborhoods."
She claims some Soviet Jews find
Americans too materialistic and insen-
sitive to the immigrants' experiences,
while some Americans consider the
Soviet newcomers too demanding and not
"Jewish" enough.
"The more American Jews confront
their own preconceived judgments and
get to know Soviet Jews and the longer



Soviet Jews are in this country, the more
comfortable everyone will feel," Ms.
Friedman concludes.
To that end, New York City-based Sue
Fox, a program coordinator for the Jewish
Board of Family and Children's Services,
lectures around the country to Jewish
groups about the psychological and
cultural differences of the Soviets.
"Acculturation is a process, and for the
refugee a lifelong process," Ms. Fox says.
"But acculturation is not something one
can do to someone else, and it's different
from person to person."
She explains that the concept of volun-
tarism doesn't exist in the Soviet Union,
so American Jews who try to help the
newcomers may be surprised when
they're not treated gratefully. Also,
Soviet Jewish immigrants received
negative propaganda about the United
States. They might be more cynical about
their new land than community workers
"There are many other myths and
misunderstandings in the new culture,"
Ms. Fox says. "And by learning about the
Soviets, American Jews can learn about
One of the American stereotypes about
the Soviets Ms. Fox confronts is that they
are too demanding. There is some truth to
this, she says. In Soviet society, the wheel
that squeaks the loudest gets the grease.
"This has to be seen as a strength not a
negative," Ms. Fox insists, because the
immigrants are strong enough to stand
up for themselves.
Another hallmark of Soviet culture is
that the people tend to be more unreliable
in keeping appointments, according to
Ms. Fox.
"They tend to say, 'If I can make it, I
will call you,' " she says. "Well, we need
to educate Americans about this fact of
Soviet life and teach the Russians the
value of a scheduled appointment."
"There's a balance constantly in flux
when one speaks of acculturation," Ms.
Fox says. "It's important to get the diff-
erent pieces into balance."
The balance can be achieved by some
unconventional, even somewhat her-
etical, strategies. Three have been
adopted by the San Francisco Jewish
Family and Children's Services.
The first of these is that building a Jew-
ish identity doesn't have to revolve
around religion.
"There are programs in which the
rabbis and congregations focus more on
culture and politics," says Anita Fried-
man of San Francisco Jewish Family and
Children's Services. "Why not please
them if they're more interested in a Jew-
ish film series than Torah study? To that
end we sponsor events for the immigrants
featuring well-known Jewish artists, di-
rectors, and writers."
The second seemingly off-beat strategy
involves acculturating the immigrants to
Judaism and the United States — even if

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