Children of Russian Immigrants Move Left

Over Years, Parents' Hawkish Soviet Perspective Wears Thin

Evolving Views: Immigrants from the former Soviet Union are known for holding conservative political views. But the next generation is moving closer to the liberal positions of other Jews.
anna kordunsky
Evolving Views: Immigrants from the former Soviet Union are known for holding conservative political views. But the next generation is moving closer to the liberal positions of other Jews.

By Avital Chizhik

Published October 28, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Lately I’ve caught my parents exchanging a certain look — some kind of amused smile, a mixture of surprise and disbelief. Whenever I let slip a reference to an anecdote about Odessan Jews or to a Soviet comedy film or to a Pushkin fairy tale — whatever they fed me throughout my childhood — they glance at each other: “How does the child know this, too? Did we really teach her this?”

Mine is the typical story of first-generation Americans: Child-of-immigrants rejects memory of Old Country, then slowly returns to embrace heritage and writes nostalgic short stories about said past from afar. Though it’s been 30 years since my parents came as teens from the Soviet Union, 11 years before I was born in New Jersey, there are random moments in which I feel all-too-Russian. My shopping lists and menus are, reflexively, scribbled in a cursive cyrillic; I’ve stopped cheating with the English translations, and now turn to the original Pasternaks and Rybakovs. In my first post-college apartment, I find myself trying to create a home out of the little things I grew up seeing in my grandparents’ homes: the Ukrainian wool blankets, vibrant aprons, silk house robes, blue and white porcelain.

Yet as our nation’s election fever mounts, I am suddenly reminded of my own indisputable Americanness, made all the starker when facing the Soviet mentalities that accompany my books and crystal vases.

As always, the table conversations among family members are heavily political. I grew up listening to the adults engage in what seemed then like heated debate, but what I realize now were just normal conversations. My earliest memories begin with harsh criticisms of Bill Clinton, followed by respectful nods and praises when mentioning George W. Bush, and then outrage over anything Barack Obama. My family is similar to the rest of the Russian Jewish community, which numbers 220,000 in the New York area alone (according to UJA-Federation of New York’s 2012 census) and is known for its overwhelmingly conservative vote. A study conducted by the American Jewish Committee showed that 63% of Russian Jews supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, compared with 11% supporting Obama. In drastic contrast to the rest of the secular Jewish community in the New York area, Russian Jews have created a consistently right-wing voting bloc.

And so we, the American-born children, have grown accustomed to the hard-line views. At the summer dacha in the Catskills, relatives exchange conspiracy theories and analyze our president’s secret Kenyan birthplace. “Obama! On zhe nye Amerikanetz!” they declare. He’s not even American. His politics smack of communism (“and we know what that sounds like, we know”). Having grown up behind the Iron Curtain in a society that was relatively homogenous, Russian Jews are notoriously wary of “the other,” rarely having encountered it — thus the president’s foreign skin color poses yet another reason for apprehension. And the president’s cold treatment of Israel is probably most upsetting for a community that places Israel as central to its Jewish identity. “These naive Americans liberals, they don’t know how to deal with Iran,” relatives tell me. “They keep sweet-talking to our enemies; as if sweet-talking ever helped the Jews. Keep talking yourselves into the grave; that’s all you’re doing.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.