As a Jewish immigrant from the Former Soviet Union whose family came to the United States in 1980, I’ve been dismayed to see so many liberals looking down their noses at Russian Jews who support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Writing in the Forward, Margarita Gokun Silver recently asked, “How Can Russian Jews Be So Naively in Love With Donald Trump?” She suggests that we’re naïve, but her own view is ill-informed. Worse, it’s condescending.
In her essay, Gokun Silver asks this question about Russian Jewish supporters of Trump: “How can people who left their homeland to escape anti-Semitism — and whose families include victims of both the Holocaust and the Gulag — not see the signs?”
Maybe I can provide some answers.
It was because my family stuck to our Jewish roots and followed our traditions while we lived in the FSU that, in 1949, my maternal grandfather was sentenced to 10 years of Gulag camps. Later, in the mid-1950s, he was released with “full rehabilitation.” But in the ’60’s and ’70s, my father received repeated rebukes for hiring Jewish professionals, my uncle received continuous pressure from the KGB (he was a computer scientist and they wanted him to become an informer), my sister received a rejection letter from university (despite stellar grades), and my cousins and I received several physical assaults over our ethnicity. All this prompted my family to seek a better life in the U.S.
And what happened when Jews from the Soviet Union arrived in the U.S.? They received an immense amount of invaluable help from the members of the American Jewish community — and faced a major cultural misunderstanding. The majority of immigrants from the FSU were not, as many American Jews expected, the simpleton Tevyes and backward Goldes who needed to be shown how to turn on the lights or how to use toilet paper. The people who immigrated were mostly professionals, with college degrees and good (although skewed) knowledge of history, arts, geography and politics. We were, and are, educated Jews.
Most important, we had — and have — enough reason and good sense to evaluate political options and make informed choices out of our own preferences. Expecting us to follow a liberal agenda that’s been highlighted for us is as absurd as expecting us to follow Lenin’s raised hand toward the glorious Communist future.
And another thing: Jewish immigrants from the FSU had to undergo self-reestablishment in the middle of their lives. All are grateful for the assistance given to them by the American Jewish community, but many are also keenly aware of the amount of personal effort they had to invest and the sacrifices they had to make to reach the American middle class.
This life-rebuilding narrative is, for many, more like the self-establishment preached by the Republicans than the guided growth offered by Democrats.
Many Russian Jews are also keenly aware of the KGB involvement in American liberal movements like the American Communist and Socialist parties, and treat more liberal-leaning parties with suspicion.
There is one other item that should be mentioned. This item may be impossible to comprehend for American Jews, especially those with heavy liberal leanings. With close family in Israel, Jews from the FSU are fiercely and unconditionally pro-Israel. As the Russian saying goes, to the point of “blood from the nose.”
Republican media outlets such as Fox News, and the Russian-language TV that Gokun Silver denigrates, boast balanced reporting on Israel; they offer a view from both sides. During the latest Gaza war, for example, while CNN was showing destruction of Gaza and listing the count of the dead Palestinian Arab civilians, Fox and Russian TV would show the destruction of Gaza and also broadcast from Sderot and Ashdod, showing Israeli civilians hiding in the bomb shelters and Arab-made rockets raining on Israel. As such, these outlets have earned credibility with immigrants from the FSU, who have untold numbers of relatives in Israel.
From what I understand now, such humane and balanced reporting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict does not serve the interests of the most “progressive” far-left American Jews, who are turning staunchly anti-Israel. But it does serve the interests of Russian Jews, whose families found refuge in Israel and who were welcomed there for the very Jewishness that had made them persona non grata in the FSU.
Dmitry Gringauz is a Jewish immigrant and a computer engineer presently living with his family in the upper Midwest.