For the past six months Blognik Beat has been dedicated to exploring the past, present, and future of Russian-Jewry. Its bloggers have reached back into time to re-tell the story of their ancestors, of their hardships in the Soviet Republic and their struggles in acclimating to a new world. But this blog has not strictly been about detailing the stories of adversity. Its content has allowed us to peek into the Russian-Jewish mind, into how they think and view the world. This blog has adventured into Russian dating, politics, culture, schooling, but most importantly it has looked into the soul of a people. A people who will begin to become more important, influential, and involved whether others are prepared for that end or not.
At around this time of year the Tel Aviv beaches are filled with foreigners, hotels are booked to the last room, and thousands are floating their troubles away at the Dead Sea. Many programs have brought Jews, specifically those of college age, to Israel. The most popular of these programs, of course, is the Taglit-Birthright trip, which has allowed roughly 300,000 young Jews to visit the Jewish homeland. Still, even with this success, one of the questions that has repeatedly troubled the Jewish establishment is how to continue the connection — how can we make the 10 day experience last a lifetime?
A month ago I attended an event on Russian-Jewish philanthropy. The big name speakers — Russian leaders of major Jewish organizations — explained that we were witnessing a watershed moment. The Russian-Jewish community in America, which had over the past few decades lived off of the welfare of others, had risen to a considerable position of power and wealth. After accepting the help of others it was now in their hands to return the favor, to use their newly established wealth to positively influence the direction of the Jewish community in America and abroad. But there is one problem according to those leaders I heard speak: the Russian-Jewish community has not yet taken upon itself the responsibility to shape the future of Jewish discourse. Their participation peaks when it comes to the issue of Israel, albeit this peak is reached most unfortunately during Israel’s hours of crisis.
Year to year there isn’t much change when it comes to my Passover Seder. Wine, matzo, and politics are always the dominant features. But this year I want to be conscious of the message the Haggadah provides and what it means to me.
For a period of a few weeks the Jewish community followed the events of Israel Peace Week and Israel Apartheid Week at my school, Brandeis University. Looking back, there seems to have been a large disconnect between the amount of attention the events received in the Jewish press and the reality that exists on my campus.
Last year, with each college campus I visited, the tour guide raved about the uniqueness of each brick that made up this or that structure, the new “green” innovations on campus, and the dining hall filled with organic and environmentally friendly food. What these guides also emphasized was the diversity that existed on their campus. Students from different backgrounds, races, and religions were all part of the melting pot that made the school distinct.
There was a clear divide in the room — kefiyas and kippas, Muslims and Jews, secular and religious. It was Ali Abunimah, an outspoken supporter of the “one-state solution,” who had made this gathering possible. Recently Abunimah spoke at the University of Pennsylvania where his presence seemed to join together the emotions of the entire pro-Israel community. Students on Penn’s campus responded with protests and other forms of activism to counter this speaker and the ideas he brought with him. But here at Brandeis University the event went mostly unnoticed.
Harsh, relentless, and unforgiving, the Russian winter has played a major role in preventing the armies of Napoleon and Hitler from invading and conquering Russia. The Russian winter is a variable with a track record of changing the course of history. But perhaps change is the wrong word — rather than encourage change, this unbeatable environment has instead had the effect of hindering and stalling any external force. Recently however, even record freezing temperatures failed to stop protests from arising and spreading across Russia. Ordinary citizens took to the streets to reject the current system and demand true representation in their government.
Living in a home where one parent is Russian and the other American creates an unpredictable cultural, political and religious dynamic. Every year, it is the December holiday season that creates somewhat of a clash. My father, an émigré from the former Soviet Union, has had instilled in him the secular Russian tradition of having a tree put up for New Years. To my mother — a woman raised in an American Orthodox home — the idea of putting up a tree, however secular the tradition may be to my father, is preposterous.