Thursday, October 14, 2004

Don't give up

The Forward is running an absolutely excellent piece on the gulf between the Russian Jewish immigrants in North American and the mainstream Jewish community, a subject which has fascinated and pained me since I wrote about the non-existent relations between the two groups in Toronto for The Jerusalem Post a few years ago. It explains clearly why the Russians almost universally failed to integrate:
"In the Soviet Union, Judaism was a matter of ethnic identity devoid of any synagogue affiliation, and it appears to have stayed that way for immigrants after they immigrated.... For many American Jews, the complete ignorance of Judaism among the newcomers, along with other cultural differences, came as a rude jolt.
Among the immigrants, the ways of the Jewish community were mystifying. The notion of paying dues or volunteering time was not something they were familiar with, nor was either of the languages — English and Hebrew — spoken at the synagogues."
The fact is, none of these immigrants had any experience at all of Jewish community life. Many of them, I would add, were also used to receiving from the State, and because they didn't exactly understand what a community was, expected the community to help them out financially as a state would, and resented it when they didn't. This was a particularly common criticism, I found, from Russian immigrants who came through Israel (a large percentage, in Toronto at least). The North American community never understood any of this, at least until very recently, leading to complete cross-wires.
According to the Forward article, many of the professionals in the field are now giving up and abandoning their outreach efforts. What a tragedy; just when we are beginning to understand why we've failed so far.


Anonymous said...

I think it is close to impossible for American Jews to teach Russian Jew how to create a community. What has to be is that Russian Jews who live in America themselves create a community for themselves. This has happened in Chicago with Rabbi Eliezer Dimarsky and Heritage: Russian Jewish Congregation ( is where I belong to), and I am aware of other such organizations such is in New York (Shaarei Emunah and Rabbi Binsky's Shul - forgot the name), it's in progress in Minnesota, and probably in some other places as well. Of course, you can try to do kiruv without building a community (like Rabbi Yaroslawitz who does an annual seminar in St Louis to which he brings Russian speaking Rabbis from Israel), but local Russian Jewish leaders are needed to create a community.

Jinnean said...

I've been helping a new immigrant to Toronto, and would like to forward her the two articles you refer to. The links you provide no longer link to the actual articles, and your posting doesn't contain enough information for me to find them. Could you send me the exact titles so I can enter them on the Forward and Jerusalem Post site search engines?