Yesterday, in what could be considered a modern-day miracle, hundreds of secular Jewish youth gathered for half a day to discuss Jewish issues, and learn history & culture from Orthodox Rabbis and educators. And more fascinating for anyone familiar with American Jewry is that this is an occurrence which occurs every single week – week after week – at the fellowship programs run by the largest Russian-American Jewish organization, Russian-American Jewish Experience (RAJE).
For the secular American Jewish community, which is withering, Russian American Jews are the sole bright spot in otherwise dismal demographic studies. They are the only community where intermarriage rates are decreasing – this, while according to the first major survey of American Jews in 10 years, 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarry, two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God, and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year. Despite this, few programs are targeting this community – and it’s a shame.
The Russian-American Jewish community is vastly misunderstood – and undertargeted and it’s a mistake as Judaism is in dire straits in America. It’s quite ironic that these Jews were freed as Soviet Jews, but risk being lost to Judaism as American Jews. Despite Jonathan Sarna’s remarkable study “ Toward a Comprehensive Policy Planning for Russian-Speaking Jews in North America”, little has changed. The 15% of American Jewry who are Russian speaking – an estimated 750,000 Russian-American Jews – are the rare bright spot for the American Jewish community. What is needed is more education, as this community has an intense hunger and appreciation for Judaism. In Israel, Russian Jews have changed the country for the better – and in America, so too, can Russian American Jews help better shape our community.
Ronn Torossian is a board member of RAJE, and passionate about philanthropy and Jewish education.