The Russian-speaking Jewish community is on the rise, and not a moment too soon!
The past year has been a year of many surprises, some not so pleasant. Covid, social and economic unrest, the violence in Israel, antisemitism. The headlines, as we know, have not been great. However, there have been some incredibly positive surprises, at least as they relate to my observations and involvement in the Russian-speaking Jewish (RSJ) community. Never have I seen so much energy and desire to be involved in communal affairs from this group!
Let me start with one of the biggest surprises; members of the RSJ community reaching out to me and to my colleagues at nonprofit organizations inquiring how they can make sizable donations. Now, perhaps to some people who have been involved in Jewish communal life this is not a shocker or a rare experience, but to me this a total paradigm shift. Nine years ago, when I got involved with the RSJ community on a lay leadership level fundraising was a dirty F word. When making asks, at best I got strange looks, at worst, angry speeches about how I am wasting their time. There was certainly a component of not knowing how to ask, but the bigger issue I believe was the community’s lack of desire to give. This is why now, when members of the RSJ community initiate the giving process, I still do the mental “pinch myself” to make sure I am not dreaming. I believe that progress in this area will only accelerate. As more members of the RSJ community become donors, others will want to join in. It is becoming the cool thing to do!
Israel is being villainized in the media, anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, who are you going to call? Russian-speaking Jews! When making an endorsement of the Jewish Parent Academy, professor and author Gil Troy said “Russian Jews are not afraid to be countercultural, …. to be a little different, push back, stand tall and stand proud.” The past year has proven him to be right. While some advocates for Jewish causes were doing the usual politically correct dance and twisting themselves into a pretzel trying to denounce anti-Semitism while at the same time not offending their perceived political allies, members of the RSJ community saw things much more clearly; hate is hate, anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, and we really don’t care if it comes from the right, the left, the top or the bottom. It was amazing to see RSJ members from the Jewish Parent Academy lead efforts at their employers and their kids’ schools that resulted in those organizations making strong statements against anti-Semitism. The same Russian-speaking Jews who two decades ago were embarrassed by their accents are now speaking with the clearest voices on the most important issues!
I think this is only the beginning. Already Russian-speaking Jews are running for and winning political offices. Centers and programs built by Russian-Jews for Russian-Jews are opening in cities across the country. RSJs are taking on leadership positions at national Jewish organizations. But most importantly, for the first time in several generations, Russian-speaking Jewish kids are raised to be proud and not afraid to embrace their identities.