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The Blessing of Being an American-Soviet-Israeli

This title seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Someone who is an American oleh to the Jewish state, with a name like Dmitri Alexander Shufutinsky?

In my experience as a Lone Soldier in the army, sometimes people didn’t know where to put me. I have a thick American accent when speaking Hebrew (no, I don’t try to change it; it’s part of who I am, and I’m proud of my origins). Yet I have a very Russian name, with the last name of a famous Russian singer that happens to be my grandfather (and also an Israeli citizen).

Some people (mainly abroad) ask me how I feel being here in Israel, a country that is “balanced” between Kiev and Moscow, that seems on the sidelines when it comes to taking sides. A few asked me how my friendships with Americans, Europeans, Belarussians and Ukrainians in Israel have changed. A lot assume that such relationships and connections here are getting messy, as happened to a degree between Armenians and Azeris in Israel in 2020. I think that outside observers would be surprised to learn one thing about the Soviet community here in Israel: we are united. We are one. And the vast majority of us are opposed to Putin and his horrific war crimes in Ukraine.

The bonds and friendships I have formed in this country with other Soviet olim–Ukrainians, Russians, Belarussians–are very strong. We all see eye-to-eye when it comes to this awful war. One of my friends, from Russia, is spending his time volunteering with Ukrainian refugees here. Others are donating money to the Ukrainians who had fled the country or made aliyah. Many are calling on their family members and friends to immigrate to Israel. We are horrified together. We mourn together. But we also hope together–for a better future for Israel. For welcoming the new olim. For helping the Ukrainian victims of the illegal tragedy. And for assisting Russian and Belorussian dissidents, who seek to escape the tyranny of Putin and Lukashenko. Ironically, the very thing that Putin seeks–the unity of populations once under Imperial Russian and Soviet control–has occurred here, in a free, Western-aligned democracy, and not under an archaic dictatorship. And equally unique is that, unlike in the USA or other Western countries, Russians here are not facing the same level of racist scrutiny.

One of the things that may be seen historically as the downfall of the Netanyahu government was his campaigning on his “special relationship” with Vladimir Putin. Most Soviet-Israelis–including Russians–have rejected Putin and moved to this country because of that. Besides escaping from his corrupt economic policies, Russian-Israelis have sought an escape from his far-right Russian nationalism and authoritarian leanings. Many are proud to be part of a democratic society like Israel, which–unlike left-wing American parties or European countries–is still hawkish and proudly nationalist while also embracing democratic and liberal values as a whole. Regarding my personal experience, I am happy to live in a liberal democratic country with many similar values to the USA, without the baggage. In other  words, the country my father, uncle, and grandparents immigrated to shares many similar values to my country. That being said, American society has become increasingly divided and undemocratic: whether far-right neo-Nazis or far-left Marxists (the very system my family fled from).

Israel has received a blessing from these Soviet immigrants–including very recent arrivals. As in the period from the late 1970s-1992, and even the years after, highly-skilled Soviet immigrants are coming in huge waves with money and technological skills. But we are also receiving something perhaps more important: a sense of national unity. At a time when Israeli society seemed to be tearing at the seams in the aftermath of the 4 elections cycles since 2019, there is a unique unity amongst Soviet-Israeli society. This goes to the personal level as I explained above. But it also extends to the fact that many of these news immigrants understand the value of liberal democratic values and society. We know what it means to be under the boot of corruption and tyranny–whether invaded or oppressed. And we value the freedom afforded to us by Israel–the original “City on the Hill” that inspired the United States. There are indeed challenges here–the bigotry that Soviet immigrants face from some elements of Israeli society is enormous. But there is no arguing the huge contributions we have made to the country. And as someone from three great civilizations–Slavic, Hebrew, and American–I feel immense pride in my origins and my future.

I hope that our unity within this country inspires a greater national, Israeli unity in these difficult times, and garners a sense of appreciation among many in our country. I hope that this new wave of aliyah will inspire a more religious or spiritual awakening among some of the more secular immigrants from the former USSR. And I hope that our society–sabras as well as Soviet-born immigrants–can help bring an end to the Putin-esque nightmare and division that Moscow is seeking to bring to the entire world, and usher in an example of what democratic peaceful, post-Soviet unity can look like.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He made aliyah to Kibbutz Erez through Garin Tzabar in 2019. Dmitri is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. He currently lives in Hadera, and is a veteran of the IDF.
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