US Russian Jews don’t feel connected to community
Fifty Seven percent of Russian Jews living in the United States do not feel that they are part of the American Jewish community.
Russian-speaking Jew dances at Limmud confab Photo: Courtesy Limmud
Fifty-seven percent of Russian Jews living in the United States do not feel that
they are part of the American Jewish community, according to a poll released by
Limmud FSU on Tuesday, while 40% said they feel “very much” connected to the
Regarding the importance of feeling connected to the Jewish
community, 82% replied that it was “very important” to have such a connection
and 72% stated that “the most important thing” they looked for in a child’s
spouse was that he or she be Jewish.
Some 73% of respondents stated that
they consider their Jewishness the most important part of their identity, while
5% replied that their Russian identity was more important and 2% said that they
considered themselves American first. One-fifth of respondents said all
components of their self-identity were equally important.
shows very clearly the deep connection that the young Russian Jewish community
members have to the State of Israel and their Russian Jewish identity,” said
Limmud FSU co-founder Sandy Cahn. “However, the majority of them still don’t feel
integrated enough into the major American Jewish community.”
which was sent out to over 2,000 Limmud FSU members across the United States,
examined the views of Russian-speaking Jews on a variety of topics. However, due
to only 218 of those contacted responding to the survey, questions have been
raised regarding Limmud’s figures.
Natalie Shnaiderman, the director of
development and activities in North America and Australia for the Jewish
Agency’s unit for Russian-speaking Jewry, attended the Limmud FSU conference at
Princeton University this past weekend at which the results of the survey were
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Shnaiderman said
that while the survey reflects some significant general trends among
Russian-speaking Jews, its numbers are not an entirely accurate reflection of the
Because most of the participants in the poll are affiliated
with various communal organizations, she said, “They are much more proactive
than the rest. Most of the Russian-speaking Jews are not affiliated with any
agency or organization at all. They are not involved in
However, she continued, the poll’s results drawn by Limmud do
“reflect the general trend.”
Shnaiderman said that she believed that a
wider survey of Russian-speaking Jews would result in a lower percentage saying
that their primary identity is Jewish although, she said, most Jews from the
former Soviet Union “will never separate their Russian and Jewish
She noted that 73% of respondents said that their primary
identity was “high.”
Regarding the 40% of respondents who stated that
they felt “very much” a part of the American Jewish community, Shnaiderman said
that she found this number high as well, but specified that the population does
not connect through synagogue life.
“Most of the Russian Jews, young or
old it doesn’t matter, don’t feel they belong to the mainstream American Jewish
community,” she said.
“The American Jewish community is structured very
differently and alien to the Russian Jews. They don’t relate to their Jewish
identity and Jewish life through synagogue or through federation. It’s
more cultural, it’s more family heritage. The entering point is absolutely
different; it’s not through synagogue, it’s absolutely not
Russian Jews, she said, see how American Jews affiliate with
synagogues, federations and the JCC, but these types of organizations are not
part of their cultural life.
“This is not how they see Jewishness,” said
Asked if the survey could be considered truly
representative, due to its limited reach, Limmud FSU’s co-founder Sandy Cahn
told the Post that the poll represented a random sample of Russian American Jews
in that age group and “the number of those that the survey went out to is just
the amount of people we have in our database.
“We did not survey only
those who are members of Limmud FSU, we surveyed everyone in our database, which
is made up of people who either came to an event or expressed interest in our
Roman Shmulenson, the executive director of the Council of
Jewish Émigré Community Organizations, an umbrella group for Russian Jewry in
the US, called Russian-speaking Jews one of the most successful immigrant groups
in the US history.
But, he added, for “a whole range of reasons, the
majority of Russian-speaking Jews remain on the margins of the Jewish
However, he said thanks to a number of initiatives, both
within the Russian community and through local Jewish organizations, this has
begun to change.
According to Shmulenson, one in five Jews in New York
lives in a Russian speaking household, “70% of Russian-speaking Jews are saying
that most of their friends are Jewish, the intermarriage rate is low,
identification and support for Israel are high [and] many people report leading
meaningful Jewish lives while not necessarily affiliating with formal
However, he said, there is still a long way to go for them
to integrate successfully.
“There is a need for a comprehensive, well
thought out plan for a meaningful dialogue and programming,” he said. “Time is
crucial. Many Russian-speaking Jews are becoming successful Americans, but as
they leave behind their unique and distinct Russian Jewish heritage, they do not
automatically become members of the American Jewish community.”
American Jewish leaders agree, with David Mallach of the UJA Federation of New
York saying that his organization sees “the engagement of the younger
Russian-speaking community as a high priority.”