Bringing them back

The parents of US Jews from the FSU worked hard so their children could have every advantage. But the failure has been to transform them into Jewish community members.

May 26, 2010 23:34
2 minute read.
Bringing them back

Faina Kirschenbaum 248 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and I will soon be traveling to Brooklyn. Like all Israeli politicians, we have a responsibility to strengthen ties with the Diaspora. Israel Beiteinu, with its strong Russian-Israeli base, reaches out to Russian-speaking Jews around the world. So we’re off to Brighton Beach for the opening of the Ezra USA Dmitriy Salita Youth Center.

I made aliya from Ukraine at the age of 18. When I get together with young Russian-speaking Jews from around the world, I think about what my life might have been like had I emigrated to New York instead of this country. Well, I certainly would not be a member of Knesset , but the more sobering thought is that my children may not have grown up with any Jewish identity or love for Israel. That is why I see this trip as important as a high-level diplomatic mission.

The story of Jews from the former Soviet Union in America is one of personal success, of parents who sacrificed and worked hard so their children could have every advantage. However, the great missed opportunity has been the failure to transform these Jews, who had been denied access to their heritage, under the Soviets, into members of the larger Jewish community. Over the decades since Jews from the FSU have been immigrating to the US, they have not integrated into the America- Jewish landscape. They have not reconnected to their Jewishness. Today, we are at risk of losing to assimilation the 1.5 million-strong Russian-Jewish population in America.

ENTER EZRA – an international youth movement for Russian-speaking Jews that has had tremendous success in strengthening their Jewish identity and connection to Israel. Recognizing these young people need a custom-built approach – what works, say, for young American Jews won’t necessarily work for Jews from the FSU – Ezra has organized its own Birthright tours and other events.

In a few days, Ezra USA will be opening a youth center in Brighton Beach, thanks to the support of professional boxer Dmitriy Salita and Beiteinu Olami. For the people attending lectures, Shabbat meals, parties, sports events, and so on, this center symbolizes a sense of belonging to a nation that cares.

My role in the celebratory opening is to broaden the canvas beyond Jewish life in New York to Israel.

I, as a Jew from the FSU, will tell my young audience that Israel is the one Jewish state in the world, and that all Jews have a place and a role to play here. I hope they see me as an example of an immigrant from the FSU who succeeded. I hope they see in me a face of Israel that welcomes them and understands where they are coming from.

A few years ago, I took my three children on a heritage trip to my native town of Volvo, Ukraine. To my surprise, streets and buildings once familiar held little meaning for me. In a strange way, my upcoming trip to Brooklyn is a more significant heritage journey. I am going to talk with young Jews from the former Soviet Union, of whom I was once one. I hope that one day, I will see them all as active members of a vibrant Jewish community.

The writer is a member of Knesset and Director General of the Israel Beiteinu party. She is also a member of the Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs and the Knesset Finance Committee.

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