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What a Country

Twenty years after the fall of the USSR, the 1990s wave of Russian-Jewish immigrants is a reliably Republican voting bloc. But as their children assimilate, Russian Jews’ politics get harder to pin down.

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On the boardwalk of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York, January, 1994 (Stephen Ferry/Liaison/Getty Images)
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In 1991, as thousands of Jewish families made arrangements to leave a part of the world newly known as the Former Soviet Union, three generations of Shayeviches arrived in Chicago from Baku, Azerbaijan. The most obvious thing to do was to settle in Devon Street in Rogers Park, thick with fresh-off-the-tarmac Jews from around the former USSR. Another option was the suburb Skokie, where new arrivals, assisted by the Jewish United Fund and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, were joining a more established refugee community. But Vadim and Anya Shayevich were young, spoke English, and decided to raise their daughter away from the Brighton Beaches of the Midwest. “My parents wanted to become assimilated,” says their daughter, Bela, now a translator in Brooklyn. “So we moved out as soon as we could.”

Since then, as members of the Shayevich family have settled in different cities, they have also settled across the political spectrum. Bela’s grandparents, who spoke little English and remained dependent on Russian-language media, became Republicans. “They went the way that Russian radio wanted them to go, to the right, citing Israel,” says Bela. After Sept. 11, her father, Vadim, veered left, to the point of criticizing houseguests for wearing flag pins. “‘You used to hang a picture of Lenin there, why are you bringing your patriotic propaganda into my house?’” he asked one Polish immigrant. “The jingoism was for him too reminiscent of totalitarianism,” Bela says.

In becoming a liberal Democrat, Vadim Shayevich is in the minority of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Two waves of Russian-Jewish immigration have arrived in the United States fleeing totalitarianisms of sorts—one czarist, one communist. The first learned on the Lower East Side to mix its American patriotism with different flavors of liberalism and internationalism. The 1990s, Brighton Beach generation, not so much. Soviet Jews have generally embraced right-wing American and Israeli identities that would have left early 20th-century Lower East Siders cold. Phrased in the “Russian reversal” humor made famous by Odessa Jew Yakov Smirnoff, “In Russia, Jews loved the right-wing Republicans; in America, right-wing Republicans love Russian Jews!”

***

In July 1898, in the midst of America’s brief war with Spain, the Lithuanian-born Lower East Side writer and editor Abraham Cahan published his famous Atlantic Monthly essay “The Russian Jew in America,” which argued that Russian Jews were becoming patriotic Americans and deserved the trust and acceptance of their fellow citizens. For the first time in its history, the United States that summer was gripped by a modern, militaristic chauvinism. So strong was the red, white, and blue fervor for the crusade against Spain that it briefly occluded the nativist backlash that had been building against heavy immigration from southern and eastern Europe. The fever of ’98, fueled by the yellow press and marauding Patriotic societies, focused the national mind on “dastardly Dagoes,” as Spaniards were referred to, with a vengeance. Everyone else was, for the moment, off the hook.

Cahan, a refugee from the pogroms that followed the assassination of Alexander II, knew an opportunity when he saw one. He seized upon the war hysteria to advance the cause of his fellow Jews newly arrived from the Russian Empire—an emigration of 2 million destined to displace the Irish famine exodus as the largest in history. In 1898, Russian Jews needed all the help they could get. Gentiles and Americanized Jews alike had become increasingly vocal in decrying the Ostjuden as a threat to social cohesion (not to mention the social acceptance attained by earlier waves of Jews). The Yiddish-speaking refugees were, in the representative judgment of one Midwestern Jewish publication, “superstitious and uncouth Asiatics.” And so Cahan did what any smart ethnic advocate would do in wartime: He waved the flag ’til it hurt.

“The Jewish immigrants look upon the United States as their country, and now that it is engaged in war they do not shirk their duty,” wrote Cahan, who the previous year had founded the Jewish Daily Forward. “They have contributed three times their quota of volunteers to the army, and they had their representatives among the first martyrs of the campaign.”

To bolster his case for Russian Jews, Cahan pointed to voting patterns that showed the Lower East Side to be among the least corrupt ethnic wards in New York. This was true; it was also beside the point. By the late 1890s, socialism had replaced Tammany as the bogeyman haunting nativist dreams. Twenty years before the Bolshevik Revolution, Jews were closely associated in the American mind with radicalism and subversion—a race of Emma Goldmans. This fear would contribute to the U.S. government’s decision to tighten the immigration spigot during the 1920s.

Looking back, fears over Jewish radicalism were overblown. The “red Jews” of the Lower East Side never came close to fomenting revolution in America. Instead, they published some radical newspapers and elected a handful of socialist state assemblymen, plus a judge or two. Cahan’s plea for their patriotism today reads like the journalistic equivalent of a tenement museum, with many of the people he described learning a trade and becoming successful capitalists. Some of his grandchildren would even go on to lead a conservative counterrevolution against the legacy of the immigrant-hero FDR. Indeed, right-wing descendants of the first wave of Russian Jews are now scattered wide enough to supply Adam Sandler with an album’s worth of material without even mentioning Norman Podhoretz: Lillie Friedman raised Geraldo Rivera on her favorite Slavic dish/and don’t forget Sly Stallone’s mama, born Jacqueline Labofish.

But overall the legacy of the first wave of Russian Jewry tilts left. Most of their offspring became committed Democrats, with a dwindling overlap of gestural socialists. It would take a second wave of Russian Jews, arriving decades later and from the other side of the Russian Revolution, to bring a significant number of right-wing Jews to America.

The symbol of this second exodus is, of course, Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn neighborhood whose revival during the 1980s is credited to the tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian Jews who settled there and recreated Odessa on the Atlantic. Not that they were the first Jews to settle the neighborhoods. At the turn of the last century, as popular entertainments like Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East Show featured costumed Cossacks, Russian-speaking Jews from Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Brownsville area of Brooklyn began settling along the newly developed Atlantic waterfront of Brooklyn, setting up left-leaning political groups and establishing a Yiddish theater in the old Brighton Beach Music Hall.

For reasons that may seem self-evident, the Jews who resettled Brighton Beach during the 1980s and ’90s viewed the world differently than their pinko predecessors from the Lower East Side. Unlike their forebears who fled the czarist barefoot brigades in the Pale of Settlement, that vast and vaguely boot-shaped swath of buffer ghetto that once separated Russia from Europe and ran from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, Soviet Jews did not see socialism in any of its variants as a liberation theology. The Moses of this second wave of Russian Jews was not Karl Marx but Ronald Reagan.

“Many Russian Jews came around the time of the Reagan Administration and compare his stand favorably to the pandering and weakness of the Carter Administration,” says Igor Branovan, president of the American Forum of Russian Jewry. “This created the stamp in the mind of the Russian immigrant that Republicans are stronger and more likely to stand up to tyranny than the Democrats.”

This gratitude for Reagan’s aggressive foreign policy tends to come with a domestic policy-preference flipside, in the form of revulsion at the perceived statism of the Democrats. “Because of the Soviet experience, Russian Jews are by nature skeptical of activist government,” says Branovan, who emigrated from Kaliningrad, Russia, in 1980. “We are drawn to the philosophy of rugged individualism espoused by the GOP.”

“When I was a kid coming up on Kings Highway”—the artery that slices through the heart of southern Brooklyn—“everybody was looking for opportunities,” says Dmitriy Salita, a professional boxer whose family moved from Odessa to Brooklyn in 1991. “Russian Jews are smart and hardworking and came here hungry to make something of themselves. I’d say less than 1 percent of Russian Jews think of themselves as liberals in terms of expecting [help from] the government.”

One percent is likely low, but Russian Jews vote Republican at the national level much more than other Jews. The most recent data, from the 2004 election, show that Russian Jews preferred Bush to Kerry by a margin of 3 to 1. Israel, national security, and the economy topped the list of concerns among Russian Jews, but there was also a cultural component to their preference; they were among the so-called Values Voters who voted Republican based on cultural wedge issues. A month before the election, 81 percent of Russian Jews supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages—nearly the inverse number of Jews nationally. They also expressed heavy opposition to affirmative action and showed less support for on-demand abortion, according to numbers compiled by the Research Institute for New Americans, which tracks the Russian-speaking community.

At the local level, it’s a more mixed picture, but even in municipal elections, Russian Jews will vote against the grain. “In New York, Russian Jews have consistently supported candidates known to be tough on crime and conservative on moral issues, notably New York’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,” says Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis. “Whether their children will vote the same way remains to be seen.”

***

Theirs is no country-club Republicanism. Russian Jews in New York, the nation’s largest Russian-Jewish community, numbering 350,000, are largely under-employed; a majority earns less than $30,000. (These numbers do not reflect under-education. The average Russian Jewish immigrant has more higher education that his average American Jewish counterpart.)

Together with nostalgic Reaganism, Israel is a major factor cited in the development of Russian Jewish politics. The most recent study on the subject found that 89 percent of Russian Jews have close relatives or friends in Israel, more than twice the proportion of American-born Jews. “Within the Russian Jewish community, Israel is not an idea, it’s a reality,” says Branovan, of the American Forum of Russian Jewry. “When things occur in Israel, it impacts the Russian population in an immediate way. There’s a stronger connection.”

“Russians really have no sense of Jewish identity that can be built around anything besides the state of Israel,” says activist Rabbi Moish Soloway, of Brighton Beach. “A lot of the younger Russian folks especially are very hawkish, similar to the new generation of Israelis.”

“We could not be Jews in USSR, and so Russian Jews learned to express their love of Judaism through their relationship to Israel,” notes Salita, the boxer, an observant Jew active in a Lubavitcher youth program. “In Odessa, we’d listen to American radio just to get news about Israel. Whatever good happened in Israel, we rejoiced together. We all shared the dream of freedom but didn’t have it. We have an understanding of how important it is. To have a place on earth for the Jews is still something incredible to them.”

There is also the related issue of the profound cynicism and tough-mindedness born of living under a totalitarian regime. “Russian Jews understand that the dovish position on Israel is naïve, so they won’t support liberal candidates on this issue,” says Gennady Katsov, a journalist with Russian cable news channel RTN. “The Soviet experience teaches that you have to stay strong, choose non-conformism, and fight your enemies. It is more Malcolm X, less Martin Luther King.” Salita says Russian Jews “have been whipped on their backs and have a tougher mentality born from experience. They are tired of being bullied, being told what to do.”

Lurking behind these much-discussed reasons for Russian Jewish conservatism is the fact of deeply ingrained Russian xenophobia, which some say the nation’s Jews have internalized despite being an oppressed group themselves. This, say some, makes them more susceptible to the racial dog whistles employed by conservative politicians. Weeks before the 2008 election, Walter Ruby reported for the Jewish Week that he did not have to search Brighton Beach very hard before finding Russian-speaking Jews who subscribed to a Sarah Palin’s view of the United States; one real, one fake; one implicitly white, one not. “The president of such a great country ought to be a real American, by which I mean a white person,” one respondent told Ruby. Others expressed the fear that a Barack Obama victory would lead to “black triumphalism” and increased crime. When Rabbi Soloway appeared on local Russian-language Radio Davidzon to advocate for Obama, callers attacked him viciously.

“It’s gotten worse since the election,” says Soloway, a Democrat who emigrated from Leningrad in 1989 and today writes a column for the right-wing Russian-language paper Evreiskii Mir (Jewish World). “I am routinely called everything from ‘liberal scumbag’ to ‘fag lover.’ The style of many Russian Jews is old-school communist—my way or the highway. It’s like, ‘Why did you bother moving to the United States? You should have stayed in Russia.’ ”

Some say this is less true among the young. “Cities in the former USSR are not like NYC,” says Salita. “You don’t grow up around different kinds of people on the train and the bus, walking down the street. But the second generation of Russian Jews is like all American kids, absorbed into American society.”

Then there is the Russian respect for strongmen and the tough-guy image cultivated by the Republican Party. Russian Jews may unanimously loathe the Christian militarist Vladimir Putin, but they fell in love with his American analog, George W. Bush.

“Russians respect power,” says Gary Shteyngart, a novelist who emigrated to New York from Leningrad at age 7. “Many immigrants give lip service to democracy but in the end they want some patriarchal white guy to run things with a strong hand. Feelings of oppression that began within the anti-Semitic confines of the Soviet Union are turned from a defensive to an offensive stance under the false perception that the Democratic Party is indistinguishable from the Communist Party of the USSR.”

“There’s something in a lot of Russian-Jewish immigrant men that is opposed to the ideas of improvement and progress,” says Mark Krotov, a book editor whose family emigrated from Moscow to Atlanta in 1991. “The idea that it’s worth fighting for things—they think it’s feminine. They detest the Putin regime but bristle at the notion of opposition. It sometimes runs in tandem with an anti-intellectual streak, which is ironic when it’s found among intellectuals. There is this general disgust for weakness.”

This disgust took a noxious form during the controversy over a lower Manhattan Islamic center and mosque last summer, when young Russian Jewish immigrants made common cause with the quasi-fascist English Defence League in opposing the center, now called Park51. But do they really represent the future of Russian Jews in America? While there exists no hard data on the subject, it’s possible the future looks like 20-something Bela Shayevich, who started her assimilation in Chicago 20 years ago and now finds herself somewhere between nominally liberal and completely nonpolitical, just like most Americans her age. She does not consider her apathy a dereliction of civic duty but a psychological American luxury.

“The degree and the nature of my father’s and my grandparents’ convictions come out of trauma,” she says. “It makes me very sad to see how they compensate for having spent the majority of their lives in a terrible place.”

Alexander Zaitchik, a writer living in Brooklyn, is the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.

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The assumption that Jews should be liberals and anything else is “wrong” underlies this article. Are fictions assumed as truths and anything else considered problematic and to be denigrated?

A large segment of Orthodox Jews are conservative and willingly oppose liberal politics and politicians unless it is in their narrow self-interest. And of course in Hasidic communities, with their large numbers, growing population and bloc voting, this portends badly for liberal politics.

It appears that Russian Jews also question the liberal biases and assumptions, especially when they see the consequences of the increased anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the left and even in parts of the Democratic Party.

The author implies that people who are against Obama are racists; people who are not democrats or liberals are anti-intellectuals or have some other personal problems. Simply put, for him “liberal” means good, “Republican” means bad. So, here he tried to explain us why we, Russians in the USA, are so bad.
But, perhaps, he is wrong. Being intellectual, as he claims to be, implies some degree of reflection and self doubt, which is absolutely absent in this article.

A quick investigation suggests that Russian Jews were not the largest immigration wave in US history: there were more Italians and Germans.
http://www.history.com/topics/united-states-immigration-to-1965

Shmuel says:

I was born in the US. Raised as a Dem and I have gone over to be a Republican. Don’t imply I am a racist or making choices out of “trauma”. Neither is true.

Leens says:

As a child of the exact population that the author is referring to (we came in 1988, I was 6), I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with most of what he is claiming. I don’t think “republican” = “bad” or “stupid” or that not voting for Obama makes you a racist. However, my extremely Republican parents are “Republican” almost exclusively due to the propaganda on the Russian radio programs (more than half of which is false, anyone else remember the Soviet radio programs?), as well as their fear of returning in any way to a government that focuses on social welfare (“leads to socialism and any socialism is evil!”), and for all of the reasons enumerated above. Oh and they also would never vote for a black man …

I don’t think the implication here is that all Republicans feel this way or are memebers of that political party just because of fear or trauma. I know plenty of conservatives and Republicans who hold rational political beliefs and base these opinions on policy and legislation. But, that is just not true for a vast majority of the older generations of Russians in the US.

Dani says:

I would agree with some parts of this article and I am being conservative, born in Russia, myself.

I think that the author accurately describes sentiments of second wave of emigration. It is unfortunate but true that the left of political center is associated with Soviet Union. I find it ironic that the immigrants that were aided in their immigration and resettlement, for the most part successfully, with government funds are so voiceforous in their anti-government stance.

chicagotist says:

Did anyone actually read the article before rushing to say “don’t call me a racist?” The author just pointed out that a certain percent of Russian Jews voted against Obama out of racist beliefs. That doesn’t mean everyone. That means some. At the time I lived in Brooklyn, and in the Russian community, and I can attest to that. Not only the Russian immigrants as a group more racist, but also racist feelings influencing some – I’d say disproportionately – in their choice for President.

Gene says:

No wonder. At the beginning of the 20 century Jews came from the country which was at the forefront of oppressing leftist values. Russian government promoted economical disparity, social inequality, religious and ethnical discrimination, etc. Since these policies affected Jews more than any other ethnical or religious group in Russia they became the most devoted supporters of the leftist ideas.
In recent years, however, Jews came from the country which was oppressing “rightist” values: individualism, nationalism (including Zionism), personal initiative, religion, etc and therefore “new” Russian Jews developed strong conservative values. Finding many similarities between what they saw in the Soviet Union and democrats (promotion of political correctness and social parasitism, devaluation of the individual freedom, etc) they obviously started to take Republican side.

FreeMind says:

Russian Jews = Ashkenazi Jews with respect, who don’t fear others and won’t be stepped on. American Jews could learn few things from them…

It’s like the author was just at my family’s dinner table this past weekend. Or *eyes narrow* he was infiltrating with a bipartisan listening device. Although I would have liked to see more interviews from the common folk as opposed to Gary, Dmitry Salita, etc.

As a Russian immigrant in Australia, I can attest that many Russians and Russian Jews are racists, including those living overseas, which is very sad. I can judge the Russian speaking community in the US by what they say in chats and articles coming from there. Xenophobia in Russia is commonplace. It’s not overwhelming but quite common. I would be very glad if I were proved wrong. The Western society is more advanced in this respect. I don’t mean anything bad, perhaps admitting some flaws could improve the situation.

Hey, there’s hope. I liked the article. i always thought that most Russian Jews were to the right of Attila the Hun; but it looks like their grandchildren and children will be more sane, more pragmatic, hey, maybe even more liberal, dare I say the “L” word, in short like my own American Jewish kids–confused but hungry for a new world, and rejecting their crazy parents. BTW, I was born in Russia.

benj says:

The real question is not why are Russian Jews conservatives but why are US Jews so overwhelmingly liberals – while the other Jews are not.

Gene says:

I found it interesting that children of Russian immigrants, who did not live under dictatorship (or don’t remember that part of their lives), who never experienced racial or religious discrimination, never been exposed to the Soviet propaganda machine, did not go through the hardship of immigration, never had to make such fatalistic decisions as their parents did, when they decided to become refugees – why these children think that their parents became “Republicans” because of the “propaganda” on the “Russian Radio”? Their parents for the most part are more educated, know more than one language, can read (or listen) opinions from many different sources, can compare their experience under two different government systems (from economical, cultural and propaganda levels) – so why these children think that their parents and not they themselves were brainwashed, and that is why they became “democrats”? Western liberal (for the most part) education and western socialist (for the most part) media are not smaller propaganda tools than the “Russian radio”, I believe. Don’t you agree with me? So where then their arrogance come from? Isn’t it a consequence of the decadent western education by itself?

Gene says:

Just curious. If you look objectively. Two persons – first one lived under two,completely different, politico/economical systems and second one – under one only and has no idea how these two systems are related and what makes the difference, first one experienced racial and religious discrimination and the second one did not, first has been living in two different cultural environments and the second – only in one, first one can read opinions from two different sources of information (Russian and English) and the second one – only from one (English), first one made his way from the poverty to the middle class by a hard work and deprivations and the second one received everything from the first one, without putting any effort to achieve it – which one of these two is more likely to be influenced by the news radio? Just objectively. So, between two: Russian parents and their children – who is more likely to be brainwashed?

ilana says:

sad to hear about racism in the russian community my grandparents came over after one family member was shot by the bolsheviks before the holocaust love of all people was passed down to us. and i never can fiqure out why anybody but rich greedy people who don’t care about others would vote republican. my denocratic parents were strongly supportive of israel were members of macal volunteers from overseas in 1948

женя says:

интересно

Ilya says:

While I believe the statistics referenced here and can certainly corroborate its observations anecdotally, I do suspect that a slight bias in this article by a young Russian-Jewish journalist stems from filial embarrassment – we are all prone to overstatement when expounding on the subject of “what’s wrong with my parents.”

Actually, the view that Russian Jews in America are either hard-right, or slightly liberal fails to note the nuances. Instead of quoting the usual boldface names like Branovan, Salita, Shteyngart, how about interviewing my non-famous grandparents, who live in Queens? Their political views show that Russian Jews cannot be pigeonholed into one category.

My grandparents admire the Republicans for their hawkish support of Israel and opposition to affirmative action. But don’t expect them to support the Tea Party, because under the Tea Party’s philosophy, government funding would be cut off for their senior centers, ambulettes, meals-on-wheels, home attendants, Medicaid, and social security.

In other words, they’re Republicans on foreign and national issues, but Democrats on local bread-and-butter issues. Like my grandparents, I am also Republican on some issues and Democratic on others.

Considering the proportion of Russian Jews that hold advanced degrees from universities back home and universities on these shores, we are a sophisticated community of voters, and we do not deserve the scorn that Boris Fishman, Alexander Zaitchik, Gary Shteyngart, and other literary know-it-alls.

Wow, I’m so confused. I was born in the USSR and support Israel, yet I am married to an African-American man and have African-American children – none of us voted for Obama. It must have been that evil Russian Radio. Which I’ve never heard (and my husband couldn’t understand). It couldn’t possibly be that we think for ourselves… Nah, that couldn’t have been it.

As someone who immigrated here as a little child and is close to the political view of Bela Shayevich (liberal leaning but more apathetic and somewhat cynical) I have been very saddened to see my otherwise highly educated and intellectual parents become total devotees of Fox News and its propaganda. The shift is especially puzzling because they were always devoted fans of Clinton and while they did not despise Bush, they did not have strong positive feelings for him either. They always expressed nuanced views on both of those administrations but when it comes to Obama they have absorbed the “he is a socialist” mentality as soon as he started campaigning. They are definitely not racists, so I wander what exactly in Obama do they see that leads to comparison of true socialists. Yes, he sees a larger role for the state than most Republicans, but that discussion has been on going in America since its founding.

Whenever I talk to my friends of Russian decent but who are thoroughly assimilated, they find the same things happening in their families. It simply makes no sense.

danizak0815 says:

My sister in law, very liberal, was asked a very simple question “Why would you vote for Obama?” and her answer was very interesting to me “Because it’s time for a change…” we all remember this, right? When I asked her what change she was looking for she told me ” First of all we need a Black President, second we need a free medical care and third of all we need to feed the hungry now”. Yes, she came here when she was 6 and now she is 25.

Yet my PhD and MA nephews that came her when they were 8 and 12 are both Conservatives. One is 30 and another 34…they are not from Brighton, very educated, capable of making up their own minds and are not spoiled by Russian radio and TV. You can hardly call them racists (unless picking a white wife is considered to be one). I know their friends and all shapes and colors. And so is my 21 year old son who came here when he was 4 months old and going to a University. How do you explain that????? This article is twisted to show Russian Jews as a bunch of ignorant idiots who love totalitarian regime and looking for “Stalin like strong arm”. How about assuming for a second ( o my) that the majority of Russian Jews vote Republican because it was the right thing to do for the future of their children, their future and the future of this country. May be…just may be those votes were given to Republicans after careful consideration and a thinking process that is not familiar to you and your liberal friends Mr.Zaichik.

It is unthinkable to the author that voting Republican may be the right thing to do! Well Sir, I am not telling you that your are wrong and we are right, I am just saying to look into it and see a real story, not what your trying to convince us in.

I totally agree with main points of this article. The author took investigative approach and simply let ex-Russian Jews state their views. Only by taking this unbiased view one can see the whole picture, which is painted by the immigrants themselves. It is very true that Russian immigrants came out of oppressed society, and in their mind created their own twisted vision of the world. They have superiority complex, inbred xenophobia which translates into racism and inverted aggression. They hate any authority and equate it to everything Soviet. I have many Russian speaking friends and colegues who subscribe to these very views. After they assimilate a little and experience true freedom, their views become a lot less extreme and more balanced. They simply learn first lessons of democracy and liberalism which are: tolerance, equality and freedom for all.

alex says:

I am a russian jew and I can tell you that most of my friends supported
Obama. I do not see him as black or white, just a “half ass”, weak and not focused enough to get what he wants.
World has changed since we came here over thirty years ago, and so has
America,Russia and Israel. Those who do not change with time become
absolete.

I am 30 year old Russian-Jew who grew up in NYC but I am a ba’al tshuva and have recently made aliyah to Israel. We came to the US from Lvov, Ukraine in 1987. My parents applied to leave the former USSR in 1977 and were thus refusniks for 10 years, because my grandfather (mother’s father) had military clearance. (He designed missile silos).

When I was 2 years old (1983), my father was given an option by the KGB officer handling their case. He can leave by himself and then my mother and I would join him a a couple of years. He declined. The agent was completely bald and my father had what amounted to an emo-beatles-esque mop top. The response of the agent was thus: “Lifshits, you know when you will leave this place? when you have the same amount of hair on your head as I do.”

These are the kind of people my parents dealt with for the first 33 years of their lives, IN EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF SOCIETY.
From the education system, with anti-semitic as well as nationalist Ukrainian teachers and professors, to their employers, colleagues, fellow students. It was institutional AND societal.

And then there was my father almost being taken to jail for “speculation” aka capitalist activities, for when he and a friend transported ONE BOX of Yugoslavian toothpaste (which was obviously higher in quality to Soviet toothpaste) from a black market bazaar in Moscow to Lvov.

And yes, we have an affinity for Israel… my father is a spiritual person. my mother as well. we have deep connections here. I live here now.and from what we’ve seen with Obama, he is the most antagonistic US president that Israel has ever been in contact with. it will come to a point where we will only rely on ourselves.

moreover, the guy foments class warfare domestically. he is one of the most divisive presidents we’ve seen in a long time. he picked a target in the Tea Party and has now siced his Union attack dogs on them, by way of Jim Hoffa. his plays are straight out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.

So to sum up, my parents went through that hell on many levels and do not wish to relive it.

I was 6 when we left so luckily i didn’t experience the brunt of it, but I remember one moment that summed it up for me.

One night, we had a bunch of relatives and friends over for dinner. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was our going away dinner. I heard talk of Italy. I asked my parents if we’re going to Italy. they didn’t want me blabbing anything to anyone at school so they told me that we’re moving to Moscow by way of Italy…will the full knowledge that my grasp of geography at that point was very weak.

I came to school the next day and told the kids there. they all laughed at me. i came home crying. my mom finally told me that were going to America by way of Austria and Italy. I came back to school the next day and with a renewed vigor made my revised proclamation. I was not laughed at but was met with fear, derision and propaganda by my classmates.

“America???!!! How can you go there!!! Reagan is there!!! He has rockets pointed at us!!!”

I came home, once again, in tears. These were not tears of embarrassment but of mortal fear. I pleaded with my parents for 2 hours to not go. Then a deal was stuck. We would be able to go on one condition. That we would take one Soviet soldier with us (because my favorite show at the time was a kids military program called Sluzhi Sovestkomu Soyuzu…Serve the Soviet Union), so that soldier would be someone akin to Dolph Lundgren’s one man killing machine character from Red Scorpion.

So despite this “cute” story, you can see that even as a child, I got a glimpse of the brainwashing that was going on at the time on a national scale in the Soviet Union.

I would just like to tell you how much I learn from reading wisdom Bookmarked you.Hope 2 be back fast for some more good stuff

An excellent article, spoiled only by the implications that ALL Russian Jews are racist only because SOME voted against Obama due to skin color – most would have voted against him due to POLITICAL reasons… and the slanderous labeling of the English Defense League as “quasi-fascist”.

You know, 20 years ago it was OK for people to hold differing political views without being labeled so harshly. How did we arrive at this point?

neewdride says:

russian immegrants lake vladimir Sadomskiy Bronya Sadomskaya and Evgeniy they ware tretened by some black gays from the hood they living in they broke also to Krypnik’s famely they wona robe you Sadomskiy’s in meny problems

2000

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What a Country

Twenty years after the fall of the USSR, the 1990s wave of Russian-Jewish immigrants is a reliably Republican voting bloc. But as their children assimilate, Russian Jews’ politics get harder to pin down.

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By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose