Twenty-five years after freedom, our local Russian-speaking Jewish community remains strikingly separate — culturally, educationally, religiously and geographically. It’s time for Philadelphians to take the next step in bringing brothers together.
“At Long Last: Jacob and Esau bury hatchet. Lifelong dispute over. The brothers: ‘Love triumphed.’ ”
“Brothers at Arms: Sell Joseph to Midianites. Fraternal discord casts long shadow over Jacobite clan.”
The ying and yang of Jewish fraternal harmony, and lack of it.
What will next week’s headlines be? The Jewish ideal is clear. Hineh ma tov oo-ma naim shevet achim gam yachad. How good it is to see brothers dwell together. Implicit, though, in this keynote statement of Jewish life is that such harmony is all too infrequent.
This week, we celebrate an incredible success of Jewish brotherhood — the 25th anniversary of Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry, the penultimate moment of the Soviet Jewry movement. Though energized by different constituent groups, American Jews united in common purpose to secure the free emigration of Soviet Jews.
Philadelphia was a beacon of Jewish cooperation in the movement. The Philadelphia Soviet Jewry Council brought together grass-roots activism and leadership advocacy to make an outsized contribution to the movement.
American Jews helped open the gates of freedom, and Philadelphia absorbed approximately 35,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the process. A community-wide resettlement coalition softened the New Americans’ landing in our region and facilitated their access to the social, economic and employment services so critical to the immigration process.
Substantive integration of these Jews into the broader Philadelphia Jewish community and its institutions never happened, however. Twenty-five years after freedom, the communities remain strikingly separate — culturally, educationally, religiously and geographically.
It’s time for Philadelphians to take the next step in bringing brothers together.
Russian-speaking Jews represent approximately 10 percent to 15 percent of our population. The Jewish community needs their passion for Israel as part of our public advocacy. We need the perspective they bring to the notion of Jewish peoplehood. We need their straight-talking, sensible skepticism of institutions, their evaluation of what our communal priorities are, and their realistic view of what the priorities ought to be.
Likewise, Russian-speaking Jews need the broader Jewish community in order to access Jewish religious and educational life in its many options. They need the pathways to advocacy, community organization and philanthropy provided by the organized Jewish community. They need the wisdom of the broader community as their second generation faces the same challenges of identity and assimilation faced by all American Jews.
Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, thank God, are not warring. No one is leaving the other for dead in a pit. Yet, neither are we talking about how to overcome differences and come closer together as family.
This is the challenge that still remains, and demands our united action, as we celebrate the anniversary of Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry.
Rabbi Mark Robbins serves as the director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey.