Daily Jewish Web mag The Tablet ran a compelling feature story this week by Alexander Zaitchik on the ever-changing politics of America’s Russian-Jewish immigrants.
Zaitchik claims that, when Russian Jews arrived in the U.S. after the collapse of the Soviet Union, because of their eagerness to assimilate with indigenous Americans combined with the urgency to leave the hardships of Communism behind, they comprised “a reliably Republican voting bloc.” But, things change, Zaitchik explained, and as children of Russian immigrants are raised as first-generation Americans, their politics are a little “harder to pin down.”
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!”
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.
Only briefly mentioned in Zaitchik’s article is the political leanings of the children of the latest wave of Russian immigrants. And we can’t blame him; we find them to be entirely excluded from the almost monolithic predictability of their parents’ ideologies. Some swing right, others left. Most, like most Americans in general, are entirely apathetic.
So, what say you my Russian brothers and sisters?