Will 'glasnost' reach the Jews?

Levin, Nora

WILL GLASNOS' nora levin REACH THE JEWS? GORBACHEV & SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM As Christian communities here and in the Soviet Union look forward to next year's ...

...Domestically, we needed to articulate Jewish issues and press the American government to concern itself with them...
...Pictorially, Zionists appear as poisonous mushrooms, serpents, and satanic figures images that are all too familiar in classical anti-Semitism...
...Numerically, Soviet Jews are a tiny segment of the Soviet population, under 3 million...
...In the past, Soviet Jews have been pushed onto the tilting chessboard of American-Soviet diplomacy...
...What of the others perhaps 2.5 million...
...These official descriptions fill the media and harm those Jews who feel that the Soviet Union is their home, who love the Russian language, and have made Russian culture their own, despite difficulties...
...The poet Andrei Voznesensky has been appointed to head a commission that would restore Boris Pasternak to his proper place in Russian poetry...
...Since 1967, Soviet Middle East policy has become more aggressively pro-Arab and anti-Israel, and Soviet propaganda has increasingly linked its crusade against Judaism and Jewish national identity with Zionism and Israel...
...In the case of the Jews, however, because of Soviet hostility to Israel which is considered an agent of American imperialism Soviet Jews have become hostages...
...Rabbi Arthur Schneier, director of the Foundation for Conscience, has received permission to send fivethousand Bibles and five-thousand prayer books to the Soviet 598 Union...
...We would have to go very far back in history, indeed to pre-Russian history, to find a congenial time for Jews on Russian soil...
...Two young Soviet Jews are said to have permission to attend the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest...
...Non-Jewish Soviet linguistic scholars, theologians, and diplomats even KGB agents study it, but Jews may not...
...It is estimated that up to four-hundred-thousand Jews have requested permission to leave...
...Critics claim that Pamiat uses anti-Semitism for internal political ends...
...Visitors have reported small groups struggling to observe Orthodox Judaism...
...During World War II, Stalin created an expedient called the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to rally Jews to the Soviet war effort and mobilize the financial and moral support of American Jews in behalf of the Soviet Union during the war against Nazi Germany...
...There also seems to be a fair possibility that the names of some of the early leaders of the Revolution, such as Bukharin, even Trotsky, may be "rehabilitated...
...When some prominent Russians converted to Judaism, the so-called "Judaizing heresy" intensified anti-Jewish feeling which has persisted throughout Russian history...
...But after Vladimir's conversion, conditions changed...
...We have witnessed too many deceptions and disappointments in Soviet history...
...Soviet officials argue that human rights issues are internal matters, yet there should be a way of discussing the issues of rights and peace together...
...This identification is noted in the Soviet internal passport, marked Evrei Jew...
...More than a half million of them live in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, and Leningrad...
...No Soviet ideologue has undertaken a review or elaboration of Lenin's condemnation of anti-Semitism, or of his ideas regarding minority cultural rights and his strong warnings against Great Russian chauvinism...
...Under Soviet communism, although there have been a few cycles of benign encouragement of Jewish culture in the Soviet mold, cumulative assaults on Jewish institutions, political and intellectual leaders, books and presses, and on Judaism have made the very survival of Soviet Jewry problematic...
...were abandoned to their tragic fate, that little was done to save European Jewry during World War II...
...The Torah is described as "an unsurpassed textbook of blood thirstiness, hypocrisy, treachery, perfidy, and moral degeneracy...
...Members have close ties to the Soviet army and the arms industries, and have support of scientific bodies and academic centers such as the Moscow Mathematical Institute...
...Jews have no central religious body or facilities for training rabbis...
...They have tried to cluster in professional or occupational groups...
...There has been a long-standing shortage of prayer books, Bibles, Jewish calendars and religious objects, and when they are brought in by Western visitors, they are often confiscated...
...Like the Nazis, members subscribe to the "conspiracy" theory of the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders ofZion, and blame Jews for everything, from destroying Russian culture to the Chernobyl disaster...
...There have already been debates on television, complaints of citizens in the press, conflicting approaches to current social and economic problems, and a new atmosphere away from homogeneity and uniformity...
...Perhaps...
...They are overwhelmingly urban, better educated than nonJews about them, and concentrated in technical-culturalscientific occupations, described as upper socio-economic levels in Soviet terms...
...Since the end of the war, they have been excluded from positions in defense, foreign policy, the courts, national security organs, party and government...
...It has featured some of the most vulgar and frightening anti-Semitic books of all time, books which have gone through many printings and have been awarded official prizes...
...The long-term strategy is aimed at complete assimilation into a Soviet proletarian culture, and, thus, the elimination of any Jewish or other identifiable culture...
...Of very deep and immediate concern is the anti-Semitic agenda of a nationalist group called Pamiat (Memory), organized in 1980 by officials of the Soviet Ministry of Civil Aviation...
...This development is in marked contrast with the Jewish experience in other Communist countries, such as Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Hungary...
...The predicament of Soviet Jews today involves the inheritance from czarist Russia of many centuries of anti-Semitism and residual nationality problems which the Soviet Union has not been able to resolve, specifically, in the case of Jews, inner contradictions and inconsistencies in Soviet ideology regarding the status of Jewish nationality and culture in a Marxist, secular society...
...The usual Soviet constraints on religious activity apply to Judaism, but because only Jews practice Judaism, the restrictions have been particularly heavy...
...The demographic profile is that of an aging population with a low birth rate and quite a high rate of intermarriage and cultural assimilation...
...Not all Soviet Jews want to leave or will be able to if they want to...
...A long-suppressed 1962 play called The Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which portrays Bukharin and Trotsky as devoted associates of Lenin, will open this fall, for the seventieth anniversary of the Revolution...
...It is estimated that there are only fifty-five synagogues actually, simple prayer meeting places, for the most part for 597 a population of almost 3 million...
...Western Jews who attend Soviet synagogues are carefully watched and often searched, and Soviet Jews who speak to them are at risk...
...who come in flocks to the Moscow Book Fairs to look at books of Jewish interest...
...Many of these have faced harsh repercussions for even beginning this process...
...It is difficult to gauge the extent of interest in Jewish culture among this so-called silent majority, but we know that among them are some who join other Jews at synagogues at Simchat Torah...
...In many cases, in fact, the parents of refuseniks are themselves members of the CP who refuse to give permission to their own children to leave...
...Records left by historians of Armenia and Georgia tell us that Jewish settlements appeared in the Caucasus and in Transcaucasia soon after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E., and that by the end of the fourth century B.C.E., cities of Armenia had large Jewish populations...
...More and more Jewish youngsters, facing a hostile environment and even abusive anti-Semitism, are applying to technical institutes and universities in Siberia and Asiatic Russia...
...Moreover, the sins of Zionists are supposed to derive from the teachings of Judaism, and Zionism now is equated with Nazism, fascism, moral degeneracy, racism, and the Jewish conspiracy to control the world...
...In the Soviet Union, Hebrew is an outlawed language...
...These materials have now also spread throughout the Eastern bloc, the Arab world, and third-world countries...
...We are all familiar with the struggle of some Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union, largely out of their frustration in their search to be Jews to learn about Jewish religious customs, Jewish history and literature, Jewish life abroad and because of anti-Jewish hostility...
...These ideas constitute a drumbeat in newspapers, periodicals, TV shows, radio broadcasts, and large printings of the works of anti-Jewish writers such as Yuri Ivanov, Lev Korneyev, Vladimir Begun, Trofim Kichko, and others...
...Yet, ironically, the legal category "Jewish nationality" has remained and finds expression in all official Soviet publications that deal with nationalities...
...Moreover, we must be aware that his interpretation of democracy is not ours...
...All are treated as social outcasts, isolated, often without work...
...From 1968 to 1980, about two-hundredsixty-thousand Jews have been allowed to leave, but despite the Helsinki guarantees regarding freedom to emigrate, emigration has virtually stopped until recently...
...It is of course possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, but Soviet propaganda has to a large extent blurred the distinction...
...Were this to happen, it is possible that conditions of life for Soviet Jews would improve...
...The Soviet literary establishment, for example, has permitted publication of Akhmatova's great poem "Requiem," which for years was the underground anthem of those who suffered under Stalin, and publication of Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago...
...Over the years, since the death of Stalin and increasingly in the past fifteen years, all manner of Western intercessions and pressures private and public have been tried, to have some vestiges of Jewish culture restored...
...These efforts have been largely futile...
...The group's stated aim is to protect old buildings, monuments, and other objects of Russia's cultural heritage, but it is considered to be a dangerously chauvinistic, anti-Semitic organization...
...GORBACHEV & SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM As Christian communities here and in the Soviet Union look forward to next year's millennial celebration of the Russian Orthodox church, the Jewish issue seems very marginal to those events...
...In approaching this problem, we must first note that Soviet authorities have been caught in a fundamental contradiction...
...As long as they remain compartmentalized, we remain skeptical of Gorbachev's "openness...
...Some movement along these lines is already taking place in Jewish organizations...
...We believed, naively, that with this new power, Jews would be secure everywhere...
...Some are in prison, camps, psychiatric hospitals...
...Gorbachev himself has asked that "forgotten names and blank spots" in Soviet history be filled in...
...The racist concept of Judaism served as a prototype of European racism...
...While we don't know all of the elements that contribute to Soviet anti-Semitism, it is possible that an easing of Jewish anti-Soviet approaches may ease the condition of Soviet Jews...
...Many despair of any change...
...Serious questions are now being raised about this past reliance on the American government and involvement in Soviet-American confrontational policy...
...who attend performances of the traveling Yiddish musical and dramatic troupes...
...Never again," we say...
...This determination was bound up with the creation of the State of Israel, and with a sense that centuries of Jewish powerlessness were finally over...
...He has called for greater participation at the grass-roots level and more local initiatives...
...At the 1987 Central Committee Plenum, Gorbachev criticized what he called a "schematic and dogmatic approach" to party ideology...
...Jews are often perceived and described as disloyal, unreliable, even traitorous...
...Since the 1950s, the period of the Cold Wai, as the Soviet Union took a more aggressive pro-Arab position and the United States a more pro-Israeli position (and as we learned more and more of Soviet oppression of Jews), the Jewish reliance on the American government to defend Soviet Jewish rights has become stronger...
...Massive deportations of all Soviet Jews to Siberia were about to start when Stalin died in March 1953...
...However, there have been many tactical shifts in Soviet policy involving the promotion of Jewish non-religious cultural and organizational projects, including Yiddish schools, theaters, publications, and Yiddishspeaking Soviets all in the Soviet mold, all receiving official support, and indicating continuity of Jewish culture...
...They have been used as counters in American-Soviet negotiations, and their fate has been subject to the whims and interests of the two superpowers...
...The legal criterion is the simple biological fact of having been born of Jewish parents, i.e., of parents who consider themselves Jews...
...Since the early 1950s, a vehement Soviet anti-Israel and anti-Zionist drive has paralleled a harsh propaganda drive against Judaism...
...An individual born of Jewish parents has been formally considered a Jewish national since 1932 when a new internal passport system was adopted...
...The great American Jewish anxiety about Soviet Jewry has been conditioned by the Holocaust: the evidence that Jews NORA LEVIN is a professor of Jewish history and director of the Holocaust Archive at Gratz College, Philadelphia, and the author of The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1933-45...
...Some young parents have tried to set up classes for children, but the persecution of these Jews has been very severe...
...Some of us feel heartened by the evidence of greater cultural and economic loosening in the Soviet Union as a result of Gorbachev's policy of "openness...
...As for the Jewish population as a whole, it is legally a distinct nationality in the USSR, and thus theoretically entitled to enjoy a complex of national rights and equality of rights inscribed in Soviet laws, the federal constitution, the constitutions of the individual republics, and international conventions, including guarantees of the Helsinki accords...
...Jews are now determined to do everything possible to prevent the destruction of Jewish life elsewhere...
...About two hundred thousand are members of the Communist party...
...Some Jewish leaders are now calling for Soviet participation in Middle East peace talks, and Israeli Foreign Minister Peres has had significant talks with Soviet officials about the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have been broken since 1967...
...But these hopes, too, were shattered during the so-called "Black Years" from 1948 to 1953, when hundreds of intellectual leaders were executed, many thousands sent to the Gulag, and all cultural forms of expression destroyed...
...For many Jews, this identification has led to discrimination in the allocation of apartments, jobs, promotions, and in admission to universities...
...In the Crimea, more than two thousand years ago, there were also well-organized Jewish communities...
...Conceivably, some of these spots would include early Jewish Bolshevik leaders who contributed much to the consolidation of the regime...
...This committee also served as an important organizational and cultural center for Soviet Jews and aroused new hopes that there would be a future for Jewish culture in the Soviet Union...
...They have permitted many Germans, Poles, Armenians, and Greeks to leave on the basis of repatriation or reunification of families without undermining the status of those who remain...
...To date, there has been some conflict between those who advocate the airing of human rights abuses and those on missions of peace and reconciliation...
...Jews are presented in cartoons and caricatures with racial features reminiscent of Nazi propaganda...
...Since 1917, the issue of Jewish nationality has been entangled in shifting Soviet formulations of domestic and foreign policy needs, or, as some scholars have viewed it, strategic as against tactical considerations...
...Another twelve to fifteen thousand are so-called refuseniks those who have been denied permission to leave many times...
...Gorbachev himself has not reacted to Pamiat's threats...
...Some Jews have had their Jewish-sounding names changed on their passports...
...Although some Soviet journalists have criticized Pamiat, the lax official attitude toward it so far has caused some Jews to fear a pogrom atmosphere...
...A powerful kingdom of the Khazars flourished between the seventh and tenth centuries, and sometime around 750 C.E., the king and many of the inhabitants embraced Judaism...
...Virtually all meaningful Jewish cultural and religious life has been forced underground...
...In the 1920s, for example, there were highly successful Jewish farm 596 settlements in the Ukraine, White Russia, and the Crimea...
...Later there was a highly publicized, officially endorsed autonomous Jewish region called Birobidzhan, but it, too, was swept away by the murderous purges and trials of 1936-38...
...However, under Gorbachev, Jewish emigration figures have increased, all of the Jewish prisoners of conscience, except Alexei Magarik, have been released, and six young Soviet Jews will be allowed to study for ordination at rabbinical seminaries in the United States...
...The American Jewish deference to Israel also grew out of fears for Israel's security and survival...
...If they come to regular services, they are stigmatized and often punished...
...A Jew in the Soviet Union is in fact a juridically defined person who is part of the Jewish nationality...
...But not necessarily...
...And in recent years, there has been a sharp drop in the number of Jewish university students and graduate students, and declining opportunities in high level scientific and cultural fields...
...It seems to me that the time has come when American Jewry must fully join the struggle to foster detente and reconciliation, to encourage religious, cultural, and educational exchanges, to strive for nuclear disarmament...
...The passport is a document every citizen must carry...
...The literary journal Znamya has published previously censored verses by Yevtushenko...
...The emigration movement itself seems to have injured the condition of those left behind in ways that were not anticipated...
...Judaism is compared to "the fundamentals of jungle law...
...This article is adapted from a presentation given this summer at St...
...Some may also be learning Yiddish or Hebrew...
...Jews were looked upon as a competing, rival faith community, both hated and feared...
...The 1970 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia reduced centuries of Jewish history and culture to two columns of print...
...There are a number of encouraging signs...
...The Soviet attack on the Hebrew language since the early 1920s is perhaps the most incomprehensible of all anti-Jewish measures...
...Gorbachev seems to recognize the need for the expression of a diversity of groups and interests...
...Vladimir Seminary, Crestwood, New York...
...With a few exceptions, the mainline Soviet Jewry advocacy organizations in the United States have viewed Gorbachev's "reform" program skeptically, or cynically...
...There have been no new registered Jewish religious communities in twenty-five years...
...Thus the future of Judaism in the Soviet Union is very bleak...
...Can one hope for changes improving the Jewish condition under Gorbachev...
...Moreover, the intensified anti-Semitism in Soviet society in recent years has persuaded many Jews to intermarry so that their children may possibly escape the stigma and often physical abuse of being a Jew...
...And their religious association is not to the old respected tradition of Russian Orthodoxy, but to a reviled and persecuted Judaism...
...Yet there has been a religious reawakening among some young Soviet Jewish students who pray and study in small groups in private apartments...
...Very few young Jews attend synagogue except during the high holy days...
...But so far he has not addressed any of the issues so important to Soviet Jews, especially the reality of anti-Semitism, and cultural, religious, and emigration rights...
...About 75 percent of them live in the heartland of Russia in those areas which have been under Soviet rule for more than two generations...
...For a brief time, Jews were held in high esteem by nearby peoples and Jewish life prospered even as far as Kiev...
...As a result of this bleak outlook, most Western Jews have seen emigration as the only solution to the problem of Soviet Jewish survival...
...However, after almost seventy years of Soviet transformations, although the Jew has become more and more negatively visible, Jewish culture has been virtually obliterated and the Jewish past erased...
...In this regrettable process, Soviet and Western Jews have depended upon the American government for leverage in gaining Soviet concessions for Jewish emigration, while little has been achieved in reducing internal anti-Semitism, or gaining larger cultural, and religious opportunities for Soviet Jews who do not emigrate...
...Just before his death, Stalin concocted the notorious "Doctors' Plot," in which Jewish physicians were accused of having murdered Soviet leaders and of planning to murder Stalin himself...
...An important Russian-Yiddish dictionary that was to have been published thirty-five years ago has recently been issued...
...The Jewish religion remains the only registered denomination which is not permitted to maintain regular links with co-religionists outside of the USSR...
...The Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah is intended to "establish Jewish hegemony over the people of the entire world...
...Today, all channels of Jewish expression have been officially closed down, with the exception of some synagogues, which are used mainly by old Jews, one Yiddish journal, and a few musical and dramatic touring groups mostly amateur...
...These Jews are sometimes spoken of as a silent majority...
...At the same time, we may hope that his call for a "multiplicity of voices" may bring relief and reassurance to the many millions in the Soviet Union Jews as well as non-Jews who have suffered intellectual, political, and religious persecution...
...Facing obvious and growing discriminatory competition for advancement, some Soviet Jews must lower their own aspirations, or, they can seek a place in new development projects and scientific institutions in the cities of Siberia, such as Yakutsk...
...Films that were formerly banned have now been released, including Aleksander Askoldov's Commissar, a film which gives a sympathetic portrayal of a Jewish family and indicts anti-Semitism...
...A major show of Marc Chagall's works has opened in Moscow, and his home in Vitebsk is to be restored as a museum...
...Almost three hundred thousand Jews worked on the land in Jewish colonies until the brutal collectivization drive destroyed them...

Vol. 114 • October 1987 • No. 18


 
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