The New Soviet Jews

There are people who were offered refugee status in the US because they were receiving the same treatment in their country as Asian Americans are receiving in the US. Late Soviet and early post-Soviet Jews had to demonstrate that there were quotas limiting how many Jews could be accepted into a prestigious college program (and there were), and that was it. Back then, preventing a minority from college admission because its members were “too smart” was considered beyond the pale in the US (pun intended).

Every totalitarian regime has an internal enemy that consists of people who are “too smart” and have to be taken down a notch.

13 thoughts on “The New Soviet Jews

  1. I think that’s obvious, but okay, what would you propose is the right thing for the smart people in emerging authoritarian states to do?

    Should they try to make themselves small the way many Europeans thought they could, should they leave as quickly as possible the way very many Venezuelans did a decade or so ago, or should they try something new?


    1. As with the COVID lockdowns, it ends when we decide it ends. The Soviet people enjoyed the persecution of the Jews whom they envied and disliked exactly in the way American today dislike the “uppity Asians.” This is happening because we consent to it and cheer it on.


      1. That isn’t really helpful to the average smart person, since everyone else will have to decide to end everything before the rising authoritarian regime eliminates the smart person.

        Also, judging by the lockdown situation, it really does seem like a large proportion of the population doesn’t want them to stop anytime soon, which begs the question – how do we get the large proportion of the population that doesn’t care about the bad things that smart people endure to start caring?


  2. After we’ve been discussing at length religion and the Israeli state, want to share some welcome news showing that Israeli High Court of Justice also shares my concerns:

    // High Court recognizes non-Orthodox converts as Jewish
    Ruling will allow those who have converted to Judaism through Conservative or Reform procedures in Israel to obtain citizenship and be considered as full Israeli citizens; chief rabbis slam verdict; Haredi minister says decision is ‘wrong’

    However, if one reads the article, one sees there is a good reason to worry the decision will stand:
    “Both of Israel’s chief rabbis criticized the decision, urging Knesset to advance legislation to cancel it.”


    1. I’m telling you, it’s either this or a complete erosion of “Jewish” in favor of “Israeli” of any ethnicity or religion. And soon enough, Jews will be a minority in a typical Middle Eastern country.


      1. // I’m telling you, it’s either this or a complete erosion of “Jewish” …

        I understand where you’re coming from. In fact, some Israeli commenters protested ‘now the whole third world / Africa will come here.’

        However, haven’t many unique peoples with their nation states flourished during the age of nationalism in Europe? The religion was either the same or very close forms of Christianity (compared to the distance between Islam and Judaism), yet secular nationalism was a strong force in creating boundaries, for better and often for worse.

        If those peoples flourished with secular nationalism, why cannot our Israeli-Jewish nationalism move further away from fundamentalist religious version?

        If you say that the age of nationalism has passed, so (more) secular Zionism won’t work, why would going into much more distant past of theocracy work long-term in 21st century?

        // Jews will be a minority in a typical Middle Eastern country

        ‘In a typical Middle Eastern country,’ Muslims are the majority.
        How will they arrive here? By pretending to convert to Reform Judaism? 🙂

        Were religious differences always central to dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and other former states with 2 or more large ethnic groups?

        The war between us and Palestinians and the desire to separate won’t cease no matter how many kinds of Judaism we recognize.


        1. An American is anybody who is a citizen of the US. A Ukrainian is anybody who is a citizen of Ukraine. If you want a state like any other it will mean an Israeli will be anybody with the Israeli citizenship. I personally don’t have any problem with this. But you’ve got to see that there is no overlap between Jewish and Israeli like there’s no overlap between Anglo-Saxon and American.


          1. // A Ukrainian is anybody who is a citizen of Ukraine.

            Yet the majority of population in Ukraine is ethnically Ukrainian, and I don’t think the Ukrainian people are in danger of ceasing to exist anytime soon as an ethnic group.


            1. It’s statements like these that created the blood libel of the “Nazi Ukraine.” There are no “ethnic Ukrainians” or “ethnic Russians” in Ukraine. This idea never had any validity, nobody speaks or thinks that way. It is absolutely not an ethno-state.


          2. ” there is no overlap between Jewish and Israeli like there’s no overlap between Anglo-Saxon and American”

            I wouldn’t say no overlap, but it’s far from complete (or even mostly in the later case).

            This where the idea of systemic metaphor can come in handy…. a successful country has a metaphor for itself (or a number of them).
            In the past American has been the Second Chance (for western civilization) or a Melting Pot (in which ethno-racial considerations are secondary to political and linguistic loyalty) or a Dream (of a Good or Better Life)… part of the current disintegration has been the systematic dismantling of positive metaphors in favor of a bunch of toxic ones.

            Poland is a family or a village (it would take a while to explain all the ins and outs of that one which is maybe better than the Christ of Nations of the 19th century).

            What are Israeli metaphors for Israel? Nb, “Jewish State” is not really a metaphor I think, the American metaphors used to be Exodus/Promised Land (mainstream and American Jewish) or more recently End Times Revelation (for Evangelical Christians).

            What are Ukrainian metaphors for Ukraine?

            Liked by 1 person

              1. “Ukraine is an anti-Russia”

                That’s a characteristic, not a metaphor. It might come from a metaphor which would be something like “Ukraine is the Black Sheep of the family” which depends on having a negative role model to rebel against… (and also raises the question of what ‘family’ it belongs to… the Eastern Slavic states? Former Soviet states? European states?

                Once I get into this I tend to not let up easily… so expect a bunch more from me on national metaphors….

                All I get for Spain off the top of my head is “Our common project” where the intensely local focus found throughout the country combines into something bigger than the sum o fits parts. But that’s weak and tentative…. it tends to predict that feelings for the country and the EU (another common project) will be correlated in some way… off the top of my head it seems to be positively correlated so that disillusion with the EU helps lead to disillusion with the Spanish common project.


  3. So I decided to learn more re my country and found this great report (2017)

    “Religion, state, and the Jewish identity crisis in Israel” by Yedidia Stern

    If one clicks on ‘Download full report’ (left part of the screen), on pages 13-15 Stern explains how demanding only ultra-Orthodox conversion endangers national Jewish solidarity and leads to calls for separation between religion & state … all this since (the entire report is fascinating by since this part is re FSU immigrants, with whom I served in IDF, whom I know and so on, it’s of special interest to me and probably to you):

    // Israeli citizens, many from the former Soviet Union, who are not themselves Jews and are not members of any other ethno-religious minority, who came to Israel because of a close family relationship to someone recognized as a Jew who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.

    group, which makes up almost 5 percent of all Israeli citizens today. This group will be the focus of our discussion.

    Israeli governments decided that converting people who are of Jewish descent (known as zera Yisrael
    or “the seed of Israel”) and converting non-Jewish family members of Jews are important national priorities.

    Despite the above efforts, the size of the non-Jewish population in Israel continues to grow. For many years now, more than half of the new immigrants arriving from the former Soviet Union have not been recognized by the state as Jews; thus, each year, approximately 6,000 non-Jews are added to the Israeli population under the Law of Return.
    This group also has a natural growth rate of some 4,000 children a year. Compared to this increase of 10,000 non-Jews every year, the number of conversions to Judaism of immigrants from the former Soviet Union performed by all of the state systems combined—both civilian and military—is only 1,800 immigrants per year. Over the years, only some 7 percent (24,000) of this group of approximately 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union have completed the full conversion process and been recognized as Jews in Israel. Given these figures, we can clearly say that the national conversion enterprise has been a dismal failure. It deals only with the margins of the growth of this group
    (less than 20 percent of the annual increase). At the current rate, within 20 years, this group of nonJewish Israeli citizens will number half a million.

    Why is the official state conversion effort failing? As a rule, the judges of Israel’s conversion courts demand that candidates pledge to adopt the religious lifestyle that the judges themselves—many of whom are ultra-Orthodox—follow. Most prospective converts, however, do not want to lead a religious lifestyle. They see themselves as joining
    a nation rather than a religion. They do not want to be different from Israel’s traditional and secular Jewish majority and do not understand why they are expected to observe practices that most Israeli Jews do not observe. This means that in order to convert they have to pretend. For them, the road to Judaism and to full inclusion in the Jewish nation
    passes through falsehood. Hence it is not surprising that the demand for conversion among immigrants from the former Soviet Union is on the wane, and that more than 90 percent of the non-Jews among them have not converted.

    This fact has far-reaching implications from a public perspective, both on the level of the nation and of Israeli society. If this population does not convert, Israeli Jewish society will find itself between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, if they become fully integrated into Jewish society, society will splinter into large subgroups that do not marry each other, as many Israeli Jews reject the possibility of intermarriage with non-Jews. The Jewish people will be split by a historic rift that cannot be repaired. On the other hand, if these immigrants are excluded from Jewish society and turn inward due to feelings of humiliation, a new Israeli “tribe” might emerge.

    One way or another, these processes will trigger centrifugal forces that will push Israelis further apart. Today, the three non-Arab tribes of Israel share a common denominator: their Jewishness. This is the secret behind the resilience of Israeli society and of the State of Israel, which can mobilize a majority to support national missions by virtue of Jewish solidarity, which is stronger than any disagreement. The existence in Israeli society of a large identity group that is neither Jewish nor Arab is liable to erode this inner strength and dilute the Jewish identity of the state.

    The rabbinic establishment in Israel, which has adopted the most stringent halakhic line on conversion, is, by its very own actions, propelling Israeli society toward a profound change in the rules governing the interactions between religion and the state. Ironically, those who are stringent about conversion are playing into the hands of those who
    do not want religion to be a decisive factor in the definition of Jewish identity and of those who wish to separate religion and state in Israel.


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