Welcome to America: Russian Jews Continue to Thrive

By Yelena Gerovich, New American Acculturation Coordinator

The movement to free Soviet Jews was one of the most successful human rights campaigns of the 20th century. After World War II, Jews in the Soviet Union were denied the rights to live freely, to have proper job, to give proper higher education to their children, practice Judaism, or leave the country.

A worldwide human rights effort on their behalf brought together organizations, student activists, community leaders, and thousands of individuals – and reached the highest echelons of the American government. As part of this effort, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven resettled more than 2,000 Jews from the Former Soviet Union.

Over the past 40 years, not only did Russian Jews integrate well economically and socially into American life, they thrived and continue to do so. Almost all young Russian Jews who graduate from high school go to college. Indeed, Russian-speaking immigrants comprise the best-educated group in U.S. immigration history.

The model for the integration of Russian-speaking Jews is neither a melting pot nor multiculturalism. It is rather a relatively new combination of quick and full Americanization by younger people that at the same time maintains a cocktail of identities including Jewish pride and Jewish identification, plus Russian linguistic, cultural and behavioral patterns. It looks like the second and possibly the third generation of these Jews will choose to continue being American, Jewish, and Russian simultaneously and seek to enhance each of the components of this complex identity.

Most research finds that young immigrants flourish and contribute best if they hold on to aspects of their parents’ cultures. Being Jewish, for them, is about celebrating Jewish holidays with the family, and talking about God or about Israel’s flaws and successes. Russian Jews retain strong links with loved ones in Israel.

Despite the challenges facing many elderly Russian-speaking Jews, social service professionals in the community see little evidence of hunger or homelessness among them. Thanks to local organizations, including New American Acculturation Program, they have support and help.

Across the board, there is a high level of overall satisfaction: 84 percent of those who have lived in America for ten years or more say they are completely or mostly satisfied with life here. We have many bilingual high level professionals in our community now, including doctors, engineers and IT professionals. Good Year and thank you to all members of our caring community!

For more information about the New American Acculturation Program, contact Yelena Gerovich at (203) 387-2424, x321, or email ygerovich@jewishnewhaven.org. 


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