Volume 17, 2012-2013 : Formal and Informal Jewish Education:
Lessons and Challenges in Israel and in the Diaspora

All is not in the Family: Thoughts on ‘Integration’ of Russian Jews and Other Jewish Ethnic Groups in the US
Boris Gorbis, Esq.
President, New Americans Foundation, Inc., USA


This article analyzes active sources of continuing misalignment between the Jewish mainstream and the Israeli, Iranian and Russian-speaking Jewish colonies in America. These demographics maintain and enlarge their linguistic, cultural, religious and social autonomy away from the organized Jewish life in North America. To overcome this gap of irrelevance, the Jewish mainstream promotes 'Jewish education' and 'leadership development' programs directed at the second and third generations of 'ethnic' Jews. Such pull efforts require significant resources but are not likely to overcome the push away forces. Focusing on Russian-speaking Jews (RSJs) in the US, the article identifies major stumbling blocks of engagement, such as incorrect assumptions about the content of RSJs 'Jewishness', the unaddressed negative stereotypes, the asymmetry of 'needs', and the terms of joining the mainstream, whose worldviews and policies are often not shared by the 1st and 2nd generations of RSJs. The main obstacle to engagement by leadership development lies in the absence within these communities of trusted organizational structures necessary to establish 'parity' with the mainstream. To address disparity between the mainstream and its target populations, the article sketches an 'enabling model' of mutual engagement. A consistent and minimally intrusive investment into grass-root organizations and institutions within the ethnic Jewish communities is needed to produce truly effective leadership responsible to its constituency, capable of shaping the mainstream agenda and thus building a sense of mutual ownership of Jewish future in the United States.

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