Before the USSR collapsed, ethnic identities were imposed by the state. This book analyzes how and why Jews decided what being Jewish meant to them after the state dissolved and describes the historical evolution of Jewish identities. Surveys of more than 6,000 Jews in the early and late 1990s reveal that Russian and Ukrainian Jews have a deep sense of their Jewishness but are uncertain what it means. They see little connection between Judaism and being Jewish. Their attitudes toward Judaism, intermarriage and Jewish nationhood differ dramatically from those of Jews elsewhere. Many think Jews can believe in Christianity and do not condemn marrying non-Jews. This complicates their connections with other Jews, resettlement in Israel, the United States and Germany, and the rebuilding of public Jewish life in Russia and Ukraine. Post-Communist Jews, especially the young, are transforming religious-based practices into ethnic traditions and increasingly manifesting their Jewishness in public.
In 1900 over five million Jews lived in the Russian empire; today, there are four times as many Russian-speaking Jews residing outside the former Soviet Union than there are in that region. The New Jewish Diaspora is the first English-language study of the Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora. This migration has made deep marks on the social, cultural, and political terrain of many countries, in particular the United States, Israel, and Germany. The contributors examine the varied ways these immigrants have adapted to new environments, while identifying the common cultural bonds that continue to unite them. Assembling an international array of experts on the Soviet and post-Soviet Jewish diaspora, the book makes room for a wide range of scholarly approaches, allowing readers to appreciate the significance of this migration from many different angles. Some chapters offer data-driven analyses that seek to quantify the impact Russian-speaking Jewish populations are making in their adoptive countries and their adaptations there. Others take a more ethnographic approach, using interviews and observations to determine how these immigrants integrate their old traditions and affiliations into their new identities. Further chapters examine how, despite the oceans separating them, members of this diaspora form imagined communities within cyberspace and through literature, enabling them to keep their shared culture alive. Above all, the scholars in The New Jewish Diaspora place the migration of Russian-speaking Jews in its historical and social contexts, showing where it fits within the larger historic saga of the Jewish diaspora, exploring its dynamic engagement with the contemporary world, and pointing to future paths these immigrants and their descendants might follow.