Are Israel's Russian Jews generally pro Russian

Influence of the ultra-orthodoxRussian-speaking immigrants fear for Israel's democracy

As enthusiastically as American tourists are welcomed here at Tel Aviv Airport, no one received immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Because suddenly there were 1,000 a day, which was completely overwhelming for Israel. The initial difficulties with the now one and a half million Russian-speaking immigrants subsided, but they are still met with great reservations, especially in religious institutions, says sociologist Larissa Remennick from the Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, who is herself an immigrant from Moscow.

"A very large number of Russian speakers are very skeptical and critical of the religious establishment and the rabbinate because they feel discriminated against by them. They are bogus Jews if their father was Jewish but their mother was not. Paradoxically, the Jews in the Soviet Union became Those who had a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother were persecuted more often. They were much more conspicuous because of their Jewish surname and patronymic. There they were considered Jews and here they were not. They find that humiliating, especially if suggested to them to convert to Judaism, because they already see themselves as Jews. "

The Israelis had expected that with the Russian speakers, first, there would come fellow believers and sisters and, second, that Israel would be the promised land for them. A fallacy. Most of them fled anti-Semitism in the ex-USSR, but above all the economic hardship. They would have just as readily emigrated to countries like Germany and the USA.

Sociologist Remennick: "Almost no coalition can come about without the ultra-orthodox"

Practicing Jews were in the absolute minority. Most former Soviet citizens grapple with the role of religion in Israel. They find that the ultra-Orthodox have too much power and that in a modern democracy state and religion should be separate. The sociologist Remennick, who researches the political attitudes and engagement of people of Russian descent, says that they even see the ultra-Orthodox as a threat to Israel's democracy. You yourself too.

"Of course. I consider them to be a very great danger, the majority of Russian speakers find their influence problematic. It is disproportionately large, in the Knesset or in the government. Almost no coalition can come about without the ultra-orthodox."

26 years after the great wave of immigration, Russian speakers are making their political voices heard. And they are working to reduce the influence of religion. Like Xenia Swetlowa, a Knesset member of the opposition center-left Zionist Union.

"The separation of church and state is closely linked to the struggle for a constitution, which Israel still does not have today. Religion should have its place, we are not against it, but it must not be in conflict with human rights or with opportunities Restrict the labor market or call mutual respect into question. So far, however, the constitution has only been talked about. I hope that it will actually come soon. "

An Israeli soldier in Jerusalem is insulted as a "Schickse", that is, an unclean gentile woman - by angry ultra-orthodox demonstrators who protest against the army service with their roadblocks. The men with the sidelocks in black coats and black hats refuse to do military service, which will soon also apply to them. They spit on the young soldier on behalf of the army. Violent clashes like this have recently taken place again. They are causing fierce criticism in Israel from various quarters, especially from the large Russian-speaking minority. 29-year-old Tanja from Ukraine is outraged:

"I think that they are not behaving properly, after all, I also served in the army. If Israel is to continue to exist, you have to do your military service. These ultra-Orthodox do not see themselves as part of society, but want benefits and assistance to take."

Nomi Gutenmacher (left) has seven children, they are between 21 and 33 years old, and they were all soldiers. (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

The American-born programmer Nomi Gutenmacher sees it similarly to Tanja, who completed her regular two years of military service. The 59-year-old has seven children, they are between 21 and 33 years old, all of them were soldiers. She disapproves of the behavior of the ultra-orthodox.

"They live a very simple life, okay. But someone finances them too, including me. But what I find worse about the army is that my children are in mortal danger, but not theirs."

"A religion that isolates itself from the world is not a religion"

Yael Bier also worries about her two sons who are currently serving. The 55-year-old translator sees herself as an Orthodox Jew, but clearly distinguishes herself from the ultra-Orthodox and is basically:

"My father always said to me: A religion that isolates itself from the world is not a religion."

The number of ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society has risen to 800,000. This means that there are more and more men who, despite the large number of children they have, do not work, but study the Torah almost exclusively and therefore see themselves as the real keepers of the Jewish faith.

In 1949, when Israel was barely a year old and Ben Gurion was Minister of Defense, he spared them the service of the weapon. But at that time there were only about 400 men. With the exception, it should end in a year, according to an order from the Supreme Court. This has already made a similar decision earlier, which makes it questionable whether compulsory military service for young ultra-Orthodox will actually be implemented. Or whether other ways can be found for Torah students. This 21-year-old soldier is pleading for a compromise.

"I understand their position, their life is really incompatible with life in the army. If you draft them, you would have to create separate units where there would be opportunities for them to serve. But that wish has to come from them. The government should they don't force them, they are too strong. Not everyone is a scholar, however, and some are not made for it at all. But with the really passionate Torah students you should deal with outstanding athletes, musicians or other special talents. "

They are often only accepted into the army pro forma. Zev Cychowicz describes himself as a Haredi, i.e. a devout Jew. You can recognize it by his wide-brimmed hat and long beard. As the father of ten children, he strictly rejects conscription, which is mainly due to the character of the Israeli army.

"The army is a melting pot. This is exactly why we ultra-Orthodox do not want to go there. Because soldiers from very different ethnic groups fight shoulder to shoulder, and a high percentage of our boys will return from the army without their kippah."

Zev Cychowicz is 52 years old and did not serve either, although he came to Israel from the United States at the age of 17. In his opinion, a volunteer army would be a way out. It would by no means have to be worse if you only took the best and it would cost less because the professional army would be smaller.

"That would solve the problem and it would be clear that the Haredi are not needed."

Ultra-Orthodox Jew Zev Cychowicz with his mother: "A high percentage of our boys will return from the army without their kippah." (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

The ultra-Orthodox Jews, largely isolated from worldly life, now make up around ten percent of the Israeli population. The Russian-speaking immigrants 17 percent. Most of them left the Soviet Union shortly before or immediately after its collapse and were allowed to bring close relatives with them. But who of them is recognized as a real Jew and is therefore allowed to marry and be buried in Israel is decided by the rabbinate, a religious court. Zev Cychowicz uses a case to explain how such an examination works.

A civil marriage has so far been impossible in Israel

"Someone from Russia wanted to marry a Jewish girl and had to produce documents proving that he was Jewish. The rabbinate has experts who were born in Russia speak Russian and can tell whether the documents are genuine. They ask for the maiden name the mother, her origin, what Jewish traditions the family followed and ask to bring the mother with you next time. The rabbi said: 'We are doing our job and have to be convinced that someone is really Jewish.' "

Those who fail the test have to marry outside of Israel; civil marriage has so far been impossible in the country, and a funeral is difficult for non-Jews. That's why many Russians feel like second-class citizens, says sociologist Remennick.

"For them we are not real Jews and they only see us as a threat and danger. Especially because converting to Judaism does not work, because you cannot force 300,000 Jews into this orthodox procedure. That is not a mere formality, it is with the observance of all religious rules, which is simply unacceptable for the Russian-speaking Jews. In the 26 years only five to six percent have converted. So you have to solve that differently, you have to open up, not close yourself. Instead, the influence of the religious grows, they are a big problem. "

Grave of a Russian-speaking Jew in Kfar Etzion (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

The fact that religious authorities play such a large role does not fit in with a modern democracy. The Knesset MP Xenia Swetlowa, blond, blue-eyed, has even had humiliating experiences.

"I came to Jerusalem with my mother and grandmother at the age of 14. I went to a religious school and that's why I can have my say. It happens to me again and again that someone looks down at me from above and says that I am Russian and not just one I answer that my grandmother's whole family was killed in Rostov and that she only survived because she was a military doctor. And when that happened, nobody asked whether we were genetically real Jews. "

Born in Leningrad, Alla Dvorkin would have preferred to emigrate to Germany in 1991 or to the USA, where she lives today. She worked for a long time at the Yad Vaschem Holocaust memorial and also experienced open rejection in everyday life.

"At first it was offensive to me. When you said, 'Ah, you're Russian.' Of course ... - these stereotypes about the Russians, they are all prostitutes, these blonde women. But it has changed over the years. You saw what the Russians brought. They are also very well integrated professionally. "

This is also confirmed by Nomi Gutenmacher, who works with many Russian-speaking colleagues in her computer company. But the devout Jew was also very annoyed with the new compatriots.

In the atheistic Soviet Union, first of all, nationality was Jewish

"A lot of Russians train in my fitness center and once I saw a young Russian woman who wore a cross on her neck. That bothered me extremely, because they were allowed to come to Israel as Jews. Why is someone like that wearing a cross? My friend looked similar. "

The devil is in the details, because in the atheistic Soviet Union people were Jewish by nationality, not religion. Nomi Gutenmacher is careful not to lump Russian speakers together. She even vouched for them at the rabbinate.

"My son had a Russian friend in the army. He and his girlfriend converted because they both have a Jewish father but no Jewish mother. And part of the process of celebrating Shabbat in a religious family is learning the customs. We helped them, because they are wonderful. And when the questioning in the Jewish court came up, I promoted them, because they are a real asset to the Jewish people. "

29-year-old Tanja, who came to Israel from Nikolajewa in Ukraine 20 years ago, also converted. She was non-denominational, her nationality: Ukrainian. While in the army, she became aware of a conversion course.

"I felt a close connection to the Israeli people. My grandfather is Jewish, so it was no accident. I see my future in Israel, with these people, this society that I want to be part of, no matter what. And that I wanted to announce officially. "

Converted to Judaism, ex-soldier Tanja with son: "I felt a close connection to the Israeli people." (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

However, the vast majority of Russian-speaking Israelis still see themselves as atheists. Hence the disappointment among the religious, explains Larissa Remennick, also an atheist sociologist in Tel Aviv:

"We are just not real Jews, at least not the ones they wanted. Very few became religious, at most 1.5 to 2 percent. They represent very right-wing and nationalist positions and some of them live in the settlements. Not always, however for religious reasons, but because they can more easily afford an apartment or a house there. "

Alla Dvorkin, the former librarian in Yad Vaschem, has a Jewish but non-religious mother and grandmother who belonged to the Soviet urban intelligentsia in what was then Leningrad. Alla Dvorkin first made the acquaintance of the devout Jews in Israel.

"How I got there with this zero knowledge and everything was new to me! And besides, we ended up in a very religious district. I saw a Jew in a black suit with these curls for the first time. That was for me a discovery, a new world. I thought what was all this supposed to mean? Am I in a fairy tale, in a movie? "

The librarian learned Hebrew, informed herself about the religion, the traditions, the culture. She did not become a believing Jew.

"I've become even more anti-religious. This hypocrisy! I understand that there are a lot of lies that have nothing to do with reality. So the famous saying: You have to treat your neighbor like yourself. This is in The reality is not so. Everything that the other is lower and of the second, third class. We saw that when the Ethiopian Jews were admitted. They were housed in barracks, outside the cities, because they were not white. "

"An Arab who is a citizen of the State of Israel is not allowed to buy land"

She perceives the relationship to the Palestinian minority as even more unjust and undemocratic than the treatment of the Ethiopian Jews or the exemption of the ultra-orthodox from conscription.

"So this relationship between Jews and Gentiles. These conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis. An Arab, Palestinian, who is a citizen of the State of Israel, is not allowed to buy land. 97 percent belong to the state and only 3 percent to the Palestinians. If any family buy land." she can't do that. It's a law. "

The Knesset member of the Zionist Union opposition alliance, Xenia Swetlowa (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler) As a member of parliament, Xenia Swetlowa is familiar with the various difficulties encountered by the individual population groups. But unlike Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the best-known politician who comes from the Soviet Union, Svetlova does not like to talk about a war against the Russians.

"20 percent of the population are Israeli Arabs who experience xenophobia and racism every day. That is why I am far from saying that war is being waged especially against the Russian-speaking people. This is widespread in society and must change with the help of education."

Alla Dvorkin also sees no reason for self-pity. Instead, she would like to call the fundamental flaw of Israeli democracy, where it is it, by name.

"This is a democracy for the Jews. How can you talk about democracy when it only affects a certain group. And not the other group, which makes up 20 percent of the population. Democracy is for everyone. That doesn't go together. Either democracy or Jewish state. Fortunately, this has become part of the discourse in society. I think that is a step forward. "

Critics blame the ultra-Orthodox for this unequal treatment of the other population groups. They are considered unforgiving. Yael Bier, an interpreter from the USA, does what very few can do: empathize with the devout, recognize their lack of freedom.

"Her life is not easy, she is under great pressure. Not everyone is qualified to study the Torah day in and day out, from morning to night for a lifetime. All you have to do is break out completely. It is not really one Choice, at least if you want to continue to be part of his society. That is a lot of stress for them. "

Secular Israelis in particular see a theocracy looming; the 40-year-old parliamentarian Xenia Swetlowa, who has converted the agreed conversation in the Knesset into a Skype interview, knows the horror scenario.

"We do not want our country to lose its democratic character. We are proud that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. I would think it would be good if there were more, but above all I do not want Israel to turn into a spiritual one State transformed. "

She doesn't want to paint a ghost on the wall, but fears are not alien to her.