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Jewish Journal

A Soviet Passover…

by Julia Bendis

April 18, 2011 | 3:07 pm

How do you prepare for Passover when the rest of the world doesn’t stop to observe it?  When the rest of the world takes a break for Christian holidays, and people have time to cook and prepare for a religious celebration, do they realize how much it sucks to be a Jew, a Muslim or anything other than a Christian?  We don’t get a day off for Passover or any other religious holiday for that matter!  Today is just like any other Monday to the rest of the world, and it doesn’t pause just for the Jews to celebrate Pesach.  We don’t get the luxury of having the day off school or work to enjoy the day preparing for out sacred event.  Instead, the Jews have to run around like chickens with their heads cut off for weeks prior to our holidays, making meals days in advance just so we can sit down for a couple hours after work, and squeeze in some Judaism into our children’s lives!

How is that fair?  Unless you are an Atheist or are of Christian faith, you pray that each year your religious holiday happens to fall on the same day as the Christian one, just so you don’t have to take the kids out of school and miss work.

For those of us that happen to be former Soviet Jews, this whole religious observance is even harder.  Not only do I not know what to do for Jewish holidays, but when I try to educate my children I am usually faced with questions that I have no answers to.  My husband doesn’t help either, since he slept through most of Hebrew school only to shrug his shoulders when I ask what in the world is a ‘Charoset’ and what I am supposed to do with it…  When you are raised in an environment like the former U.S.S.R., you don’t have many choices as a Jew.  You don’t tell anyone you are a Jew, you don’t go to the Synagogue, you have no Jewish education at all.  I remember wearing a tiny star of David pendant to school one day, under my uniform.  It must have come out of my shirt, because one of the kids noticed it and ran to tell the teacher.  Next thing I know, my Mother is called to come to the school, and given a long lecture on how “pendants like those” are not allowed on school grounds.  Later she told me that I was very lucky they didn’t take it away, and contact the Police.

The only thing I remember from those days is my Father carrying home a huge box of Matzah wrapped in newspaper, which he got from the only Synagogue in Riga.  You couldn’t even call it a Synagogue, it was a tiny hut hidden behind the old buildings.  Now that I think about it, hiding Matzah in newspaper wasn’t the smartest way to transport it since all the other Jews were doing the same, exact thing…

I don’t know a single Russian Jew that knows everything about the observance of religious holidays.  Sure we know some things, but they are bits and pieces here and there.  American Jews don’t know how lucky they are to be able to pray freely, and observe holidays without the Police following them home after the service.  But yet they still complain about everything.  No wonder that the Israelis don’t find Russian Jews to be so-called ‘real’ Jews.  They have such animosity towards the Russians, whether its here in the U.S. or in Israel. 

Does lack of knowledge about your religion and customs make you less of a Jew?  That’s a question that has been asked for generations!  In my opinion, just because I don’t know the proper way of celebrating Pesach or other religious holidays does not mean I am not Jewish.  I am still a good person, who insists on teaching my kids the values of being Jewish, the right way to behave, and right from wrong.  I keep wanting to join a religious congregation, but we don’t fit in with any of them.  We don’t belong with the Conservatives, definitely out of our league, not to mention I would never be able to get my husband in there.  We don’t quite fit in with the Reformed ones either.  To quote my son during one of our visits to the Temple, “Mom, why aren’t there any kids like me in here?”  I tried asking him what he meant by that, but he couldn’t seem to explain.  Only that he felt out of place…

Its true that Soviet Jewry are very different from all the others, and there is nothing we can do about it, but to give our kids a better opportunity to learn about their culture than the one we had.  However, our lack of knowledge doesn’t make us any different from the Israeli Jews or any less Jewish.  Maybe my Passover won’t have all the ingredients, I’m sure we will leave something out, and it will have more Vodka than Manischewitz, but it will still be an experience my kids won’t forget.  In the end that’s all that really matters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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I was born in Ukraine, in the former USSR, and grew up in Riga, Latvia which is on the Baltic Sea.  My family and I immigrated to the United States in 1989, right before the...

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