CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Finlandrnby Jacob NeusnerrnPostcommunist JudaismrnAfter two days of intensive sight-seeing inrnSt. Petersburg, Russia, not so much arneity as a eemetery holding the remains ofrnwhat was once a citv, I returned to Finlandrnand turned on the St. PetersburgrnTV channel that we get here in Abo. St.rnPetersburg TV was broadcasting a showrnabout Russian Jews in Tel Aviv—a programrnof Russian Jewish humor made inrnIsrael. What a contrast! St. Petersburg isrngrim, dirty, decaying. The trams belongrnin museums, the buildings crumble, thernpeople scavenge for food, the parksrnabound in weeds, whoever does not begrnsteals if he can. Russian Jews in Israel—rnwith their fine Jewish faces and their vitalrnJewish humor—looked lively, witty,rnand joyful—everything St. Petersburg isrnnot.rnI asked myself: Why should any Jew inrnRussia, now free to emigrate to Israel,rnwant to stay there? I see no compellingrnanswer to that question. Russian Jewsrnhave been out of touch with Judaism forrnthree generations. Hitler wiped outrnmuch of the population possessed ofrnknowledge and memory; Stalin obliteratedrna thousand years of spirituality. TodayrnRussian Jews gain no native access tornthe resources of Judaism—either thernbooks that convey its wisdom andrnspirituality or the human beings whornembody its learning and sanctity. Thernheroic refuseniks underwent politicalrnmartyrdom; none left a legacy of religiousrnconsequence. In Russia, to be arnJew is an ethnic identity, stamped on arnpassport. But that identity carries with itrnonly confrontation with contempt, for, asrneveryone knows, the broad rivers of Russia’srnanti-Semitism run deep, swift, andrnvery cold.rnTrue, aliyah—migration to Israel—rncarries its costs. But the reward vastlyrnoutweighs them, for Russian Jews in Israelrnchoose from among a hundredrnchoices of what being a Jew may mean.rnThe identity carries with it sanctity forrnsome, a sense of fuifiilment for others.rnand the sheer joy of being ordinary forrnanother group—for all, it decries nothingrnbut pride and well-earned self-esteem.rnFor none is identification as a Jew definedrnby outsiders, who commence withrnhatred.rnBut Russia is miserable not only forrnthe Jews. Trving to find a visual representationrnof the human condition inrnRussia, I think of the palaces of the czarsrnand the churches of their day. Like therngreat stone heads on Easter Island inrnthe remote Pacific, they speak of an agernincomprehensible today, in a languagernno one speaks. And the same is so ofrnJudaism, the ancient faith.rnWhatever the future brings—andrnfor the so-long-abused, suffering Russianrnpeople, who can wish anythingrnbut good?—tomorrow brings no morernpalaces. As for the transcendentrnchurches of St. Petersburg, Russia willrndo well to retain what it has and is notrnlikely to compete with the achievementsrnof a glorious age of faith.rnSeventy years of de-Judaization alsornmark three generations of de-Christianization,rnand while both great faiths renewrnthemselves, neither draws on deeprnroots in a near-term past. But whilernChristians can look at surviving churchesrnand their martyrs to remember and tryrnto renew, where are Jews supposed tornfind their models? In neither nativernstone nor native-born models can theyrnfind definition for what they may become.rnAmerican Jews took three generationsrnto define for themselves a distinctivelyrnAmerican and enduring mode ofrnbeing Jewish, and they drew, and stillrndraw, on learning and living memory tornform the viable future we now have.rnRussian Jews have nothing but the brokenrnstones of an edifice none today canrnhope to reconstruct.rnIn that context, why should a Jew stayrnin Russia instead of emigrating to Israel?rnRussia holds no future for Judaism, so farrnas a future depends upon the native resourcesrnof a vital present. Russia neverrnvalued the Jews and does not value us today.rn”But if not there, then where?” is arnquestion easily answered. Israel wantsrnthe Russian Jews, needs them, valuesrnthem, has placed a lien on the wholernworid of Jewry to help them settle withinrnits borders. Israel offers them an entirernmenu of Judaisms for their taste. It canrntake Jews possessing nothing more thanrna vacant ethnic identification and turnrnthem into joyful partners in the ongoingrndebate that defines the state and dignifiesrnits people.rnThen what of the United States? Inrnthe bitter American Jewish debate of thern1970’s on whether the resources of thernJewish community worldwide should berndivided between emigrants to Israel andrnthose to the United States, I took thernview that, with scarce resources, we havernrationally to allocate what we have byrnappealing to the public interest and notrnonly to private preference. World Jewryrnhas taken as its first priority the buildingrnof the Jewish state. Whatever resourcesrnwe muster to help Jews find a better lifernshould then flow to the building of thernJewish state. We also called into questionrnthe capacity of American Jews tornexplain to newcomers the whereforesrnand hows of being Jewish according tornour model, which works in its contextrnbut in no other. Israel is the sole destinationrnfor those who turn to worldrnJewry for help, since only by devoting allrnscarce resources available for migrantsrnto Israel can we accomplish our primaryrngoal of building the Jewish state, our secondaryrngoal of helping Jews to be Jewish,rnand the subsidiary one of helping Jews tornimprove their private lives.rnToday the same is so. But times havernchanged, both for the better and for thernworse. Jews can legally leave Russia, andrnIsrael is ready to receive them. Whornwould have dreamed? But anti-Semitismrnrenews itself, and any explanation for therngreat hatred that appeals only to the economicrncrisis and ignores the deeplyrnrooted Russian contempt for Jews andrnthe Russian Orthodox Church’s deeprnloathing of Judaism is insufficient. RussianrnJews not only can leave; for the sakernof the future they should leave. Judaismrnhas no future in Russia. Money spent onrnbuilding Judaism there buys a dubiousrnpresent and extends false hope. The onlyrnfuture that Jews in the former communistrncountries can hope for if theyrnwish to live as Jews—and, I fear, if theyrnwish to live at all—will take place in thernstate of Israel.rn]acob Neusner was recentlyrnVisiting Research Professor atrnthe Research Institute of AbornAkademi, Finland’s Swedish-languagernuniversity.rnOCTOBER 1994/43rnrnrn