I am following this thread because it is interesting to me personally-not because I wish to be antagonistic in any way. Second Chance, I appreciated and agreed with your above post. I think it is very balanced.
What I would humbly like to know is why do Russians always have to bring up the fact of someone's Jewish background, even if that person has become a Christian? I hear it all the time at my church. People's voices drop to a conspiratorial level and mutter "He's Jewish" as if the person has rabies, or leprosy. In my mind, Russian Jews are just as Russian as Russian Orthodox people.
I really don't know. It has always been a convention in my home country to see Jewishness as an ethnicity and not as a religious faith. It's not always been the case; during the Khmelnyts'kyj uprising of 1648, for example, the Cossacks usually killed Jews, but only if the latter refused to be baptised; if the Jews said that they wanted to be baptised, they were spared, and from the moment of their baptism on were considered Christians. But in those times people generally did not know the concept of ethnicity or nationality; if some Ivan Sydorenko in a Ukrainian village stopped attending his Orthodox church and began to attent a Polish "Kostyol," his fellow villagers would not hesitate to say that this guy Sydorenko is now POLISH! In more modern times though, the Jewish ethnicity was recognized as something un-mutable.
Maybe a couple of things should be mentioned. First, in Ukraine, as well as in Russia, Jews themselves have always identified themselves as Jews, completely regardless of their religious faith. They did not quite mix with non-Jews. Mixed marriages were not common; usually Jewish youths married Jewish girls. Sometimes Jewish girls married non-Jewish boys, but that, according to Jewish customs, was not a big deal because children of these marriages were always considered by Jews to be Jewish. Jewishness came from the maternal, not from the paternal side. But if a Jewish boy married what Jews called a "shiksa," a Gentile girl, that was a terrible tragedy for this boy's parents, because that would mean the end of the Jewish line.
In the Jewish families I knew, it was not a custom to talk about anything particularly Jewish. But if I, growing up, would come to one of such families, close friends of my parents, and say - I am just fantasizing, - "Uncle Misha, you are not a Jew, you are a Ukrainian" - Uncle Misha would most definitely call my parents and say that something must be urgently done because their son has gone mad. I mean, we all knew who was Jewish, and it was immutable, and it was like that BECAUSE THE JEWS themselves wanted it to be like that. No Jewish family would give up their Jewishness, ever.
Secondly, we generally were all secular, no one was supposed to have any "religion" and no one really had it, at least in cities.
Another thought I've mulled over is the fact that many of the peasantry just did not have the opportunity to receive a good education under Tsarist rule. This severely handicapped the Orthodox peasantry, and kept them in a state of perpetual darkness and ignorance.The Jewish folks, who lived beyond the pale, or in their own settlements, seem to have had more freedom in that they could ensure that their children received a good education. I wonder if events wounldn't have turned out differently had the peasantry been allowed excellent educational opportunties.
Yes, there is something to it... Before 1917, Jews could not be landowners (although there were exceptions - Trotsky's father, for example, owned a lot of land). They were usually merchants or craftsmen. They were not as attached to their places of birth as the land-working Gentile peasants were. So, for very many Jewish children, especially boys (and to some extent girls as well), education was seen as a golden opportunity to break loose off their tiny, backward, somnolent "schtettel" and to move to a bigger city, where they would be owners of a pharmacy, or dentists, or librarians, etc. And after 1917, universities became wide open for the Jewish youth. In the 1920-s, perhaps more Jewish young men and women studied in Soviet universities than representatives of any other ethnicity. In those years, university admissions were based on the "class principle"; so, if an aspiring student's parents owned even a tiny piece of land, that young man or girl would likely not be admitted because he or she would be considered a representative of the "exploitators classes." The Jewish youth had huge advantages in this regard.
Please correct me if I am wrong. I am merely trying to understand! I do not want to offend anyone.
Oh no, of course not! Thank you for your questions!