What the Bolshevik Revolution Meant for Russian Jews

When Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik followers seized energy in Russia 100 years in the past this week, they did greater than get rid of personal property, set up a brand new secret police, and execute the Tsar.

Indeed, their “Red October” revolution — which fell in November on the Gregorian calendar — set off a series of occasions that reverberates at present in former Soviet states, in our geopolitics, and extra personally, in my circle of relatives.

I’m named for a grandfather who was born in western Ukraine, the place the Revolution triggered a civil struggle between communists and monarchists. Although the opposite David Schizer was not political, he was almost executed as a result of he was a Jew. When monarchists got here to his village and couldn’t discover any “Reds” to shoot, they rounded up Jews as a substitute.

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My grandfather, an orphan and future Hebrew instructor, was lined up towards a wall to be shot. But earlier than they might pull the set off, a gaggle of communists appeared and a gun battle broke out. In that second, my grandfather slipped away, persuaded to flee to America.

Because he crossed the ocean, I stay a lifetime of freedom and alternative that may be inconceivable to Ukrainian Jews a century in the past.

But what occurred to those that stayed behind? The revolution left its mark on everybody within the Soviet Union, whereas creating explicit challenges for Jews. I’ve seen these results firsthand whereas visiting aged Jews within the area who obtain care from my group.

First, like all Soviet residents, they endured the horrors of World War II, together with the dying of 20 million Soviet troopers and civilians. Adolf Hitler seized energy by fomenting German fears of communism, which stemmed from the Bolshevik’s triumph.

Many Jews bear in mind the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Like their Christian neighbors, they starved in sieges, fled to keep away from tank columns, fought as partisans, and mourned the lack of fathers, brothers, and husbands who by no means returned.

GettyImages-163399503 Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov (1870-1924), often known as Lenin, addresses his supporters celebrating in October 1918 the the primary anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. Lenin led the communist revolution and have become head of the primary Soviet authorities. AFP/Getty

But in contrast to their neighbors, they had been particularly focused for Nazi extermination. In Odessa, Minsk, St. Petersburg, and different locations, I’ve met Holocaust survivors who nonetheless weep in recounting childhood recollections of indescribable brutality and loss.

Second, as adults, this technology’s training and profession had been dictated by the Soviet system. Like different Soviet residents, Jews couldn’t begin a enterprise, personal property, or accumulate property. But Jews additionally confronted the added hardship of relentless discrimination.

They confronted quotas, stalled skilled development, and state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaigns. If the political winds shifted, Jews as soon as valued for his or her scientific experience may all of a sudden be imprisoned (and even executed) for a trumped up “Zionist” conspiracy.

Third, the Soviet regime frowned on non secular observe, dismantled non secular establishments, and took a very exhausting line with Jews. They couldn’t have a good time holidays, examine non secular texts, or be taught Hebrew. Many stored their Jewish heritage secret, hiding it even from their youngsters.

In response to this injustice, the Soviet Jewry motion lobbied the Soviet Union to permit Jews to to migrate. Three a long time in the past, over one million Jews left for Israel, Europe, and the United States.

But this emigration had an unintended consequence. Those who stayed typically don’t have any household close by. Unlike Christian contemporaries, who depend on household for care and help, Jewish seniors typically are alone.

Many additionally stay in grinding poverty. Even retired professionals – engineers, medical doctors, librarians, and lecturers – subsist on pensions as little as two a day.  

That’s why my group is spending over $100 million to supply meals, drugs, and residential care to 110,000 aged Jews within the former Soviet Union, together with 45,000 Holocaust survivors.

Thousands would die with out badist we offer with a multi-faith coalition of companions, together with the Claims Conference, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Jewish federations, and hundreds of others.

Despite this stark actuality, the longer term for Jews within the former Soviet Union – who quantity about a million at present – might be a lot brighter than thepast. When the Soviet period ended almost three a long time in the past, residents all of a sudden had the liberty to attach with their non secular custom.

To badist them achieve this, organizations like mine – expelled by the Soviets within the 1930’s and later accused of plotting to badbadinate Stalin within the so-called “Doctor’s Plot”– returned to badist rebuild what was misplaced.

The outcomes are inspiring, and the Jewish expertise illustrates a broader phenomenon. Across the previous Soviet Union, in scores of latest Jewish neighborhood facilities, synagogues, avenue festivals, and summer season camps, a miraculous revival of Jewish identification and tradition is underway.

Young Jews, who don’t have any reminiscence of Soviet persecution, are educating their mother and father and grandparents about Jewish tradition and religion.  

They are additionally on the forefront of volunteer efforts to badist their neediest neighbors. For instance, on the top of the current battle in Ukraine, Jewish younger adults had been on the frontlines serving to homebound aged within the face of shelling, energy outages, and meals shortages.

As we recall the Red Revolution, whose results nonetheless ripple throughout time and house, we should always acknowledge that new currents are shaping life within the former Soviet Union as a brand new Jewish technology embraces their heritage and communal tasks.

My grandfather can be proud.

David Schizer is the CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

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