Soviet Jews; American Orthodoxy
De-Stalinization or Re-Stalinization?
When Khrushchev expelled Stalin from his tomb, after the last congress of the Soviet Communist party, most of us were amused. I was too, until a friend suggested to me that Khrushchev was de-Stalinizing in a rather Stalinist way. The old joke was that Stalin once warned Krupskaya that she had better watch out or he would replace her as Lenin’s widow. It is no joke that normally Stalin would first destroy someone before adopting his line-for instance, Trotsky, before the industrialization a outrance of Stalin’s five-year plans. The attack on Stalin in 1961, therefore, could mean re-Stalinization rather than de-Stalinization. But probably my friend is wrong, and probably the Stalinist era, with its insane blood-thirst and terror, is over.
Still, the sentencing of members of synagogue boards for alleged espionage and the removal of others-not to mention the many synagogues closed in the past year or so- are uncomfortably reminiscent of Stalinism. In a country where legally the Jews are supposed to be first and foremost a secular nationality, the only place where they can meet together, take comfort from each other, and strengthen and encourage each other, is the synagogue. There is, of course, the new Yiddish bi-monthly journal, but it is primarily an article for export, designed to persuade Jews abroad that the Soviet government is not really anti-Jewish. In any case, a journal is read in privacy and cannot give the intimate, physical sense of community that coming together in one place gives. Though normally only the old and old-fashioned still go to the synagogues, on certain holidays large crowds of younger, obviously untraditional Jews gather in and around them, sometimes quietly and sometimes festively, each warming himself by the others’ presence and all tacitly demonstrating against their fate. And as if that were not odious enough, the synagogue is where foreign Jews go. Israelis, Americans, Frenchmen, who for years may not have seen the inside of a synagogue at home, find their way in Russia to the place where they can meet Jews and, if not talk freely with them, at least give them an implicit assurance that they are remembered.
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