Russian immigrants to Israel / Courtesy of Alona Sibuk
Her story is well known. She came from a foreign land where she lived like a princess. Despite a very questionable connection to Judaism, she chose to follow her mother-in-law to Israel. There, she lived in abject poverty, getting by only by taking charity. Even when she found a kind stranger to help her, there were those who continued to doubt whether she belonged in Israel, and tried to prevent her from getting married.
Her name is Irina, Svetlana or Marissa, and you don’t have to read the Book of Ruth — as Jews around the world will do this week for Shavuot — to know her story and feel for her, her family, and the literally hundreds of thousands of other Russians of Jewish descent who are living in limbo in Israel.
A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.
The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.
“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”
The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.
Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.