On Politics and Religion
Without Being Political or Religious
By Alla Aronov
Having seen the meme floating around this year, the words really resonated, “Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.” The joke was that there was no sex in the Soviet Union, but really there was no religion and definitely no politics. Both were closeted and could leave you ostracized from society at best, so it wasn’t talked about. It was “as is.” If you were Jewish in a country with no religion, you were somehow still keenly aware of your Jewishness. Maybe it was because your father couldn’t leave the country on tour with the rest of his theater troupe or maybe it is because the principal didn’t want to accept you to school citing the silliest of reasons - “your child will never learn English.” Perhaps, it’s because you knew what matzah was but didn’t know where to get it or maybe because your great grandmother never mixed meat and dairy without ever passing down the reasons or maybe it’s because people from your inner circle were slowly leaving and it was never talked about.
Politics were slightly different - politics were an art form. Barter systems of favors were the only way to survive. You could get a cake in a vegetable market, an unavailable medication from your pharmacist friend and the illegal book from your favorite librarian. Vodka was the currency of choice. You paid with a bottle anytime you needed a favor as small as fixing a broken pipe or as large as fixing a broken bone.
Then, we immigrated. Vodka bottles couldn’t buy your way to the top and our parents worked - a LOT. They worked odd jobs and earned secondary degrees. They did all this to give us a better life and better life we got - we went to school and graduated, we went on to earn our Masters’ and Doctorates and many of us lacked one thing - direction. We had all the drive and energy of being “immigrant children”, but we didn’t know what to do with it. Many times, we chose “safe” careers because we didn’t know anything outside of being a Doctor, Lawyer or Accountant. Those of us whose career aspirations matched our dreams are the lucky ones. I dare say most of us closer to Gen X than Y chose something safe or maybe choosing wasn’t even an option.
Now, raising families of our own, like most Gen X/Gen Y cuspers we are experiencing an existential crisis. We are searching for something more. As our children start asking questions about their own identity and history, we begin to question ours. We start wondering how much do we actually know. We begin to ask questions. My personal quest is no different. When I first applied to JPA, it was on a whim, a few friends were applying and I didn’t think much of it,so it’s no surprise that I didn’t get accepted as I didn’t put too much thought into my application. A couple of years later, having received a new job offer and having gone through some life altering experiences, some of the same friends urged me to apply and how glad am I that I did. JPA gave me a much deeper understanding of Jewish history - my history, culture, heritage and so much more. My note to a friend, who joined JPA in the last cohort (along with my husband), “Two classes in, I can tell you that the lessons and the caliber of the speakers is phenomenal. I highly recommend you apply for next year. Would’ve been fun to do it together. Yesterday’s class was full of debate, so naturally I wish you were there.” I can go on about the merits of JPA, how I became a board member or why I truly believe in the cause, but that is not my purpose today. My purpose is to welcome all that are interested in learning a little bit more about their religion and what shapes their personal politics to the next cohort of Jewish Parent Academy.
The Jewish Parents Academy (JPA) is a non partisan and non religious organization that aims to inspire participants to deepen their understanding of Jewish history while strengthening their sense of belonging to the Jewish people with a special focus on the Russian Jewish Experience. By learning from leading Jewish academics and thinkers about Jewish history and tradition, one builds meaningful connections and therefore becomes empowered to play a more active role in shaping the American Jewish community, which like most others, is based on politics and religion.