Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

I’m Jewish; don’t you dare call me Russian!

Posted by Oyster on November 14, 2007

Inna, Oy Bay’s favorite bloggy Jewish grad student, penned this a few months back. But I loved it, so here you go. It clearly expresses something I learned over time from my Russian Jewish friends that I grew up with, and that I personally believe about myself. Don’t you dare call me ‘white’! I don’t know what that ethnic identity means. I am a Jew, and all of my ancestors were Jews, and were unwelcome guests in foreign lands for about 2,000 years. I want no part of your assimilated majority. Anyways, enjoy (I certainly did).

The opinions expressed in this note will probably make no sense to most of you. If you are a soy latte sipping ultra liberal idiot douchebag, you will probably be downright offended. Please get your tampon ready before you read this.

People always ask me the origin of my name. It is russian. My name is. I am most definitely not.

When people find out that I was born in Russia, they invariably become giddy. For some reason, it is really cool to come from a shithole backwards country. They tell me about the exchange student they had a few years back, and they wax rhapsodic about their uncle’s recent trip to the red country. If the person in question is a hot guy, I usually bear this small talk, because there are rumors out there that russian women are highly attractive.

Most of the time, however, I inform them that I am Jewish, not Russian.

And they get disappointed. Defiant, even. Every. Fucking. Time.

“But you look Russian!”

No…actually, at least 90% of the Russians in this country are jewish, so I look like an Ashkenazi jew. Perhaps you are unoblivious enough to know why they all got the fuck out…

“But you were *born* in Russia!”

Like many other jews, my family wasn’t in one country for more than a few generations.

“A religion is not the same as a nationality!”

Yeah, try telling that to someone in Russia. They can see right away that even someone as lilly white as myself is too brown and too ethnic to be Russian. And they let it be known with ample harassment, a few death threats, and even some occupational restrictions*. Better yet, the state IDs say “Jew” on them (I am not certain if this is true now, but it was true historically). This makes a lot of sense, since religion was outlawed under communism.

[* this would also apply if you were actually brown; like I said, it’s a backwards shithole country. An example of these ‘occupation restrictions’ is physics. I am not making this up. Jews can’t do physics professionally in Russia.]

So yeah, don’t call me Russian, don’t ask me to speak Russian, and don’t tell me stupid anecdotes about Russian people you know. No, I don’t miss it, and no, I don’t ever want to go back. I despise the country and its people, and I am mildly proud of the fact that I mostly forgot the language. And please don’t greet me with ‘privet’ unless you want to get backhanded.

Some of this might sound irrational and reactionary, and I will probably be accused of being a racist or a xenophobe, or something ridiculous like that. Before you unleash your angry comments, I suggest you take a deep breath and insert that tampon. I realize that some of you greatly glamorize life in a developing country, and you are angry that I denounce my origins in such a place. I suggest you read a fucking newspaper, and realize for yourself what a backwards shithole Russia truly is (this is the third and last time I have used this exact phrase). I am entitled to a national identity, just like all you irish german mutts, and I have made the decision, like most other people with my origins, to choose the more logical option, which just so happens to be my religion. (I’m not actually religious, however)

Besides, back in the day, your cousins married your cousins and my cousins married my cousins, so my “nationality” has just as much bearing in genetics as your nationality.

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4 Responses to “I’m Jewish; don’t you dare call me Russian!”

  1. kneidalach said

    interesting!!
    Honestly, my experience is so different!!!
    Growing up in Israel,immigrants from Russia were considered “second class” and were discriminated against, or they were laughed at, or their accent was mimicked in popular comedy shows, etc. You get the picture.
    Only when I came to the US that the fact that I’m Russian born is appreciated, as oppose to a fact that I should hide. If in Israel I wanted to forget my Russian, here I want to revive it!
    I’m glad to tell you that I’m Russian Israeli.
    If I were you, I sould just introduce myself as Russian Jew. Or is it important to you that you’re Jewish and not Russian?

  2. Friar Yid said

    Very interesting. It matches my observations and what I’ve read and heard- in Russian they’re Jews, in Israel they’re Russians. It makes sense that in America, they’d want to be able to make up their own minds and call themselves whatever the hell they want. And frankly, given the disjointed nature of Russian Jewish history of the past century, it’s not too surprising that there are a bunch of different self-conceptions of identity among Russian Jews- including ones like Inna’s that don’t have too much to do with Judaism per se.

  3. Oyster said

    Both Israelis & Russian Jews have a very strong sense of “being Jewish as being a nationality”, as opposed to the westernized notion of “being Jewish as a belief”.

    I say that we are a nation (think ‘peoplehood’ if that PC term makes you more comfortable), but one where our faith is integral to our being.

  4. Placenta said

    I had a similar situation to what you had though I am 100% American
    because I was born here. My mom is from Ukraine and my dad is from Moldova.
    Every time people here me speak the language they think I am Russian.
    I always say that I am not considering that I am a Jew. Russians contribute
    much to the antisemitic population in the world. Since I am a Jew (If we look deep
    into the situation) I am a descendant of the Hebrews (My family did not convert).
    But who are you going to explain this to? – The lowlife rednecks that make up 3/4 of
    the United States? Honestly…

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