After a decades-long, worldwide campaign to free Soviet Jewry, in the late 1980s the borders of the Soviet Union were finally opened, allowing its Jews to immigrate to the State of Israel. This period saw approximately one million men and women from the former Soviet Union leave and resettle in the Jewish state. They came in fulfillment of Zionist aspirations, in search of material opportunities, and in pursuit of greater freedom.
At the time that the Russians arrived, Israel had fewer than five million citizens, and these new immigrants brought with them an entirely new set of cultural assumptions and practices. And they posed a religious challenge as well, as a great many of them qualified for Israeli citizenship, but did not qualify as Jewish under the requirements of Orthodox law.
How did they transform Israel? Its economy? Its culture? Its politics? And how did Israel transform them? In the three decades since they arrived, what has happened?
That’s the subject of Matti Friedman’s November 2020 essay in Mosaic, and in this podcast, he joins Mosaic’s editor to probe the miraculous story of the Russian Aliyah and what it teaches us about the exceptional spirit of Israeli society and Israeli citizenship.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.