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Around the Jewish World: Russian Jewish Teen-agers Ponder Identity, Emigration

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The lights are blinking and the music, a mix of popular Jewish tunes and hip- hop, is blasting.

It’s a disco-style party for young Jews in Moscow at an unpretentious Soviet- era club.

The party is hosted by Hineini, a Reform congregation that attracts some 30 people to its weekly services.

But at Jewish festivals, some 100 to 300 young people gather to dance the night away.

Because Hineini does not have its own building, the congregation holds services and parties at the premises of the Auto Workers Union Club.

The party, held earlier this month to mark Purim, was an opportunity to hear young people discuss their feelings about Judaism, intermarriage and, for many, plans to emigrate as soon as possible.

“I come here every festival for two years already,” says Sergei Gornin, 27, a manager at a pharmaceutical company. “It helps me feel really Jewish when surrounded by so many Jews, like here.”

Nastya Buzukina, a 15-year-old high school student, says she often goes to places where young Moscow Jews get together.

“Almost all my friends are Jewish, because I think Jews are better friends.”

Vladislav Komisarchuk, 21, a student at the Russian Academy of Music who describes himself as half-Jewish, says that until recently, he paid little attention to his Jewish roots.

But now, he says, he is making friends with more Jews than before and his Jewish side “has become more meaningful” to him.

It comes as no surprise that many of those interviewed, who are often the children of intermarriage and who had almost no Jewish education while growing up, know little about Jewish tradition.

But just the same, more than a few of the young people felt an attraction to their Jewish roots.

“I always feel Jewish. To me it means being slightly different from others,” says Lilya Raskina, a junior at the Russian University for Humanities. “It seems that Jews have a special way of life.”

Yan, a 33-year-old businessman who would not give his last name, adds: “What makes Jews different is a certain way of thinking.”

On the subject of intermarriage, many of those who were born to intermarried parents said they would not mind if their future spouse were not Jewish.

But to many of the young Jews, the ability to give their children a Jewish upbringing provided an important reason for not intermarrying.

“I’m certain that I will marry a Jew,” says Raskina, explaining that children should not have to be torn between different identities.

Yan, the businessman, agrees: “I should avoid having my kids asking themselves questions about who they are.”

When the subject turn to more general future plans, it becomes clear that many of those gathered to celebrate Purim together see no future for themselves in Russia.

Some of the young people have already been to America, Israel or Europe; others have been trying to imagine life outside Russia.

But both groups are reasonably certain that they eventually will leave the country.

The upcoming Russian presidential elections, which may result in the Communist Party’s return to power, have already provided many with a strong reason to emigrate.

Yan says he has already obtained his immigration papers to Germany – “Just in case.”

Olga Kuznetsova, a 17-year-old student at the Moscow Linguistics University, says she is frightened that the Communists will regain power after the June vote.

“If they succeed, I’ll leave Russia. It doesn’t matter for what country.”

Israel was a popular destination for some of the teen-agers attending the party.

Emma Isakharova, a 16-year-old student at the Moscow Jewish Teacher’s College, says she would like to move to Israel next year after graduation.

“Last summer, I went to Israel and I liked the country very much.”

Boris Bruskin, 15, a student at the Migdal Or Moscow Jewish School, says: “I’ve never been to Israel, but I feel this is my country. I guess life there is not easy. But still, Israel attracts me.”

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