Museum at heart of Russia's Jewish culture revival
Anatoly Rozin, now 78, is still an atheist and does not feel much affinity for his Jewish heritage, although he remembers being exposed to ‘‘everyday’’ anti-Semitism since childhood when neighborhood children called him and his brother names.
Anti-Semitism in the final decades of the Soviet Union was never official policy, but Jews had greater difficulty winning admission to university and traveling abroad.
Anatoly’s nephew and Zimanenko’s grandson, 47-year-old Mark Rozin, was also brought up in a family that was very ‘‘distant’’ from Jewish traditions and Judaism. Although he had no firsthand experience of the discrimination that led hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to emigrate in the 1970s and ‘80s, he said that the shared burden of inequality and suspicion allowed him to relate to other Jews.
There was a certain bond based ‘‘on the assumption that you faced some restrictions, you were not allowed to do what others did, that’s why you had to study harder than others, for example,’’ said Mark Rozin, a psychologist. In that sense, ‘‘you were always reminded of your nationality, but that didn’t bring you closer to the traditions.’’
Scores of his friends and distant relatives took advantage of their Jewish roots to secure permission to leave the Soviet Union for Israel, but he said most left for ‘‘freedom and opportunity,’’ and not because of the Jewish faith.
Mark Rozin and his uncle also were allowed to emigrate, but decided against it.
‘‘I'm a man of this culture,’’ said Anatoly Rozin, referring to the Soviet Union. ‘‘Leaving seemed impossible at the time.’’
These days, Zimanenko falters when she tries to pronounce the words ‘‘bar mitzvah,’’ only to be corrected by her 24-year-old great-grandson, Lev Rozin. For him, having to get permission to travel or being barred from university for being Jewish is something from another planet.
Russia in recent years has seen a dramatic decrease in displays of anti-Semitism, down to isolated cases of violence and vandalism. In a survey conducted last year by the respected Levada Center, 8 percent of those polled said they believed Jews should be barred from living in Russia, down from 15 percent in 2004.
Members of the Zimanenko-Rozin family said they felt no anti-Semitism in Russia today, but only members of the youngest generation have been eager to explore their roots. Lev Rozin, who works in the museum’s children’s center, said he began to identify himself as a Jew in his teens after attending a Jewish youth camp in Hungary. His two younger siblings attended the same camp.
The revival of Jewish culture in Russia has been driven predominantly by young people, which is reflected in the staff of the Jewish Museum. The museum’s development director, Natalya Fishman, is just 22.
‘‘In our family, it’s the younger generation that is trying to rediscover our roots,’’ Lev Rozin said. ‘‘I try to keep my Friday nights free, I don’t eat pork and try to observe some Kashrut (Jewish dietary) rules.’’
For his father, Jewish identity is more than religion or customs.
‘‘It stems from a feeling of belonging to your family, its roots, Grandma’s stories,’’ Mark Rozin said. ‘‘By talking to Grandma and learning about her life, we’re getting closer to the Jewish culture.’’