The Soviet Union forbade any unique religious ritual from 1917 onward. By the time the state of Israel was declared in 1948, the Soviet media and leaders thought that Jews would not feel a connection to the Jewish State because their ability to practice Judaism had been suppressed for so long. But, when Golda Meir, the first Israeli envoy, and minister to the USSR, arrived on Rosh Hashanah in 1948, something unexpected happened.
“Instead of the 2,000-odd Jews who usually came to synagogue on the holidays, a crowd of close to 50,000 was waiting for us,” she recalled in her memoirs. “For a minute I couldn’t grasp what had happened – or even who they were. And then it dawned on me. They had come – those good, brave Jews – in order to demonstrate their sense of kinship and to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel.”
A few weeks later, Meir attended a diplomatic reception in honor of the Soviet Revolution, where she was greeted by Polina Molotov, the Jewish wife of foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Mrs. Molotov urged Meir, in Yiddish, to continue attending synagogue.
- Explain the role of ritual in Jewish identity.
- Identify the role of Israel to Jews around the world.
- Identify rituals and holidays, such as the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, that contribute to their personal identity.
1. Trigger: Open with a discussion using the discussion question: What holiday/ceremony in Judaism is most meaningful to you, and why?
2. Text Study: Read Golda Meir’s passage from As Good as Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel’s Prime Minister (1970) edited by Israel Shenker and Mary Shenker, p. 28, together.
3. Guided Group Discussion:
- Why did Soviet communists believe that Soviet Jews had no need for the Jewish state?
- Why do you think so many people came to the synagogue when Golda Meir arrived in Moscow?
- What is the symbolism of this event occurring on the Jewish New Year?
- What do you think was the meaning of the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel, for for the Jews in Moscow who met Golda?
- Why do you think the Soviet Jews wanted to live in Israel?
- How would our lives be different now, if there was no Jewish state?