Saying that we were Europeanized is probably too little. Throughout history, we have to assimilate to Russian culture. It all began “with the Statute in Jews of 1804. Both Frizel’ and Derzhavin propagated the complete dissolution of the Jewish community as a secular institution” (Lowe). On top of that, we were judged as supporters of rebellion and seen as ethnic minorities.
“After the Statute of Jews, Derzhavin believed that the Jews had to be separated. On the other hand, Frizel’ demanded the legal and administrative integration of the Jews into the estate system created by Catherine II” (Lowe). However, the community of the Jews weakened. “The kahal, which is the Jewish community, lost communication with the Rabbis. Furthermore, the Rabbis were appointed by the State. As a result, the State became more strict with the Jewish community. The state would supervise the religion and force us to conduct our businesses in Russian, Polish or German” (Lowe). We were forced to speak the official languages of the Russian Empire and yes, this perhaps was the first step to Russification.
Since we were marginalized, there was a difference between the “‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ class. The Upper class was fairly privileged and allowed to own factories. Unfortunately, the lower class had to bribe the government for the privilege” (Lowe). For example, my family came from a lower class and my mother had to sell liquor. She did not choose it, but she was appointed by the government to do it. There were many negative reactions about this. So, “missionary societies began to be found” (Lowe).
The societies played a great role. “Thankfully, there was a dissolution in 1844. From that year on, Jewish people were allowed to participate in self-administration” (Lowe). What this means was that we were permitted to start our own businesses without being discriminated or sent to prison. Regardless, “we were still oppressed by the Russian government. For example, we had to pay to be educated at a state school in order to not participate in the military” (Lowe). Don’t ask what our role is with the Russian Empire if war occurred because “we had to supply twice as many recruits” (Lowe). During school, there was no freedom of speech. We had to learn through a Russian-person’s perspective, compared to a Jewish person’s perspective. “Jews were not allowed to use their own books as the Russian government confiscated them” (Lowe). Although the state schools emphasized religious education, they damaged our tradition and identity as Jews. “The directors had to be Christian, which is another religion” (Lowe). The Christian and Jewish religions had different meanings, beliefs and values, which impacted our perspective of view and deeply angered us.
The tragedy arrived in 1863. “When Alexander II died, my family emigrated from Russia. Alexander II has been fairly nice to Jews as he allowed them to live in the Baltic States. Now, when he died, the Russians believed that we were allies of Poles, which I did not understand” (Encyclopedia of Russia). Poles and Jews were different. A person can be a Pole and a Jew. Therefore, I did not understand why the Russian Imperial government would think of us in that perspective. However, my family was unsure about what would happen next.
On and on, the discrimination continued. “In 1881, the government forced discriminatory measures on the Jews” (Encyclopedia of Russia). However, “In 1882, things took a worse turn. The May Laws were passed, which prohibited us from operating business outside of the villages we reside in” (CIE). I was confused at this moment since back in 1844, we were allowed to own businesses. But, the Russian government decided to take that privilege away. Therefore, “As Jews, we decided to participate in Zionist movements in order to show that we have a right as a minority” (CIE).
Till this day, I do not know when freedom will arrive. However, we must wait patiently and see for ourselves.