Ashkenazim - Sociocultural Organization



Jews traditionally help each other in matters such as obtaining goods and maintaining contacts. Most Jews still count many or a majority of Jews among their friends, a tendency strongest in people over 40, Ukrainian-and Belarus-area Jews, lower social classes, and certain groups of higher social classes. Preference for Jewish associates is strengthened by an awareness of shared weakness, of being a persecuted people, strangers wherever they are; the ever-present possibility of "things getting worse for the Jews" is a frequent topic of conversation.

Religion was traditionally the center of the community, and men were at the center of this ritual life. Girls' educations were usually rudimentary, and they learned religious and practical aspects of keeping a home and raising children by helping their mothers. Marriages were often arranged between parents by a marriage broker. If necessary, a woman might be a contributing or even principal wage earner; now as in the past, a strong element of matricentrism runs through this formally male- and father-centered culture. Currently a couple and their children often share the small apartment of whichever set of grandparents has room for them, though if it is feasible, they may live separately. Jews traditionally had many children, but now one or two is the norm, a slightly lower average than that of surrounding nationalities. Russians help grown children and grandchildren monetarily and otherwise for an indefinite time; this tendency is even stronger in the Jewish family. The family preserves some of its value as the highly autonomous and self-contained unit it was traditionally; social activity is often with other relatives. Women cook and clean but husbands may help, which is uncommon in Russian families. The home may contain inherited objects and books that are valued, even if they are not specifically Jewish in content, as connected to the past, understood as a time when Jews had a more substantive identity; "Jewish objects" from abroad are cherished as a form of "remembering who we are." A Hebrew-Russian dictionary published in the 1960s has long been considered necessary in many homes where no one speaks a word of Hebrew. As in the humblest Jewish home before the Revolution, there are many books, seen as investments both in one's family's education and as difficult-to-obtain treasures whose value increases.

Economy. Education is fundamental to Jewish religion; the unavailability of religious education, books, and objects has resulted in a transformation of that center of identity. Primary responsibility for children's education traditionally rested with parents, who were also responsible for their own continuing studies. Judaism's basis in Torah, the sense that Jews are the people of the book, has been transformed into a sense that books "gave birth to the people." Prevalent among Jews is an emphasis on education, on the relation of people to books, and on a tradition of analytical thought (a common joke is that a Jew answers a question with another question). This tradition has survived among Jews, who, it is assumed by both Jews and non-Jews, will pursue higher education if possible. Both Jews and Russians would find the idea of a Jewish janitor incongruous; indeed, very small percentages of Jews work in service and housekeeping; in agriculture, less than 1 percent. Jews get more education than other groups, with 47 percent of employed Jews in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), 28 percent in the Ukraine, and 25 percent in Belarus having higher education; the number of Jews entering higher and secondary technical education is falling as a result of demographic decline, an aging population, and quotas in university admissions.

Currently, Jewish men and women are approximately equally educated and employed. Men are slightly more likely to receive higher education, and their income levels are higher, even in similar occupations. Women tend to enter less prestigious occupations. Choices of professions have evolved in interaction with a changing political situation, which often determines which schools Jews enter; in addition, the humanities and social sciences have been quite ideologized and reserved to a large extent for Communist party members and Russian ethnics. Jews make up 0.9 percent of the population but 6.1 percent of its scientific workers and 13.8 percent of holders of the degree of "candidat." Jews are often acting factory heads with a Russian or Ukrainian holding the title above them. Jews favor careers in the exact sciences, biology, education, culture, health care, industry, transport, and construction. Technical-cultural-scientific occupations were, in Soviet terminology, upper socioeconomic levels; Jews have tried to use professional success to make a place for themselves.


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