Episode 18: The Invisibility of Russian Speaking Jews w/Alex Zeldin
Alexander Zeldin is the former Senior Communications Associate at the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He is currently a strategic planning senior analyst for American Express. Alex graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Political Science. As talented and creative as he is in his day job, Alex is also an active writer and political pundit. You can find his work in publications such as The Jewish Daily Forward and Tablet Magazine. You can always reach out to him directly at his Twitter account: @Wonko_the_sane_ just be sure you are bringing your A-game, because he sure will be.
We began our conversation talking about the various elements of our Russian heritage. The fascinating thing about culture is that it is easy for one to think that it is exclusively theirs. Alex and I talked about how we thought the foods that we grew up with at our dinner tables were generic Russian foods and were not part of Jewish tradition. But it turned out that the various parts of our childhood cultures were also seen by others as specifically Jewish. Alex mentioned a Russian beverage called “Kogel mogel” which he always thought was uniquely Russian-Jewish but turned out to be a general Jewish concoction. Needless to say, the lines between cultures are very thin - especially when it’s an amazing drink, then it spreads like wildfire!
After reflecting on the history of anti-Semitism faced by Russian-speaking Jews, we also talked about the rising use of anti-Semitic tropes and accusations of dual-loyalty by political figures in the United States. In this episode we talk about Rep Ilhan Omar’s repeated foray into caricatured language about Jewish global power and wealth. For more recent analysis by Alex on other political figures wading into this muddy anti-Semitic territory check out his twitter account. In his breakdown of the current toxic political climate, Alex points out some of the recent examples of hypocrisy coming from both sides of the aisle as some leaders are only calling out these dangerous tropes when they are coming from political figures from a party other than their own.
For books recommended by Alex, be sure to check out:
Writing by Amos Oz, who comes from Russian extract and according to Alex should be considered part of the Russian literary pantheon.
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