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Russia and England provide interesting contrasts when it comes to anti-Semitism. Both have rather shameful histories of Jewish persecution–anti-Jewish pogroms were a common feature of 19th century Russian life, Jews were banned from England for more than 350 years from 1290-1656–and both retain legacies of anti-Semitism. In Russia, Jews are openly discriminated against and blamed for the ills of society, while in Britain, anti-Semitic statements are surprisingly commonplace.
Two recent stories illustrate how the particular cultures of these countries can affect people’s sense of religious and cultural identity. The JTA tells the fascinating story of Bella Leidentel, the 73-year-old matriarch of a a small Jewish community in Russia’s Far East. As a child she doesn’t remember much anti-Semitism, but after World War II, she noticed that people began blaming Jews for the war. As a young woman, she found anti-Semitism so overt that she made a decision to turn her back on Judaism. She told people her Jewish-looking features were actually Armenian.
The story of Julian Anderson, a British composer, is quite different, according to the Hampstead and Highgate Express. His grandmother came to England after fleeing anti-Semitism in Lithuania.
One wonders if English anti-Semitism didn’t have something to do with his drifting away from Judaism. Ironically, despite having no religious attachment to Judaism, Peterson has made a name for himself with works inspired by Eastern European folk music. His most-performed work is the “Khorovod,” which is greatly influenced by the hora. This is an interesting demonstration of the way Jewish culture has undergone a resurgence in modern-day Europe while Jewish religion continues to struggle.
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