Bar Mitzvah – part two (Secular vs. Religion)

There are going to be 2 parts to this post.
Part one:
Being Jewish or Christian in the USSR.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s in the USSR did not leave us any room for G-d. We were not a religious bunch.
Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev….. well you know, they could not be shared with anything or anyone else. From the moment we entered school we wore a little pin  with young Volodya Lenin on our uniforms.

As we grew older we progressed to a more adult version of the same pin and that fashion trait continued throughout our school years.

Any crosses or Star of David’s were prohibited to wear to school.

Being Christian or Jewish back in the USSR was secular vs.


I knew I was Jewish not because we practiced Judaism – no one did, but because my dad was Jewish, his dad was Jewish, my mom was, her mom was so I knew I must be Jewish too. I also knew I was Jewish because every teacher in school had a catalog, where all the kids and their nationalities were listed. By the time the kids turned 16 years old they would be given a passport listing their nationality too.

A factor that may have retarded the process of ethnic Russification was the long-established practice of using nationality labels on official documents. For example, the “nationality” of Soviet citizens was fixed on their internal passports at age 16, and was essentially determined by the nationality of the parents. Only the children of mixed marriages had a choice: they could choose the nationality of one of their parents. Furthermore, an individual’s nationality was inscribed on school enrollment records, military service cards (for men), and labor booklets. Although the census question on nationality was supposed to be only subjective and not determined by the official nationality in an individual’s passport, the fixing of official nationality on so many official records may well have reinforced non-Russian identities. Among some groups, such as Jews, the ubiquitous use of such an official nationality on identity papers and records was viewed as a factor that fostered discrimination against them.  – wikipedia- Russification.

 As you can see based on the above documents we were not really liked too much, plus I also knew Jews were responsible for killing Lenin – another reason for not liking us. Forget all of our other “crimes” we committed, that crime blessing alone was big enough.

People, Jews or non-Jews did not practice religion – churches became museums, synagogues practically did not exist….

America took us with open arms and said to us – you are now free and you can practice your religion! The only problem was we did not know how and frankly we were not in a hurry to learn.

Passover, Chanukah, Purim are just excuses holidays for our families to get together and eat, but when the time came for our first son to become Bar-mitzvah we did not hesitate one minute, of course it has to be done! It was a private, family event that meant a lot for my parents-in-law and my mom. They still remembered how it was done when they were kids before the WWII started and Communism hit!

10 years later our younger son had different plans for us. Our initial idea was to go to Israel since we have never been there – and what a great occasion – he gets to become a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall and then we will travel and see the country afterwards.

“WHAT!?!?!?! What about my friends, what about my party, and what about my grandparents-they couldn’t travel with us??!” said concerned Max.

We did not care much about his friends or the party, but we knew our parents would want to be a part of their younger grandson’s transition from a boy to a young man…..

to be continued…..


About Ariana

I came to USA about 20 years from former USSR. I am an American Citizen with a heavy Russian Accent. My two boys always make fun of my English. I love to write, I usually do it for me, but if you would like to stop and leave a comment it would be great! I ‘d love to share with you my American World with the hint of my Russian Personality.
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10 Responses to Bar Mitzvah – part two (Secular vs. Religion)

  1. This is soooo interesting! Absolutely everything about this is interesting to me! I grew up during the Cold War, all these details about your life in Russia are fascinating. I even had my husband read this. I wonder how your parents generation celebrated Bar-mitzvah. I’m sure not with the big parties like boys do these days!

    • Ariana says:

      Thank you Gretchen, I found my audience in you. I have so many stories about that time and that country – i will keep you entertain for at least few days.

  2. jen says:

    There aren’t to many Jews in my area but I have had been to many a Bar-mitzvah when I lived in New York; both the ceremonies and the parties are wonderful.
    I also attended a bris once,which was quite interesting to see.

    I love reading about your experiences and the history regarding the USSR, it’s so fascinating! Can’t wait for the next part..

  3. ceceliafutch says:

    This is fascinating. I have a friend who grew up in Russia and he did not observe Jewish law until he came to the states. My husband, born in Poland at the end of the war, immigrated with his family to Venezuela, but they were not religious. He became religious later on in adulthood, as did I, so he was never called to the Torah or had a party when he was bar mitzvah. I am anxious to read the rest of the story.

    In case I don’t get back here before Pesach, Chag Sameach v’ Kosher l’Pesach! 🙂

  4. Leah says:

    Don’t leave me hanging! I got chills thinking of becoming a Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! But I guess at 13, it’s more about the friends. I need to start working on Sophie with this idea now.

    • Ariana says:

      No matter how much we tried we could not convince him, plus our parents are in the 80s and the trip there would not be possible for them.

  5. Ariana, what a tale! I always wondered what it must have been like in the USSR. Thank you for your insight. Here, in the US, for those of us raised here from birth, all we know is our freedom, and we take it for granted sometimes. Thanks for the reminder. I’m thankful, and looking forward to your next installment!

  6. Ariana says:

    Thanks Monica, yes Americans take their freedom for granted – we, immigrants never do! We always have something to compare our freedom to.

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