In an attempt to draw out the freeloading crowd, the Rav of my shul has started a monthly Shabbos program complete with free luncheon. The first two were tremendous successes, one featuring South African food, the other a Sephardi affair.
Then came the ad for the third program - "Come celebrate the cuisine of the former Soviet Empire!" And I started to feel nauseous.
Not because of the obvious jokes that such a program would bring out. I mean, let's face it. A real Soviet-styled lunch would mean a long, empty table with a single loaf of stale bread and some boiled potatoes at one end but with everyone given their own case of vodka to finish while the Rav and his family secretly eat duck and caviar in a different room.
I have no problem with Russian Jews or their cuisine. But I do have a problem with the word "Soviet". For most Jews, the words "Nazi" or "Third Reich" cause a reflex sense of anger or dread. The reasons for this are obvious. What I've never understood is why the word "Soviet" doesn't bring out the same response.
Yes, the Nazi regime was responsible for the worst atrocities committed agaisnt us since the Roman Empire destroyed our Temple and exiled us from our Land. But consider the record of the Soviet Union, or even the Russian Empire before it.
Unlike most everywhere else in the lands of our exile, Russia was never, ever a hospitable place for Jews to live. Most every major country in Europe, even Germany and Poland, had periods in history when their Jewish communities did well and prospered. But Russia never did.
Yet under the Soviet Union what had been a historically bad situation turned worse. Not content with physical persecution, the Soviets worked on destroyed the very souls of their Jews. For 72 years the Jewish community of the Soviet Union was tormented and indoctrinated to reject the basic tenets of our faith. Other than a brief moment of support in November 1947, the Soviet Union worked almost unceasingly to support the Arab enemies of Israel and help them reach their goal of Israel's destruction, chas v'chalilah. This was on top of sponsoring international terrorism and creating a propaganda industry that helped portray itself as noble and us along with the Americans as the villians of the world.
Yet if you accuse a Jew of being a Nazi or calling him Hitler, y"sh, you get looked at with the attitude: How dare you say such a thing. Calling someone a Soviet, communist or Stalin and people look vaguely annoyed but do not retort with any major vehemence.
I suppose a part of it is due to the influence leftist Hollywood producers have had on popular culture in the West over the last 50 years. The Nazis are routinely portrayed as base villians in any movie they appear in but the full evil that was the Soviet Empire still isn't recognized by those who sympathize with their goals if not their methods. But as Jews we should know better.
Which is why I complained and suggested that if we're going to have a lunch honouring the Soviet Empire, we should follow up with a brunch celebrating the cooking of the Third Reich. After all, something made Hermann Goering, y"sh, that fat, and it probably wasn't the sauerbraten.
Fortunately, I seem to have effected a positive change (for once!). The latest version of the ad came into my mailbox on erev Shabbos. Now we're going to celebrate the cuisine of Russian Jewry. A little better but I'm still hoping to avoid boiled potatoes.