You Should Know… Bella Goldsteyn

Photo by Samantha Cooper

Bella Goldsteyn moved to the United States this year as part of a fellowship with the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry. The 28 year old from Tula, Russia, south of Moscowis here to figure out ways to end anti-Semitism in Russia and help young Russian Jews explore their heritage.

Why did you decide come here?

It’s a great opportunity for me. For the past five years, I’ve been working with the Jewish community of Russia, and when I got the opportunity to come here and learn about how Jewish advocacy should work, I decided it was great chance to learn how to keep the Jewish heritage [alive], how Jewish organizations should work with governments and how to combat anti-Semitism and commemorate the Holocaust.

In Russia, the scope is pretty new because the Jewish community only had chance to develop after the Soviet Union collapsed. It’s a real chance to learn how much I can, and then to bring this experience to Russia, and implement some of those mechanics that I’m learning.

What was your Jewish upbringing like?

Both of my parents are Jewish. They’re both secular, but there was some Jewish tradition in my childhood like, for example, we make a Passover seder. I got my Chanukah gelt. Also I was in Sunday Jewish school as a kid.

What was the most interesting day in your fellowship?

I really like attending some events because it’s a chance to hear Western experts and to hear Western perspectives and also it’s a chance for networking.

I like to meet new people and I like to talk with them.

What’s the biggest difference between American Jewish and Russian Jewish culture?

I guess the biggest difference is, in Russia we can see a renaissance of the Jewish community that young
people come to synagogue, they want to participate in Jewish life. Meanwhile, my parents and parents of most of my friends, they had no opportunity [to be Jewish]. They’re very secular. They know basic things but they don’t really care about religion or tradition.

Here, you can be religious or not religious. But most American Jews never had this problem. They are Jews, maybe they are not very religious but they keep some traditions; their parents did it and their grandparents also did it.

What’s your favorite part of America?

I’m really impressed by how kind the people here are. Everywhere you go, you can make sure you will have good service, people will be polite, people will smile and people will kindly help you. I really guess that this is what Russia should learn from America.

I’m also really happy to see that American society is very inclusive. There are people from different countries, different backgrounds, different colors of their skin and people with disabilities have equal opportunities as physically healthy people.

Is there anything Americans should learn from Russians?
What I see, people come [to Washington] for a year or for two years, for studying, for working. Meanwhile in Russia, moving among cities, you can move once or twice in your life but you will not move every year. It’s why in Russia, if they have friends they will be friends for all their lives. Meanwhile in America, for me, it’s difficult to have close friends.

What food do you miss most from Russia?
I will be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of Russian food. In Russia, we have a kind of — it’s not really dessert. It’s like a famous breakfast food. We call it syrniki. It’s like sweet cottage cheese which is baked. You can eat with different toppings, which is nice.

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