One attendee, Nick Wolfson, dissented. As a doctor who had worked in three different healthcare systems, he believed socialized medicine was the best option. “I believe a good society should take care of the sick and weak and should not cost money,” he said.
“Are you going to work for free?!” cried Alexander Bootman. “Who’s going to pay?”
It escalated until Wolfson rose up out of his seat, shouting. “Do you really want Trump to be your president? He’s going to sell you! He will sell you tomorrow to the Arabs!”
A flurry of shushes and calls to order brought the ruckus to a halt.
“At least it wasn’t a fist-fight?” Nadia Shkolnikov said later, smiling.
Others at the party seemed more conflicted, particularly when it came to abortion, which was widespread and normalized in the Soviet Union. “We have become successful and comfortable within capitalism,” said Gina Budman. “On the other hand, I really am adamantly pro-choice. And I would love to see education that is less expensive. I am for gay rights.”
They are lured, though, by the GOP’s more vociferous support for Israel, a country where many Russian Jews have friends and relatives. For some, this was a source of hesitation about Trump, the Republican front-runner, who said he’d be “sort of a neutral guy” on Israel.
They also endorsed limits on illegal immigration. As refugees themselves, they support helping refugees in principle, but they harbored deep suspicions that migrants from Syria might have ties to the Islamic State.
“We cannot let terrorists come here,” Rose Bootman said. There was grumbling that refugees should be properly screened. “Trump was right when he said we should postpone immigration until we figure out what’s going on,” Bootman’s husband, Alexander, said.
According to the AJC’s Kliger, the opposition to immigrants, by immigrants, is not surprising. “Every immigrant group wants to be unique," he said. “They come here, and they don't want others.”
The Bay Area’s small Russian population won’t swing deep-blue California in the general election, of course. And Menaker’s crew doesn’t even represent all the Russians in the state. Several people at Menaker’s house lamented that their adult children are turning out to be more liberal than they are. (“Our children are all brainwashed already,” Menaker said.)
But their views provide insight into the rise of Trump, a phenomenon that has bewildered many liberals. Several of the guests said they appreciate Trump’s tendency to “say what people are thinking”—a definite plus in a culture not exactly known for being timid.
“We are so tired of not being able to say what we want,” Sundeyeva said. “[Trump] says politically incorrect things.”
Sundeyeva said liberals accuse her of racism for questioning President Obama. “When Obama says, ‘Trayvon Martin could be my son’ — that translates that he is giving him legitimacy only because he has the same skin color, and this is racism,” she said. “When I ask [liberals] all these questions, they don’t like to answer them.”