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March 31, 1989 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-03-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A first-hand report from Moscow,
where Jewish cultural activists are
hopeful about the Kremlin's new
attitude but worried by signs of
growing anti-Semitism.


oscow — The dra-
matic week in Feb-
ruary that began
here with the open-
ing of the Solomon
Mikhoels Center — the first
ever Jewish community cen-
ter in Moscow — and ended
with a rapturously received
concert by an Israeli singer,
represented a turning point in
the saga of Soviet Jewry. Or
did it?
The leaders of the Jewish
Cultural movement, in-
heritors of the mantle of
community leadership from
the famed refuseniks who pre-
ceded them, seemed prone to
mood swings all week. At
times they were caught up
in euphoria over the demon-
strated power of Jewish cul-
tural expression to captivate
previously uninvolved Soviet
Jews. But at times they were
saddened by the realization of
the dangers the movement
faces — from subversion from
within by 'anti-Zionist' forces
to attack from without by a
rapidly growing anti-Semitic
mass movement.
The greatest imponderable
of all for the movement is a
factor outside its control: the
question of how long the pre-
sent relaxed conditions of
perestroika, which have made
possible the incipient flower-
ing of Jewish culture, are
likely to last.
Mikhail Chlenov, chair-
man of the Jewish Culture

Walter Ruby is a -
correspondent in New York.
This article was made possible
by a grant from The Fund For
Journalism on Jewish Life,
supported by The CRB
Foundation of Montreal,
Canada. Any views expressed
are solely those of the author.

Association (JCA), the um-
brella body of the diverse
bodies which comprise the
Jewish movement in the
Soviet Union, contends that
the Jewish movement
should organize avidly while
preparing for the worst. "We
must concede the possibility
that things could get much
worse for us than today,"
Chlenov told this reporter in
an interview at week's end.
"It is for that reason that we
must use the present open-
ing to establish and put into
place a kind of organized
Jewish community."

Jewish Politics
Chlenov, a diminutive an-
thropologist who has been
an activist and Hebrew
teacher for 20 years, cites
"private reasons" for his
having never applied to
emigrate to Israel. He says,
"We are only in the early
stages of building a com-
munity life. Only a small
proportion of Jews here in
Moscow are involved in our
activities. And so far, the
government has not responded
to our request that the JCA
be registered as an 'official'
Still, Chlenov was ebullient
in the aftermath of the open-
ing of the Mikhoels Center
and the Israeli concert.
"What was most exciting," he
said, "was the effect on the
ordinary Jews in the hall;
people who have not been in-
volved in our activities. For
the first time, they were
touched by the sympathetic
side of Israel . . . and by real
Jewish soul. It shows that
Jewish culture is something
that has the power to reach
many Jews."
But Chlenov sees another,

much darker factor speeding
the growth of the Jewish
cultural movement — the
frightening growth of popular
anti-Semitism. He recalled
the panic among many assim-
ilated Soviet Jews last spring
over rumors that Pamyat, a
pro-Russian Orthodox and
allegedly anti-Semitic move-
ment, would launch a pogrom
on June 4, 1988, the 1000th
anniversary of Christianity in
Russia. Chlenov noted that
Pamyat has grown and that
"we need an organized Jewry
to withstand these groups.
Assimilated Jews, with no ad-
dress to turn to, feel helpless
in the face of the anti-Semitic
threat. An organized commu-
nity can do a bit more."

One reason for the sense of
optimism among activists is
that the often fractious Jew-
ish movement in the Soviet
Union has never been so
united. During the week of
the opening of the Mikhoels
Center, representatives of
Jewish religious and cultural
organizations from around
the USSR met in Moscow
under the auspices of the
JCA, and agreed to a com-
mon strategy for building a
nationwide community struc-

The JCA also reached an
agreement with the Soviet
Jewry Zionist Forum, the
main organization of former
Soviet Jews in Israel, to pur-
sue a common agenda.
This new sense of empow-
erment by Soviet Jews
means that while they will
continue to look to western
Jewish leaders for political,
financial, and moral support,
they will be far less willing to
accept the old arrangement
under which western Jewish

leaders presumed to negoti-
ate with Soviet leaders on
behalf of a largely voiceless
Soviet Jewish community.
Soviet Jews have long
criticized such meetings
over their heads as pater-
Western Jewish leaders
are finally beginning to res-
pond to those concerns. Isi
Leibler, vice president of the
World Jewish Congress and
president of the Australian
Jewish community is the
foreign Jewish leader most
responsible for convincing
the Soviet authorities to
permit the opening of the
Mikhoels Center. He passed
up no opportunity during
the weeklong series of
events in Moscow to pub-
licly assure the leaders of the
JCA that, "You...and not
outside Jewish leaders... are
the real leaders of Soviet
More significantly, Leibler
set a precedent by taking
Chlenov and another JCA
leader, Roman Spektor, with
him to meetings with Soviet
officials, who promised to
continue a dialogue on the
question of legalization of
the Jewish cultural move-
ment and other issues.
The JCA leaders saw the
rush of world Jewish leaders
to the opening of the Mikho-
els Center as symptomatic of
another hopeful sign: the
virtual ending of the feud in
the Soviet Jewish community
and in international Jewry be-
tween `aliyah activists' and
fighters for Jewish cultural
expression within the Soviet
According to Chlenov,
"There is now a widespread
consensus among Soviet
Jews, here and in Israel, that
emigration and Jewish life in



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