Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Visit to Jewish Institutions in Moscow

November 24 to December 4, 1997

13. In mid-1994, the International Center for the University Teaching of Jewish Civilization (Jerusalem), with the support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, established SEFER, the Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization.11 Sefer promotes Jewish studies at the university level and represents faculty, students, and institutions engaged in Jewish studies. Its current membership includes about 300 scholars and more than 50 institutions throughout Russia and the other successor states. Sefer enjoys official status in the Russian Academy of Sciences, and maintains its headquarters in the building of the Academy of Sciences.

It organizes an annual national Jewish studies conference as well as regional and student conferences, seminars, workshops, and tutorial sessions. It sponsors and coordinates visits of foreign scholars, and arranges for lecturers to speak in peripheral communities. It has published directories of Judaic programs in the transition states, research bibliographies, and curricula for use in teaching various Judaic courses. It is building a Judaica library at the Sefer center in Moscow.

The writer met with Rashid Kaplanov, a historian who teaches at the Jewish University of Moscow and at Maimonides Academy. He is also chairman of the Sefer Board of Directors. Dr. Kaplanov said that its major financial support is from JDC, but that JDC is beginning to show "donor fatigue". The Russian Jewish Congress also provides some resources. Unlike comparable non-profit institutions in the United States, Sefer must pay taxes; it maintains a special tax accounting department.

In response to a question, Dr. Kaplanov said that Sefer is comparable to the Association for Jewish Studies (in the United States). However, Russian scholars of Judaica do more teaching and less research than their American counterparts.

According to Dr. Kaplanov, the goals of Sefer are: (1) to expand their current activities; (2) to send more students to Israel for study and to seminars and conferences abroad; and (3) to publish more research of Sefer members. Between 30 and 40 percent of Judaic scholars and a somewhat larger proportion of graduate students are non-Jewish.

Responding to another question, Dr. Kaplanov said that both Reform and Conservative Judaism should find followers in Russia. In fact, he said, he is surprised that neither movement has mounted a greater effort to establish their particular movement in Russia. Russian Jewry needs a dynamic liberal rabbi.

Dr. Kaplanov said that antisemitism persists in Russia, but that the most vociferous and potentially dangerous antisemites are on the "lunatic fringe". They are very marginal and represent little threat to Russian Jews.

14. The Jewish University of Moscow is a private and secular institution with a small office in the humanities center of Moscow State University. A discussion was held with its president, Dr, Alexander Militarev, a philologist; several students and others joined the discussion from time to time.

JUM offers degrees in various fields of Jewish studies. Its curriculum includes courses in Jewish history, Jewish texts, Judaism, Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Jewish literature, sociology, education, and other subjects. Its classes meet in the late afternoon, evening, and on Sunday. Its faculty is part-time and consists of qualified scholars who hold teaching appointments at several Moscow institutions. Most of its 185 students are undergraduates; some are enrolled in parallel courses of study in history or other subjects at other Moscow institutions.

JUM graduated its first undergraduate class in 1996. Its press section publishes a scholarly journal Вестник (Vestnik; Bulletin) and has issued a number of original studies, several new books, and translations of existing works.

The original sponsor of JUM was the Aleph Society, an organization associated with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. This relationship was always uneasy because the resolutely secular approach of JUM clashed with the more religious orientation of Rabbi Steinsaltz. More recent financial support has come from the Russian Jewish Congress. 12 A recently-signed agreement will transform JUM into the Institute for Jewish Studies and Civilization under the auspices of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a major Moscow university. Hebrew University will supply lecturers in fields in which little expertise exists in the transition states.

The new Institute will have two priorities. The first is training professionals for careers in: (a) Judaic studies (both teaching and research), initially at the university level, but later in Jewish high schools as well; and (b) Jewish communal service, including social work, community organization, non-profit management, and fundraising. It is likely that students in Jewish communal service will do some fieldwork in foreign Jewish organizations. The second priority of the Institute is to foster Judaic knowledge among non-Jews. This objective recognizes the reality that one-third to one-half of all students enrolled in Judaic studies courses are non-Jewish and the belief that knowledge of the Jewish world will provide some insurance against antisemitism.

The new Institute will concentrate on building a strong undergraduate program in its initial years and will develop a graduate program as soon as circumstances permit. It hopes to employ faculty on a full-time basis, acquire its own premises, and establish a daytime class schedule. It will try to increase its financial resource base by organizing a 501[C]3 support group in the United States.

15. Several additional institutions in Moscow offer courses in Jewish studies. Among the more respected programs are Maimonides Academy and Project Judaica. Maimonides Academy is a state-funded institution with about 100 students, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Its major role is the training of Hebrew language teachers and translators. It anticipates a 1998 graduating class of 16 students. Project Judaica is a program of the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York) that is housed within the Russian State University for the Humanities. It trains specialists in Jewish history and Jewish texts. It anticipates a 1998 graduating class of 15 students.

The number of students entering JUM, Maimonides Academy, and Project Judaica is declining, apparently because potential entrants believe career opportunities in Judaic fields are limited.

16. Vladimir Shapiro is a sociologist at the Jewish Research Center (also called the Jewish Scientific Center) at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was interviewed at his office.

In response to a broad question about Jewish demography in Russia, Dr. Shapiro said that information about the number of Jews currently living in Russia in general and in specific cities will be available only after the next Russian census in 1999.13

He said that the standard of living among Jews in major Russian cities is higher than among most other ethnic groups -- absolutely, without question (безу-словно). He observed that several factors explain the discrepancy in income levels. First, the proportion of people with higher education is much greater among Jews. Well-educated people, he said, are much more likely to understand the market economy, to speak English, and to be comfortable with computer technology -- all of which are strong advantages in post-Soviet Russia. Second, many more Jews have close relatives or friends living abroad, a factor that is helpful in expanding one's horizons and in establishing careers with international dimensions. (A study conducted five years ago showed that 27 percent of Jews in Russia have first-degree relatives [parents, siblings, children] living in the United States, Canada, or Germany; 49 percent have second-degree relatives in these countries; and 55 percent have friends in one or more of these countries.) Third, perhaps due to a history of suffering under antisemitism, many Jews are more energetic and enterprising than others in Russia; Jews expend more effort to understand the new economy and to exploit the opportunities that it offers. Professor Shapiro estimated that Jews constitute at least 25 percent of both the new Russian "financial elite" and the new Russian "technical elite".

Eighty percent of Russian finance capital is concentrated in Moscow, said Dr. Shapiro. Consequently, it is not surprising that so many wealthy Jews live in Moscow and that their wealth is so extraordinary. The wealth of St. Petersburg Jewry is far less. However, almost every city in Russia has its own local (местный) Gouzinsky.14

Regarding Jewish emigration, Professor Shapiro said that many "more substantial" individuals went to the United States five years ago. Today, the more successful (Успешные) Jews remain in Russia, perceiving almost limitless (Безграничные) opportunities if they work hard. Less capable (способные) Jews have emigrated to Israel. Those who go to Germany, continued Professor Shapiro, are middle-aged and older people in pursuit of the generous social benefits offered immigrants by the German state.

According to studies conducted in recent years, reported Dr. Shapiro, four factors generate Jewish emigration from Russia and Ukraine: (1) perceived greater economic opportunity in the United States, Israel, or Germany; (2) national motivation, i.e., Zionism or a strong sense of Jewish identity; (3) antisemitism in Russia or Ukraine; and (4) family reunification. Of all of these factors, family reunification now is the most important in both Russia and Ukraine. It is especially significant in the departure of older people who emigrate in order to join their adult children in the new country; often the adult children are well-established and solidly middle class by the time that their parents arrive. Antisemitism is expressed much more crudely (грубо) in Ukraine and, conse-quently, is more important in motivating emigration from Ukraine than from Russia. The terrible (ужасная) economy and equally terrible ecological condi-tions in Ukraine are also significant in generating emigration.

11. SEFER is the Hebrew word for book. The full title in Russian of SEFER is Центр научных работников и преподавателей иудаики в ВУЗах "Сэфэр", which translates most accurately as Center for Scientific Workers and Instructors of Judaica in Institutions of Higher Education [associated with] Sefer.
12. The Aleph Society has lost much of its support in the last several years.

The tension with Rabbi Steinsaltz finds a local parallel in relations between JUM and Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, who appears unenthusiastic about JUM for the same reason.
13. The last Soviet census was in 1989, i.e., ten years previously.
14.  The reference is to Vladimir Gouzinsky, the banker and media magnate who also is founding president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

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