The Council for World Jewry visited Moscow and Kyiv last month, to consult with community leaders on the ground about their concerns and our shared opportunities. We had the opportunity to brief them on developments in Washington, and hear from them about Russian and Ukrainian – and international – politics.
We had substantive meetings with a variety of community leaders, including Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia’s top business leaders and philanthropists, and a member of the Council’s Board.
In this “post-post-Cold War” world, Washington is no longer the center for all access to decision-makers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The Council for World Jewry is committed to helping other communities get recognition and results from our government and from theirs. We also realize that they may have more influence where it counts. These leaders have better access in some places than most Americans – including Latin America and the Far East.
As part of this strategy, the Council used this trip to sign cooperation agreements with the Jewish Congress of Moldova and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. We held extensive consultations with the prominent business figures heading each organization, Emmanuil Grinshpun of Moldova and Alexander Feldman of Ukraine. Feldman is also a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament. We plan to visit the Moldovan capital Kishinev as soon as a new government is formed.
We also met with Alexander Machkevich, the Kazakh industrialist who heads the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, has built schools and synagogues across the former Soviet Union, along with a few churches and mosques. I had the opportunity to address the EAJC’s community-wide gala, and to meet many community leaders from across Europe and the successor states who attended.
Having seen Russian Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar and Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt in Mosccow, we visited in Kyiv with Chief Rabbis Yakov Bleich and Moshe Azman.
Anti-Semitism and the legacy of Holocaust and other crimes are ever-present. But this is not what defines Jewish identity in Russia and Ukraine today. Thanks to such community leaders and innovative rabbis, synagogues and other religious institutions are being restituted and restored; young Jews are getting involved in their heritage and showing support for Israel; Jews today are proud citizens of their countries.
Jewish business and community leaders carry their respective Jewish identities into every realm of national and civic culture. Beyond having access and appeal within their own countries, they increasingly play on the world stage. Mikhail Fridman heads Alfa-Bank as well as BP-TNK, which is now taking over some of British Petroleum’s global assets. Last year, Mikhail and a couple of partners launched the Genesis Foundation to advance global Jewish identity.
During this latest trip, U.S.-Russian relations were taking a step forward, as the U.S. Senate finally ratified the New START Treaty on nuclear arms reduction. Jewish leaders on the ground are willing and able to help get support for Israel and Jewish issues, and for stopping Iran’s nuclear program – not only from their own governments, but from some other governments as well. In Latin America late last year, several countries with longstanding ties to Israel and the United States announced their recognition of a Palestinian state; these developments no longer depend on what we do in Washington. Equal partnership with communities outside the United States is more than just a catchy slogan – it is both a reality and a necessity.