Alexander Mashkevich, EAJC President
Twenty years after
29.01.2010, Communities of Eurasia
May, 2009 we reached an emblematic date in the recent Jewish history – the twenty years anniversary of the All-Union Round Table on the problems of Soviet Jewry. This meeting of Jewish activists, which took place in Riga, in 1989, became a historic event in the full sense of the word. Twenty years ago, the leaders of the USSR Jewish organizations, mostly outlaws, for the first time at a public meeting, discussed problems and prospects of the Jewish national movement in the Soviet Union.
This round table meeting has become a life-changing event not only for us, the Jews of Silence, but for the whole Jewish world – the world of which we only whispered, afraid to breath and making a telling face. That world with the words “Jerusalem”, ”Israel”, “Zionism” and “American Jewry” for us was no more than an abstraction, unknown and inaccessible, something like a different civilization. To be sure, on various “radio voices”, we had heard about the world Jewry and Israel but it did not make a big difference.
We, Jews, just like the majority of the Soviet people, lived isolated from the outside world. However, even behind “the iron curtain”, we felt that the global Jewry was not a different planet. In Riga we saw a proof of that belief, since representatives of most international Jewish organizations had arrived to shake our hands and to tell us how much anticipated and important this meeting was to them. A few months later, the same situation was repeated at the first Congress of Jewish organizations and communities in Moscow, where the famous Vaad-USSR came into being – the first “umbrella-type” Jewish structure on the Eurasian expanse. We felt the reality of the Jewish world and made it our aim and object to become an integral part of it.
Today, the much broadcasted by mass media program of the Jewish national movement created at our first congresses and conferences has been virtually exhausted and is in need of a careful revision. This is precisely why, twenty years later, in Riga, members of the Round table and representatives of international Jewish organizations got together again to jointly celebrate the beginning of uninhibited Jewish life and to come out with the systematic analysis of the work undertaken by the Jewish organizations of the former Soviet Union. We recollected how it had all begun, shared our accomplishments and learned lessons from mistakes which were unavoidable on such a long and complicated way. We decided to meet again in Moscow to celebrate a no less important historic event – the foundation of Vaad – and to continue the apprehension of our undeniable achievements and annoying lapses, without which it is impossible to look into the future of Jewish organizations and the Jewry as a whole. We intend to use this unique opportunity to not just merely appraise the past achievements, but to thoughtfully assess the contemporary community life, to analyze its demographic and sociological aspects, the condition of Jewish education and social support, the problems of tolerance and anti-Semitism and the development of Jewish Sciences and Jewish culture. My co-workers in the Congress and me are deeply concerned about
the future of the Russian-speaking Jewry , particularly, about the development and strengthening of the national self-awareness of Jews in the CIS and Baltic States, since these regions have been under the Soviet regime. We must find the courage to give a Jewish answer to the main challenges of modern age as we see them. Today, at least three historical tendencies may be defined as not just mere challenges, but as tangible threats to the very existence of an organized Jewish community in the states of our region.
They are: assimilation, Anti-Semitism and, as a result of that, our general disunity. During the past twenty years, many efforts were made to unite the Jews of Europe and Asia, and the Jews of the former USSR countries, but we must admit the lack of a notable success in this field. Disunity still deeply affects the lives of Jewish organizations and communities. It also makes itself felt at the international level and in the relations with public authorities in some countries of our region. Unfortunately our disunity much too often provides news that feed the unscrupulous media sources.
The foundation of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) helped attract Jewish communities not only of the post-Soviet territory but also of the Eastern European countries and those of the Asian and the Pacific Rim. The appearance of the EAJC and its recognition in the international arena is a proof of our maturity and resilience, and it is a tangible and practical step to unification. The EAJC meets the 20th anniversary of the Jewish life on the former USSR territory with dignity: not only we have become participants of this process, but we also rank among its leaders. Thus, the mission we laid upon ourselves in the very beginning has been fulfilled. However, we must not feel satisfied and restrain our progress. The Jewish life poses new problems, and it is our duty to resolve them.
The reporting period of the work of our Congress in 2009 has ended with a significant event. The EAJC members have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Claims Conference, and the EAJC has become a standing member of this international organization. This event is not only a result of the persistent long-lasting struggle of the EAJC leadership for the recognition and fulfillment of interests and material claims of the Jews from the former USSR territory who have suffered from fascism. It is also an objective historical shift in the consciousness of the world Jewry which resulted in the acknowledgment of our partnership in its full value and parity. I cherish no illusions about one single idea or one type of institution capable of uniting various Jewish organizations. There cannot be and there must not be one global Jewish government. However, certain regional and international forums must exist where different standpoints could be heard
and common problems of the world Jewry could be discussed. I hope that the next Vaad-Russia convention, that will also host members of the historical Riga Round Table, will become such a forum that will help us get closer to the answers to the centuries old Jewish questions about who we are, where we are from and where we are heading.