Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 8, 2018

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

On Tuesday, June 5, NCSEJ hosted its Spring Board of Governors meeting, led by Chairman Daniel Rubin. We had a large turnout, with participation from NCSEJ leadership, community members, representatives from our member agencies, and diplomats from sixteen countries in Europe and Eurasia. At the meeting, we paid tribute to former chair Shoshana Cardin, who passed away last month at the age of 91, after a lifetime of service to the Jewish people.
Our meeting featured presentations from six speakers. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw spoke about the Museum’s role in sparking discourse about Polish history and the Jewish community’s future in Poland. Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, discussed the status of restitution in Eastern Europe.

Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States Erzhan Kazykhanov discussed his country’s role in promoting interfaith peace and tolerance, and Kazakhstan’s small but thriving Jewish community. Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, and his Kennan Institute colleague Izabella Tabarovsky spoke about how to combat the growth of nationalism and historical revisionism. Luncheon keynote speaker Kathleen Kavalec, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, discussed the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship and Russia’s impact on regional and international affairs.

That evening, Vice-President Allen Kronstadt, Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I attended the centenary anniversary celebration of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and the Day of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, with over 1,000 guests, including representatives from the White House, the Department of State, and Members of Congress. On Wednesday, Lesley Weiss and I, along with representatives of other Jewish organizations, met with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko at the Embassy of Ukraine. On Thursday night, I attended a smaller iftar break-fast meal at the Embassy of Uzbekistan.

Last week, the Tallinn Jewish community center in Estonia celebrated its tenth anniversary. Estonia’s small and vibrant Jewish community is thriving under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot, who presided over the celebration. Other prominent figures at the event included Estonian Parliament Speaker Eiki Nestor, former Prime Minister (now European Commission Vice President) Andrus Ansip, and Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau.

On Monday, the United Nations released its first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism. The guidelines will work to educate youth in school setting on how to respond to anti-Semitic acts and speech. The guide is a welcome addition to recent international efforts to combat hate again Jews, such as the push for adoption among European countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition on anti-Semitism.

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin hosted his annual call-in show, a tradition he’s upheld as President since 2001. This year, over four-and-a-half hours, he answered questions on domestic issues such as taxes and rising gas prices, as well as foreign affairs, including Russia’s relations with the United States and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. June 8, 2018

Estonia celebrates 10 years of first Jewish Community Center since WWII

By Tamara Zieve
Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2017

TALLINN – “We will be here forever,” a veteran member of the Estonian capital’s tiny Jewish community told The Jerusalem Post during a celebration of the community center’s 10th anniversary on Thursday.

“In the Soviet Union, we had a corner, a little synagogue, half hidden,” recalls Peisah Kozlovski, 65. He said life before the establishment of Tallinn’s new synagogue was “gloomy.”

“Life started after Estonia became free, and especially with this synagogue,” he remarked. “The community has changed a lot with the arrival of our [Chief] Rabbi [Shmuel Kot], who united all of us and made this life very interesting. We have a lot of friends, we come together – it’s a point of meeting. We go to shul and then to a cafe next door,” he said, smiling.

Read the full article here.

Putin talks World War III and World Cup during annual call-in show
By Elena Holodny and Francis Whittaker
NBC News, June 7, 2018

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin, in his annual call-in TV show, warned Thursday that any large-scale global conflict would lead to the "end of civilization."

The Russian president fielded questions from members of the public during the marathon event, which ran for four hours, 26 minutes.

After being asked about whether "nonstop" sanctions could trigger World War III, Putin quoted Albert Einstein: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

UN releases first education guide on fighting anti-Semitism
Associated Press, June 4, 2018

PARIS — The United Nations has released its first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism.

UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural body, launched the publication on Monday in Paris in collaboration with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The guide, designed for young people, teachers and political leaders, was presented by Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO's director general.

Read the full article here.

Synagogues become nightclubs in Eastern Europe
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, June 1, 2018

In a recent and controversial development in Eastern Europe, former Jewish houses of worship left abandoned after the Holocaust are being renovated for commercial ends by contractors who capitalize on their Jewish history and incorporate it into a brand.

Critics view the businesses as exploitative cultural appropriation in the wake of a tragedy. Advocates argue it reflects respect and nostalgia for Jews in addition to providing a vehicle for at least some preservation of heritage sites.

Read the full article here.

Amendment to Lithuanian law sparks firestorm over Russian propaganda, Holocaust
By Joanna Plucinska    
Politico.eu, June 4, 2018

The Russian president raised a slight commotion last week when he said “in light of the fact that a more active political process has begun, foreign armed forces will start leaving Syrian territory.” The show was well planned. On May 9 Putin met with Benjamin Netanyahu, five days later Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and on May 17, Bashar Assad was summoned to Sochi to hear what Putin had agreed on.

Presumably everyone agreed that foreign forces would leave Syria. But Assad came mainly to receive instructions, as well as assignments he must carry out to advance Russia’s moves. One assignment is to amend the Syrian constitution to ensure more rights and political representation for ethnic groups. Thus a delegation of Russian jurists is expected in Damascus soon to “help” Assad draft the amendments.

Read the full article here.

Family of refusenik puts on display the world’s only photos of Soviet gulag life
By Yaakov Schwartz
Times of Israel, May 30, 2018

For the first half of his life, Holocaust survivor, Red Army veteran, and anti-Soviet dissident Joseph Schneider survived on a cocktail of dumb luck and moxie — a recipe which allowed him to become perhaps the only person to successfully photograph the inner workings of the Soviet gulag system.

Now, Schneider’s secret trove of photos documenting daily life in a Mordovian forced labor camp has been gifted to the National Library of Israel by his family.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine Under Threat From Far-Right Extremism, Report Reveals
By Cristina Maza
Newsweek, June 6, 2018

Ukraine has a growing problem with far-right extremists, a new report revealed Wednesday.

Far-right extremist groups have existed on the margins of society since Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But a new report by Washington, D.C.-based think tank Freedom House suggests that these groups have recently become more active and are hurting the country’s fledgling democracy. Far-right extremists still lack the popular support needed to be a meaningful force in organized politics, but law enforcement officials in Ukraine are allowing them to threaten civil society groups and operate with impunity, according to the report. 

Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s duty to the heirs of Holocaust survivor Magda Mandel
By Josh Cohen
Kyiv Post, June 6, 2018

As Ukraine seeks to surmount its Soviet past and join Europe, it’s time for Kyiv to address an important yet heretofore overlooked issue: Holocaust restitution, returning art stolen by the Nazis from Jews destined for the death camps. An ongoing case in the western city of Uzhhorod illustrates why Kyiv has a moral responsibility to address the issue of stolen Holocaust art – as well as how it might do so.

In 2012, Louis Mandel, a New York native, came to the Transcarpathian Art Museum in Uzhhorod to see in person a portrait of his late cousin Magda Mandel (1912-1975). Magda’s daughter, Martha Shapiro, made this journey a few years earlier, when for the first time she came face-to-face with a colorful 1928 painting depicting a teenage girl, entitled “A Portrait of a Young Artist.” The family now firmly believes that the work – by the Hungarian painter Adalbert Erdelyi – was commissioned by the Mandel family and depicts a smiling and carefree 16-year-old Magda.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Lawmakers Dismiss Finance Minister, Pass Anticorruption Court
RFE/RL, June 7, 2018

Ukrainian lawmakers have voted to dismiss Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk after a public spat with the country's prime minister, in a move expected to raise concern among the country's foreign backers.

A total of 254 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament on June 7 supported a motion submitted by Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman to fire Danylyuk, a respected reformer backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Israeli diplomat praised Hungary for fighting anti-Semitism. Was he being cynical?
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, June 6, 2018

 In the fight against Europe’s anti-Semitism problem, Hungary’s government is rarely thought of as part of the solution.

Reviled by the European Union for the populist rhetoric and policies of its right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, the government is accused by foreign and domestic critics of stoking racism — including against Jews.

That is why some may have thought it odd when Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, thanked Orban for a “zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitism.”

Slovenia Elections Tilt Another European Country to the Right
By Barbara Surk
New York Times, June 3, 2018

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Voters in Slovenia gave victory to a populist party led by a firebrand former prime minister in parliamentary elections on Sunday that tilted another European country to the right.

With Sunday’s vote, Slovenia, a European Union member since 2004 and a user of the euro since 2007, could line up politically with Hungary, which re-elected the right-wing populist Victor Orban as prime minister in April, and Austria, where a far-right party has emerged as a strong political force. Mr. Jansa has closely allied himself with Mr. Orban.

Anti-Semitic incidents drop sharply in Poland and Hungary, watchdogs say
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, June 8, 2018

The Czech Republic reopened its honorary consulate in Jerusalem.

The consulate was opened Tuesday, about a month after Czech President Milos Zeman made the announcement that the consulate would reopen at an event in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday.

Opened in the early 1990s, the Czech honorary consulate in Jerusalem was closed in 2016 due to the death of the honorary consul.

Read the full article here.

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Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.