Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 3, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and I coauthored an opinion piece, published on Fox News today, in response to reports that the President’s new budget plan may eliminate the position of U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. We urge the administration to keep this position intact and to fill it as quickly as possible.
This week Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I participated in a roundtable discussion on Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region, hosted by U.S. Senator and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Anti-Semitism Ben Cardin, and U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker. Included in the discussion was the OSCE’s Words Into Action to Address Anti-Semitism project, which works to prevent and respond to anti-Semitism through security, education, and coalition-building. The need to nominate a new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism position at the U.S. Department of State was also raised.

Genesis Philanthropy Group CEO Ilia Salita, whose foundation supports projects for Russian-speaking Jews worldwide, writes about the exciting vibrancy that the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union has brought to European Jewry. Through participating in gatherings like Limmud FSU, young Russian-speaking Jews are helping to create a new model for Jewish engagement.

In an interview on Russian TV, Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia spokesman Boruch Gorin said Jews support restituting religious communal property seized under Communism back to their respective religious groups, whether Jewish or Christian. If a building has been destroyed, he said, the state should allot space to build a new school or place of worship. 

Facing increased anti-Semitic violence both in the United States and overseas, a U.S. House of Representatives coalition relaunched the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. The taskforce’s co-chairs, including four senior Foreign Affairs Committee members, called on both parties to “work together to root out hatred and racism in all its ugly forms…[and] to find innovative solutions that match the 21st century face of this ancient bigotry.”

Both Ukraine and Georgia gained a foothold this week into closer relations with the European Union. On Wednesday, EU officials finalized a visa-liberalization deal with Georgia, which will allow its citizens visa-free travel to the EU as of March 28. Also, the European Parliament will consider a proposal to allow visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens when they spend less than three months in the EU.

The update includes a World Union for Progressive Judaism report on the first gathering of the Eastern European Council of Reform Rabbis, which met in Moscow last month. The participants, including rabbis from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, visited the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, and discussed the Reform movement’s efforts in the region, including training youth movement leaders, summer camps, and conversion practices.

President Vladimir Putin visited three Central Asian nations this week, firming up bilateral relations in the “near abroad,” where Russia is a staunch ally and supporter of many of the nations that were formerly Soviet states. And in Hungary, Jews and Roma are partnering to combat far-right hatred and violence at an “avant-garde” JCC in Budapest. 

Finally, a new documentary film, Operation Wedding, tells the story of a 1970 plan by fourteen Soviet Jews to steal an airplane to escape to Israel. The KGB thwarted the plan, but the group’s arrest and subsequent trial helped catalyze Jewish consciousness in the USSR and abroad, sparking the refusenik movement and the fight to free Soviet Jewry. The update includes a piece about the film, and how the group’s trial inspired Natan Sharansky as a young man in Moscow. 

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 3, 2017

Russian Jews speak for restitution of religious property
Interfax-Religion, February 28, 2017

Jews supports the restitution of religious property, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia official says. 

Members Relaunch the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, February 27, 2017

Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Kay Granger (R-TX), Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Peter Roskam (R-IL) are announcing the re-launch of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism in the House of Representatives for the 115th Congress.

Read the full statement here.

Chabad rabbi banned from Lithuania’s main synagogue
JTA, February 27, 2017

In an escalation of the internal feud dividing Lithuanian Jews, the Chabad movement’s senior emissary to the country was banned from the capital city’s main synagogue.

Nazi's son returns art that his family looted in Poland
By Monika Scislowska
AP, February 27, 2017

A Polish official says the son of a Nazi official has returned three artworks that his family had looted from Krakow during World War II.

Krzysztof Marcinkiewicz, spokesman for the provincial governor's office in Krakow, said Monday that the gesture inspired hope that other Nazi descendants will follow suit.

Read the full article here.

Sobibor closing to visitors during work to protect graves, build museum
JTA, February 28, 2017

The memorial site on the grounds of the former Sobibor Nazi death camp will be closed to visitors during planned construction of a museum and work to protect the mass graves of camp victims.

Read the full article here.

Hatch joins Jewish rabbis in seeking return of sacred texts held by Russia
By Kelsey Dallas
Deseret News, March 1, 2017

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, met with a group of Jewish leaders on Monday to reaffirm his commitment to securing the return of sacred texts from the Russian government.

Read the full article here.

First Seminar of the Eastern European Council of Reform Rabbis Launches in Moscow
World Union for Progressive Judaism, March 2, 2017

The first seminar of the Eastern European Council of Reform Rabbis took place in Moscow February 20-22, 2017 with Rabbis Alex Dukhovny (Ukraine), Julia Gris (Ukraine), Gregory Abramovich (Belarus), Alexander Lyskovoy (Russia), Leonid Bimbat (Russia), and Elena Rubinstein (Russia) in attendance.

Read the full article here.

Jewish community in Kyrgyzstan honors citizens who welcomed Jewish refugees during Holocaust
WJC, March 2, 2017

The Jewish community in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan this week unveiled a monument in honor of the citizens of the region who welcomed the Jewish refugees forced to flee the Nazi-occupied western regions of the Soviet Union during World War II

Read the full article here.

Ukraine blockade tensions rise in rebel-held east
BBC News, February 28, 2017

Ukrainian war veterans and their supporters say they will step up a coal blockade of rebel-held regions of industrial eastern Ukraine. For a month about 100 activists have blocked railway lines to stop Ukraine trading with pro-Russian rebels.

Read the full article here.

Visas: Council confirms agreement on visa liberalisation for Ukrainians
European Council, March 2, 2017

On 2 March 2017, EU ambassadors confirmed, on behalf of the Council, the informal agreement reached on 28 February 2017 between the Maltese Presidency and the European Parliament on visa liberalisation for Ukrainians. 

Read the full statement here.

EU Officials Sign Documents Allowing Georgians Visa-Free EU Entry
By Rikard Jozwiak
RFE/RL, March 1, 2017

European Union officials and lawmakers signed documents formalizing a visa-liberalization deal with Georgia on March 1. Diplomats familiar with the issue told RFE/RL that the documents will be published in the official EU journal on March 8 and will enter into force 20 days later, enabling Georgians to travel visa-free to the EU as of March 28.

Russians march to mark two years since Boris Nemtsov killing
By Alec Luhn
Guardian, February 27, 2017

Thousands of protesters marched in Moscow and other Russian cities on Sunday to mark two years since the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down near the Kremlin.

Five men including a security services officer who reported to the leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya are on trial for murdering the outspoken Putin critic but many fear whoever ordered the killing will not be brought to justice.

Read the full article here.
Touring the Backyard: Putin Pays Central Asia a Visit
By Catherine Putz
The Diplomat, March 1, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Central Asia this week, making stops in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan over the course of two days. The usual topics came up: friendly bilateral relations, the annoying impact of “circumstances” on economic relations, and security.

Read the full article here.
Trump Taps Putin Critic for Senior White House Position
By John Hudson
Foreign Policy, March 2, 2017

The Trump administration has offered a well-respected scholar and sober critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, a White House official told Foreign Policy.

Read the full article here.
In Budapest, Roma and Jews use alternative JCC to fight right-wing populism
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, February 27, 2017

Although she lives in the undisputed nightlife capital of Central Europe, Andi Angelip knows of only a handful of bars here where she is truly comfortable bringing a date.

Read the full article here.
How Bulgaria Saved Its Jews and What We Can Learn From Them
By Lonnie Kleinman
eJewishPhilanthropy, February 28, 2017

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. What they don’t say – but should – is that those who remember history and learn from it can create a better, stronger world.

Read the full article here.
The Jewish Future Has a Russian Accent
By Ilia Salita
Times of Israel, March 2, 2017

Ever since Pew’s 2013 survey of American Jewry presented the Jewish professional community with the alarming picture of corresponding trends of intermarriage and loss of interest in Jewish identity, the emphasis of the Jewish world at large has been on finding new ways to preserve Jewish peoplehood in the face of those challenges.

Read the full article here.
Remembering "Operation Wedding," the Event That Kick-Started the Movement to Free Soviet Jewry
By Dore Feith
Mosaic, February 27, 2017

In June 1970, fourteen Soviet Jews who had been refused permission to emigrate tried to steal an airplane to fly themselves to freedom in the West. Led by Edouard Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshits, the group had spent months plotting their move.

Read the full article here.
No Tevye In Whitewashed Anatevka
By Eliyana Adler, community contributor
Forward, February 27, 2017

The wooden houses with their straw roofs, their low beams, and crooked steps, solid wooden churches of dark wood with curved domes and cupolas, creaky old chicken coops and mud paths seemed both distant and familiar. At any moment one expects Tevye to appear from behind a corner nudging his horse, teasing his wife, or complaining to his God. The Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life in Lviv, Ukraine offers a truly enchanting vision of living history.

Read the full article here.
After Trump Win, Anti-Soros Forces Are Emboldened in Eastern Europe
By Rick Lyman
New York Times, March 2, 2017

Emboldened by encouraging signals from the Trump administration, populist leaders across Central and Eastern Europe are mounting simultaneous crackdowns on nongovernmental organizations, once protected by Washington, that promote open government, aid refugees and often serve as checks on authoritarian governments.

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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ 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.