Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 18, 2019

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Aleksander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,
As Jews around the world prepare for Passover, it’s important to remember the significance of this holiday to the Soviet Jewry movement. The Pesach theme and message resonated with activists in the former Soviet Union as they challenged a totalitarian government for their freedom. Their uncompromising commitment to fight for the right to return to the historic Jewish homeland Israel inspired a generation of like-minded Jewish activists in the diaspora. 

The Jewish people wandered the desert for forty year before arriving in Israel. It took a generation of global activity before the USSR opened its emigration gates. In the first instance, the Jewish people returned to Israel after generations of exodus; in the latter, more than a million Jews from the former Soviet Union changed the landscape of modern day Israel, as well as the Middle East. Two miracles thousands of years apart reaffirm the resiliency of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

On a personal note, my parents, Joseph and Betty Levin will be hosting their 50th annual Passover Seders on Friday and Saturday nights. They assumed this responsibility after my grandmother passed away in the summer of 1968.

Since our family arrived in America at the turn of the twentieth century there has been a continuous Burak/Levin family celebration of Passover. Through two World Wars, the Depression, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam and countless family triumphs and tragedies, our family has welcomed relatives, friends and strangers to the Seder table. Whether it was my grandmother years ago or my parents now, when asked if a guest could join the family Seder, the answer always has been yes.

Like many other families our Seders continue to evolve – a combination of traditional and new customs. On the first night we use the same Maxwell House Haggadahs that are well over sixty years old (I don’t know how they haven’t completely fallen apart by now). For the past several years, on the second night, we use a Haggadah written by our daughter. As both of my parents approach one hundred years of life, they continue to welcome everyone to their home and conclude each Seder with a hearty and enthusiastic “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Chag Pesach Sameach,
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. April 18, 2019

International Fellowship to Help 120,000 Jews in Former Soviet Union with Passover 
JNS, April 15, 2019 

“We are continuing to move forward, to act with full force, as well as to expand our activities and help other people,” said International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Fellowship president Yael Eckstein, honoring the memory of her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.”

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is sponsoring tens of thousands of Passover food packages for 120,000 Jewish families living in the former Soviet Union, made possible by Christian friends of Israel.

The Federation of the Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States, alongside CHAMAH and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, is distributing the items to Jews in need.

Over 48 Percent of Ukrainians Ready to Vote for Zelenskiy, 17 Percent for Poroshenko 
By Interfax-Ukraine Staff
Kyiv Post, April 16, 2019 

Just under a half of Ukrainians (48.4 percent) said they would vote for Volodymyr Zelenskiy and 17 percent for the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, were the second round of the presidential election held right now, according to the findings of a poll conducted by the Kiyv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) on April 9-14.

Seventeen point nine per cent were undecided, 1.6 percent were going to ruin the ballot, 6.3 percent did not intend to go to the polls and 8.8 percent refused to answer the question.

First Time Since Holocaust: Passover Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto
By Arutz Sheva Staff
Arutz Sheva, April 17, 2019

For the first time since the Warsaw ghetto was liquidated during World War II and all its residents were killed or deported to death camps, one hundred Diaspora Jewish families will celebrate a Passover seder in the ghetto, along with the Rabbi of the local Lubavitch Jewish community and his family. Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, Chief Rabbi of Chabad-Poland is hosting a special Passover seder in the heart of what was formerly the Warsaw ghetto with approximately one hundred Jewish families from Israel, Europe and the USA as his guests.

Mr. Yosef Nachum and Nakmi’a Ben-Shem (previously Feldschuh) will be flying in from Israel to participate in the seder. Daughter Sharon Ben-Shem expresses, “Child prodigy Josima Feldschuh, the celebrated young pianist of the Warsaw Ghetto, was my aunt. She perished on April 21, 1943 shortly before her fourteenth birthday, while in hiding. Her very last meal took place the prior evening—the seder night of 1943! This year, we will be joining the seder in Poland together with her family—her brother (my father) and sister (my aunt) and I (her niece). We will be in Warsaw, in the seder night, in her city, precisely on the day that she passed away.

Israel Film Festival Opens in Kazakh Capital
By Saltanat Boteau 
The Astana Times, April 12, 2019

The Israeli Embassy in Kazakhstan, in cooperation with KazGUU University, opened the week-long Israeli Film Festival April 8 by screening Yossi Madmoni’s “Restoration.” The festival is aimed at showing Israeli culture and daily life and emphasising topics common to all people.

The closed screening was attended by Israeli Ambassador to Kazakhstan Liat Wexelman, KazGUU staff and faculty and representatives of the Kazakh government, art and culture.

“This week, we will have the opportunity to watch some of the most outstanding [Israeli] films of recent years. Our movies are mostly on the most important [topics such as] family life, intergenerational relations and friendship. Today, we will show the film ‘Good morning, Mr. Fidelman.’ This is a drama about the relationship between generations and family values,” said Wexelman in her welcoming speech.

Warsaw’s Great Synagogue Symbolically Returns to Plac Bankowy  
Emerging Europe, April 13, 2019 

Warsaw’s Great Synagogue is set to symbolically return to Plac Bankowy. On April 18, the Open Republic Association plans to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with a multimedia event created by the artist Gabi von Seltmann. On that night (on the eve of the anniversary of the uprising), an image of the synagogue rising from the rubble will appear on the wall of the so-called Blue Skyscraper which was constructed on the site.

The project represents a symbolic reconstruction of the Great Synagogue, destroyed by the Germans after the uprising had been put down. Its site (formerly Tłomackie 7) is currently occupied by the foundation of a glass skyscraper (today Plac Bankowy 2). On the wall from the side of the Bankowy Square, an image of the destroyed Great Synagogue will be projected. It will be animated in such a way that the viewer will have an impression that the building is rising from the ruins. Thanks to virtual multimedia animation techniques, in the culminating moment of the projection an image of the Great Synagogue will appear on the wall of the skyscraper. The projection will be accompanied by a sound collage. Visitors will hear archival recordings of the cantor of the Great Synagogue, Gerszon Sirota, who died in the Warsaw Ghetto, and fragments of the poem Bashert, read by its author, Irena Klepfisz, daughter of Michał, a soldier of the Jewish Combat Association.

In Moldova, Jewish Values in Action for All
E Jewish Philanthropy, April 16, 2019

The Jewish community of Kishinev, Moldova has experienced a renaissance in recent years, and they are now using that resurgence in Jewish life and reconnection to Jewish identity to spread Jewish values locally and globally.

With a stand-out Jewish volunteer organization and social service platform that has been recognized by the Moldovan government, they were well positioned for this next effort: participating in the community’s first TOM Makeathon.

Brought in by the local Jewish community – with support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which helps revitalize Jewish life and aid needy Jews in the country – the TOM Makeathon is part of a global movement that unites “makers” – designers, inventors, developers, engineers, programmers – with “need-knowers” – people from vulnerable groups – to create solutions for people with various physical restrictions or health conditions. It is part of TOM Israel, a start-up from the Reut Group, an innovative policy and strategy group working to positively impact the lives of people worldwide.

Lukashenka Invited to Brussels Dinner
By RFERL Staff
RFERL, April 15, 2019

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been invited to a dinner hosted by European Council President Donald Tusk to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership in Brussels on May 13.

Several EU sources speaking under the condition of anonymity have confirmed that Lukashenka last week was invited alongside the leaders of the EU's other five eastern partners -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

However, they do not expect Lukashenka to show up in person, saying that Minsk could be represented instead by Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makei, who also attended the 2017 Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on behalf of his country.

Bulgarian National Union to Host Far-Right Groups from All over Europe in Sofia
By Sofia Globe Staff
The Sofia Globe, April 16, 2019 

Ultra-nationalist extra-parliamentary party the Bulgarian National Union is to host a gathering of far-right groupings from all over Europe in Sofia on April 20 and 21 to discuss common initiatives and future plans.

The Bulgarian National Union is an organiser of the annual Lukov March, held every February since 2003 in honour of a pro-Nazi Bulgarian general who led the Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1930s and 1940s.

According to the Bulgarian National Union website, each of the organisations will give presentations about their ideas and activities.

“We will talk about common initiatives that we have conducted and will reveal interesting details of future plans that we have. Each of the organisations will also have an information stand at which various materials will be presented. There will also be an opportunity for questions to our guests. Whoever wishes to get acquainted with our common struggle is welcome!” the website said.

Read the full article here.

Vilnius Court to Decide Fate of Old Jewish Cemetery
By Hagay Hacohen
The Jerusalem Post, April 17, 2019

The European Foundation of Human Rights released a statement Tuesday saying that a preventive claim was filed in a Vilnius court to halt the expansion of an existing sports center next to a historic Jewish cemetery. 

The legal appeal follows a petition championed by Ruta Bloshtein who said in an interview with Tablet that the cemetery “is sacred ground and should be restored as a cemetery and memorial park to which pilfered gravestones (which turn up all over the city) can be returned.”

Former Chief Rabbi of Lithuania Chaim Burshtein was sacked after he voiced his objection to the project. 

The new convention center is partly funded by the European Union, yet the European Foundation of Human Rights is coordinating the lawsuit, which was submitted to the court by an Israeli of Jewish Lithuanian heritage.

Read the full article here.

As A Russian Jewish Immigrant, I Was A Stranger at the Passover Seder 
By Masha Kisel
Forward, April 15, 2019 

When we arrived as political refugees from the Soviet Union to America in the late 1980s, American Jewish communities went out of their way to welcome us. They opened their hearts and homes expecting grateful, meekly smiling families. They imagined that there would be lot of nodding and pointing and patting each other on the back in what looked more like a reunion of long-lost friends than a first-time meeting.

But in reality, we could not fulfill those dearly-held images of Soviet Jewish immigrants. We were alien, prickly and unlovable. The charity we received when we first arrived sustained us physically, but we were not able to show appreciation for it. Not right then. For one, we didn’t know how to smile. It literally hurt our faces, much like the contortions we had to perform to pronounce “sheet” and “peace.” The results often weren’t pretty. Smiling was an instinctive expression of joy. But we were not a happy or a close family; immigration only amplified our dysfunction and we did not smile often. After all, my stepfather and I were enemies, locked in combat for my mother’s love.

It’s Time to Do away with Laws Enforcing Triumphal National Histories 
By Matthew Lenoe
The Washington Post, April 17, 2019 

On March 31, a few hundred demonstrators gathered in U.S. cities to protest congressional resolutions condemning anti-Semitism and promoting restitution of confiscated property to Holocaust survivors. Though small, the protests, which were organized by a number of Polish American groups, raise disturbing questions about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and about “memory laws” intended to shape politically correct national histories.

Many of the protesters expressed open hostility toward Jews — one waved a dollar bill in the face of Jewish counterprotesters, and others held signs with anti-Semitic messages. Participants made grotesque historical claims. One sign asserted that Jews had “betrayed Poland” by inviting the Nazis to invade in 1939. A protest supporter online asked why Polish Jews did not help with the post-World War II reconstruction of Poland. (They had been murdered in the Holocaust.)

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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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.