Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 12, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: James Schiller, Chairman;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

It has been one year since our world was turned upside down by the coronavirus. Almost every facet of our daily life was and continues to be affected by this pandemic. As bad as the situation is, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with more and more people getting the vaccine. NCSEJ, like every organization, scrambled to adapt to the new reality of a virtual work environment. 
I am proud of how our lay leadership and staff came together to ensure that NCSEJ’s vital work continued through these new obstacles. In the last year, we have organized dozens of zoom calls with presenters speaking from literally around the world. We put together two virtual board meetings and are making plans for NCSEJ’s 50th anniversary. It is our hope that we will be able to resume in-person meetings and missions by the fourth quarter of 2021.
In the meantime, our agenda remains full as anti-Semitism in the region continues to grow, governments continue to delay and fight initiatives to return communal property, right-wing extremist groups make inroads into the political landscape, and Jewish communities in the region continue to confront efforts to limit brit milah and shechita. 

The pandemic has not stopped our outreach on these issues to U.S. and foreign government officials in Washington and overseas. Our methods may have changed but not our perseverance. 

On behalf of the entire NCSEJ family, I want to thank you for your ongoing support of the organization and hope you stay healthy and safe.

Shabbat Shalom!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 12, 2021

Freedom, Finally! Recalling the Historic Arrival of Soviet Jews in Detroit
Ashley Zlatopolsky
The Detroit Jewish News | March 11, 2021

In 1981, my mother, Alla Zlatopolsky (maiden name Nisnevich), a Jewish immigrant from what was then the Soviet Union, experienced her first Shabbat dinner at the home of a volunteer family in Metro Detroit. These American families were paired with Soviet Jewish families to teach them about Jewish life.

At 15 years old, my mom, who was born in Bobruisk, Belarus, and grew up in Riga, Latvia, knew little about Judaism. But she, along with the thousands of Soviet Jews who resettled in that area after World War II, weren’t alone in this lack of understanding.

Religion was illegal in the U.S.S.R. due to state-sponsored atheism instilled by the communist regime. Judaism, especially, was not tolerated or permitted. Centuries of antisemitism were deeply ingrained in Russian society, a view that barely improved after the war.

\Three million Jews across the Soviet Union from Ukraine to Lithuania faced spiritual extinction. While the physical threat of the Holocaust remained nothing but a terrible, albeit fresh, memory for survivors and their direct descendants, the once-vibrant Jewish life of Eastern Europe was virtually nonexistent in the decades that followed the 1940s.

Russia slows down Twitter over ‘banned content’
Hamza Shaban
The Washington Post | March 10, 2021

Russia slowed down Twitter for hundreds of thousands of users on Wednesday after regulators accused the platform of failing to remove banned content. It’s the latest escalation between a government entity and a U.S. social media company over ongoing debates shaping the boundaries of global communications.

The nation’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said Twitter has not removed content that encourages suicide among young people, as well as posts and links tied to child pornography and drug use. Thousands of tweets fall into these categories, Russian officials said.

Should Twitter continue to host the prohibited content, the regulator warned that it could move to block the site entirely. For now, though, agency officials said they would throttle Twitter access on all mobile devices, and on half of the users who log on through their computers. The company has more than 690,000 active users in the country, according to a recent report from the research agency Brand Analytics.

78 Years Since Deportation of Macedonia’s Jewish Community by Bulgarian Nazi Army
Metodija Koloski
EinPresswire | March 11, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC, USA, March 11, 2021 /EINPresswire.com/ -- March 11th, 2021 marks 78 years since the deportation of 98% of Macedonia’s Jews to a Nazi extermination camp.
The Bulgarian pro-Nazi army forcibly evicted 7,144 Jews from their homes in Skopje, Bitola, and Shtip in 1943 and sent them to the Tobacco Factory transit camp in Skopje, from where they were dispatched to Treblinka. There were no survivors.

This is a harrowing part of Macedonian history that should never be forgotten.

The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) calls on the current Bulgarian government to formally acknowledge the role that Bulgaria played during its Second World War occupation of Macedonia, and to provide its official apology both to the Jewish people and to Macedonia.

In an open letter to Bulgaria in December 2020, Macedonia’s Jewish community said:
“We publicly call on the Government (or the officially elected political authorities – Prime Minister, President, Speaker of Parliament) of the Republic of Bulgaria to face the truth about the Holocaust against the Jews in the occupied territories for which the pro-Nazi government in the Kingdom of Bulgaria at that time was directly responsible and to apologize and accept responsibility.

“The sooner the Democratic Republic of Bulgaria faces the painful and dark moments of its past, a reconciliation will be possible because the denial of crimes is the first step towards their repetition.”

Twelve thousand were detained, including 761 minors’ Internal FSB report sheds new light on the number of protesters and detentions at January’s pro-Navalny demonstrations 
Meduza | March 9, 2021

There were far fewer people who went to the protests than people who voted for Putin in the elections — this was the Kremlin’s assessment of the pro-Navalny demonstrations that took place across Russia on January 23 and 31. Police officials also supported this statement, reporting less than 10,000 people on the streets of Moscow during the rallies. However, Meduza has uncovered that all this time, the FSB had been collecting its own statistics on the protests — and its findings are at odds with official statements. As evidenced by an internal report, the number of people detained amid the protests was even higher than estimates from human rights groups. And according to the FSB, a total of 90,000 people took part in the countrywide demonstrations. Now, the security service is seriously studying the protest potential of Russian citizens. Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova breaks down the conclusions the FSB has reached so far.

Russia's Sputnik V could be made in European Union after reported deals
Reuters | March 9, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 could be produced in western Europe after a deal to make it in Italy was signed by Moscow’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund and Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne.

The agreement, which will need approval from Italian regulators before production can be launched, has been confirmed by both RDIF, which markets Sputnik V internationally, and the Italian-Russian chamber of commerce.

Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF’s head, told Russian state TV his fund had also struck deals with production facilities in Spain, France and Germany to produce Sputnik. He did not provide details.

It is the latest indication that some companies could press ahead with plans without waiting for the European Union’s regulator -- the European Medicines Agency (EMA) -- to grant its approval to Sputnik V.

Scientists said the Russian vaccine was almost 92% effective, based on peer-reviewed late-stage trial results published in The Lancet medical journal last month.
Sputnik V has already been approved

In Eastern Europe, historic synagogues are sold for the price of a used car
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 5, 2021

(JTA) — On a visit to the city of Slonim in Belarus, Ilona Reeves fell in love with a 380-year-old dilapidated building that used to house one of the area’s largest and oldest synagogues.
Reeves, a 40-year-old author who lives in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is a Christian, like virtually everyone who lives in the country. And the synagogue hadn’t been operational since before the Holocaust when three-quarters of Slonim residents were Jewish. Virtually all were murdered by the Nazis.

Still, Reeves looked at the structure, which had fallen into disrepair after years of use as shops, and saw something she wanted to save.

“Standing outside the Great Synagogue of Slonim, I felt how small I am, we all are, in the face of such architectural monuments and traditions they represent,” she said.
With money that she’d freed up by selling her apartment in Minsk — partly to buy the synagogue — Reeves bought the synagogue in December for about $10,000 from the Slonim municipality on the promise that she restore it. She was the sole bidder. 
Israeli ambassador visits Azerbaijani war veterans receiving treatment
International News.Az | March 4 , 2021

Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan George Deek visited the National Ophthalmology Center named after the Academician Zarifa Aliyeva in Baku to meet war veterans receiving treatment, the Embassy said on Thursday.

The ambassador noted that Israeli doctors, nurses, and technicians in Azerbaijan have treated more than 100 veterans.

“I talked to one of the Israeli doctors. The doctor said that during this period he carried out more operations than he did in Israeli hospitals in 6 months. Namely, this is the spirit of our cooperation. It is the spirit of the friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan. We want to help to restore the health of these people in Azerbaijan, return self-confidence, abilities and live a good, normal, and worthy life in Azerbaijan - in their homeland. I believe that it is a sign of friendship between our countries. I believe that our friendship will further develop in the future,” Ambassador Deek added. 

Does Coronavirus Herald the Age of Totalitarian Surveillance in Russia and Eurasia?
Nikolai Markotkin
Carnegie Moscow Center | March 11, 2021

The new coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown measures triggered a significant increase in digital control over people in many countries. Government agencies monitor data from mobile operators on the movements and contacts of their clients, collect personal data, and make use of cameras connected to facial recognition systems and many other technologies. Members of the public are rightfully concerned about their governments’ active encroachment into what was recently their personal space.

The fight against the pandemic has merely legitimized and brought into the spotlight technologies that had already been in use around the world for years. And we can expect increased digital control to remain in effect in Russia—and many other countries—even after the pandemic is over.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s Activity Strains Georgian-Ukrainian Relations
Giorgi Menabde
The Jamestown Foundation | March 10, 2021

On March 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy removed the head of the Executive Committee on Reforms, Mikheil Saakashvili, from his position on the Coordination Council for Urban Planning. The Presidential Office provided no explanation for this sudden decision (Sova, March 5). Zelenskyy had appointed Saakashvili—the former president of Georgia and one-time governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast—as head of the Ukrainian Executive Committee on Reforms back in May 2020 (RBC, May 7, 2020).

The news of Saakashvili’s exclusion from the Coordination Council raised wide speculation in Tbilisi about whether or not the unexpected decision from the Ukrainian president was connected to the latest events in Georgia, where the confrontation between the United Opposition, including Saakashvili’s United National movement (UNM) party, and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream (GD) has reached a boiling point. As a result of the political standoff, the former Georgian head of state’s influence on the situation in his native country has grown (see EDM, February 24, March 1).

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013, after his party lost the general election to GD and the new ruling government brought criminal charges against him. A Tbilisi court sentenced him in absentia to three and six years in prison in two cases: First, he was found guilty of issuing pardons in exchange for the silence of high-ranking police officers convicted in the kidnapping and death of banker Sandro Girgvliani in January 2006. Second, Saakashvili was convicted of organizing the 2005 beating of his opponent, deputy and businessman Valery Gelashvili. Saakashvili has always denied his guilt, calling the accusations “false” and “politically motivated” (Kommersant April 24, 2020). The government stripped him of his Georgian citizenship in 2015, ostensibly for becoming a Ukrainian national earlier that year and taking the position of governor of Odesa.

Review: The documentary ‘Still Life in Lodz’ reveals the power of mementos and memories
Gary Goldstein
The Los Angeles Times | March 10, 2021

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s also worth a documentary inspired by one. That would be director Slawomir Grünberg’s moving and evocative “Still Life in Lodz,” which centers around a painting that hung in the same tenement apartment in Lodz, Poland, for 75 years. It also became a kind of touchstone for young Lilka Elbaum, who beheld the staid portrait of fruit, flowers, wine and more, every day for her first 19 years, from 1949 to 1968. That was when she and her family lived in said apartment, a roomy, then-desirable place that overlooked a busy thoroughfare in front and a quieter courtyard in back.

In the film, Elbaum, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, returns to Lodz (pronounced “Woodge”), once Poland’s second most populous Jewish city, to revisit the Kilinskiego Street apartment in which she grew up and to track down the painting she’d never forgotten. But her trip evolves into a deeper look back at Lodz’s fraught history, including how the Nazi invasion of 1939 decimated the city’s Jewish citizenry and how the anti-Semitism that prevailed in the decades after World War II shaped Lodz — and Elbaum’s life. (She and her family were forced to leave Poland — and the painting — in 1968, during which time the government had dubbed Jews “the enemy of the state”; the Elbaums settled in Canada, with Lilka later moving to the U.S.)

Rabbi in Moldova helps save a life and scores matzah for his community
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 5, 2021

(JTA) — Last week, Mendy Axelrod was working to secure a supply of matzah for his Jewish community in Moldova ahead of Passover. It’s no easy task this year, as air and land traffic into the small Eastern European country has been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Then near tragedy struck.

Axelrod, a Chabad rabbi working in the capital Chisinau, had to drop everything to save the life of an Israeli tourist, a man in his 40s who was teetering on the brink of death from a severe case of the coronavirus in a poor country with a fragile public health system that has been overwhelmed by the pandemic.
The timing was disastrous. But Axelrod, who moved to Moldova four years ago from his native Israel, ended up solving both problems at once, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
On Sunday, he got the insurance firm MedAssis to load boxes of matzahs onto the medical airplane that flew in from Israel to take the patient back home, where he is recovering.