Stanford University - Moscow Student Leadership Program Станфорд – Москва Поездка Студентов Лидеров March 23-30, 2009 PROGRAM REPORT Lesley Weiss, NCSJ Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs
Program Coordinators Lesley Weiss, Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs, NCSJ Dmitry Maryasis, Director, Moscow Hillel Anna Ermanok, Public Relations Director, Moscow Hillel Sam Berrin Shonkoff, Jewish Student Life Coordinator, Hillel at Stanford University Student Participants Stanford University Shira Beery Julia Greenberg Helen Helfand David Kessler Mariya Kupershmidt Matthew Levy Miriam Marks Amanda Mener Moscow Hillel Anton Babich Masha Filimonova Lilly Gaydukova Lidya Khessed Svetlana Lerman Galina Petrenko Marina Purmel Ilya Tsarfin
3 Introduction From March 23-30, 2009, students from Stanford University traveled to Moscow and joined with students from several Russian universities in a select student leadership program focused on advocacy and cross-cultural dialogue. The program, developed and coordinated by NCSJ in collaboration with Stanford University and Moscow Hillels, is supported by the Koret Foundation, Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
The eight-day seminar brought together Jewish students from America and Moscow.
The Stanford and Moscow students were paired as roommates, allowing them to informally interact and develop friendships with one another. The major themes addressed during the week included Jewish religious and organizational life, Jewish identity, anti-Semitism, and democracy-building. NCSJ, an advocate for Jewish communities in the successor states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) for over thirty years, provided the program with a unique and critical perspective about government and community-level Jewish life and institutions. Stanford University Hillel provided professional staff assistance in selecting and preparing the American students while Moscow Hillel helped to coordinate the program in Moscow.
Program participants in Red Square The project is an important part of NCSJ’s ongoing mission to link Jewish communities in the U.S. and former Soviet Union, as well as to develop a new generation of activists. The trip was preceded by two in-depth orientation sessions at Stanford. Dr. Steven J. Zipperstein, the
4 Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, discussed the history of Jews in the Soviet Union. Lesley Weiss, the project director, led a discussion about the goals, expectations, and details of the program. Moscow students met for an orientation with Moscow Hillel staff.
Program Highlights Meeting at Russian Foreign Ministry Briefings at the U.S. Embassy and the Israeli Cultural Center Meetings with Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Russian Jewish Congress representatives Lunch with Chief Rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shayevich, and Russian Jewish Congress President, Yuri Kanner, at the Choral Synagogue Shabbat lunch with Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, at Marina Roscha Synagogue and Jewish Community Center Meeting with media representatives Meeting with NCSJ leadership Discussions on anti-Semitism in Russia and the United States Visits to home-bound elderly and JDC’s Chesed Chamah Discussions on democracy, media freedom, and Jewish identity Home hospitality and touring Meeting with Genesis Philanthropy Group Meeting with Progressive Rabbi Alexander Lyskovoy Visit to Moscow Jewish Children’s Home and Etz Chaim Day School Meeting with Project Kesher Kabbalat Shabbat with Jewish Agency for Israel Views of Moscow during the eight-day visit
5 REPORT MOSCOW JEWISH LEADERSHIP MEETINGS Dr. Mikhail Chlenov is the General Secretary of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC), which defends the rights and interests of the Jewish people and officially represents the Jewish communities of the Euro-Asian region. Dr Chlenov discussed the history of the Russian Jewish community and its current state, as well as described the revival of Russian Jewish life as a “secular culture with its own religious traditions.” Chief Rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shayevich, hosted the group at the Choral Synagogue. He discussed his life and work at the oldest and largest synagogue in Moscow during Soviet times through the present.
He spoke about the history of the Jewish community in Moscow, and the renewal of Jewish life in Russia. Moscow participant Galina Petrenko said, “It was wonderful to meet Rabbi Shayevich because he is one of the people who saved Jewish culture during Soviet times and revived community life in Moscow after the USSR collapsed…he is still a kind of hero for all the Soviet Jews.” Yuri Kanner, President of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), discussed the role of the RJC in rep- (l.-r.) Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, Moscow participant Galina Petrenko and RJC President Yuri Kanner resenting the interests of the whole spectrum of modern Russian Jewry, and the movement toward self-organized and self-financed community projects.
He also spoke about his work in protecting and memorializing the massacre sites of the Holocaust. Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, discussed his work with the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FEOR), whose mandate is to restore life, culture, and religion throughout the former Soviet Union by providing assistance, educational support, and funding to member communities. During Shabbat lunch at the Marina Roscha Synagogue and Jewish Community Center, Rabbi Lazar spoke about his interaction with Russian government officials on behalf of Jewish communities and his work in developing and managing the Jewish communities of FEOR.
American participant Amanda Mener liked visiting the Chabad center and “witnessing their vibrant and all-encompassing community.” EMBASSY BRIEFINGS Eric Rubin, Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy in Moscow briefed the group about U.S.-Russian relations, human rights, anti-Semitism, press freedom, and the Moscow Jewish community.
Mr. Rubin discussed changes in U.S.-Russian relations following the conflict in Georgia last summer. He noted that both the U.S. and Russia have reduced inflammatory rhetoric and that the Obama Administration hopes to further improve the bilateral relationship. Additionally, the
6 United States would like to partner with Russia and address pressing world problems. While the new administration recognizes that there may be disagreements, they hope to focus on areas of agreement. American participant Matthew Levy observed that “the speakers at the Embassy were incredibly knowledgeable as to the historic and socioeconomic issues of the U.S.-Russia relationship, as well as the plight of the Jews.” Yuval Fuchs, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Israel, described his country’s bilateral relations with Russia as positive and improving.
He spoke about Russia’s participation in the Group of Six concerning Iran and nuclear weapons and Israel’s concerns about Iran and Syria. He also spoke about then- President Putin’s visit to Israel in 2005, and the frequent subsequent visits of other Russian officials to the Jewish state. American participant Shira Beery observed that this meeting “gave a different dimension to the U.S.-Russian relationship and more clearly established the place of the Russian Jewish community in the mix.” Moscow participant Anton Babich said “The most free and honest [speaker] was the diplomat from the Embassy of Israel.” Yuval Fuchs MEDIA BRIEFINGS (l.-r.) Shira Beery, Julia Greenberg, Lilly Gaydu- kova, Alexei Venidiktov Alexei Venidiktov, Editor-in-Chief of Echo Moskvy Radio, met with students at the radio station.
He spoke about the realities of broadcasting in Russia and maintaining a balance between Russian government approval and press freedom. He stressed his independence and observed that if he pleased everyone, then he was doing something wrong. He described his radio station as not oppositional or liberal, but as a professional place of discussion where the public can become experts because all views are represented, with the exception of fascists.
At the U.S. Embassy in Moscow
7 This meeting was particularly exciting for the Moscow students, most of who regularly listen to the radio broadcast. “For us in Russia, he is clearly an icon in the media,” said Moscow participant Galina Petrenko. Yonatan Pomrenze (right), Field Producer for NBC News, Grant Slater (center), Moscow Correspondent for Jewish Telegraph Agency, and free-lance journalist Miriam Elder (left) provided a Western perspective on covering Jewish interest stories and other news in Russia. American participant Mariya Kupershmidt noted that “the freedom (or lack thereof) of the press is one of the greatest and most important differences…between our two countries.” RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT MEETING Our meeting with Igor S.
Neverov, Director of the North American Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took place during the Ministry’s preparations for the meeting between Presidents Medvedev and Obama in London. Mr. Neverov provided an overview of Russian-U.S. bilateral relations starting from the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when he said then-President Putin offered unprecedented cooperation with the United States. For the first time, U.S. bases were located on Russia’s border and there was a strong anti-terrorism alliance. Then the focus of the U.S. administration shifted from anti-terror to weapons of mass destruction and rogue states, which was a move that Russia never agreed to.
Russia was not perceived as a completely equal party. Georgia and Ukraine became special U.S. projects, and Russian concerns were neglected. The final straw was Georgia, when President Saakashvili used the United States for his aims. He expressed hope that the new U.S. Administration would be less ideological and take a fresh look at some of the areas of disagreement between the two countries.
In response to questions about anti- Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, he said that no country is free from extremism and anti-Semitism, but that it was not a consistent phenomenon in Russia. He further stated that Russian President Medvedev meets regularly with members of the Jewish community and that there are close family ties with Israel because of its population of 1.5 million Russians. Igor S. Neverov and Lesley Weiss (center)
8 American participant Julia Greenberg said, “The meeting provided a great overview of Russia’s global position.” Moscow participant Ilya Tsarfin added, “It was really interesting for us to hear about the situation in Russia from our politicians.” GROUP DEBRIEFINGS AND STUDENT DISCUSSIONS Jewish genealogy and identity In addition to discovering our common interests and learning about contemporary Jewish life in Russia, we also shared our family histories.
Not surprisingly, the common thread in all of their lives were their grandparents (or at least one grandparent) born in this part of the world (e.g., Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Moldova). Students spoke about family members who were victims of the Holocaust or who survived and immigrated to Israel and elsewhere. Others talked about grandparents serving in the Soviet Army, while others were evacuated to Siberia. Although the two groups of students are settled in different parts of the world, it was exciting to learn about their common roots. Each shared story reflected a piece of the story of the Jewish people.
Moscow participant Svetlana Lerman observed that “most of the American students have Russian roots, as I learned from their biographies, and their grandparents were originally from here.” On Shabbat afternoon, Sam Shonkoff, Stanford’s Jewish Student Life Coordinator, facilitated a discussion with the group about Jewish identity. The main questions raised were “What do I love most about being Jewish?” and “What do I struggle with most about being Jewish?” The students pondered these questions and responded based on their own personal experiences, memories, pas- sions, and challenges. Dima Maryasis (far right) facilitates a group discussion It was clear that Jewish identity was defined by both strong trends and deep diversity.
One of the most profound aspects of this discussion for students was observing ways in which Russian and American students answered these questions similarly and differently. This dialogue sparked many other informal conversations among students for the rest of the trip.
9 Anti-Semitism in Russia Various speakers throughout the week, such as EAJC’s Semyon Charney, FEOR’s Andrew Glotser, and Victor Dashevsky talked about the decrease in violent acts of anti-Semitism in Russia. However, anti-Semitic attitudes remain strong in Russian society and are a central part of every national movement. The speakers presented a list of recent incidents including university books listing Judaism as a radical sect, the perpetuation of the myth of blood libel, and the increase of anti-Semitic publications. Moscow participant Lilly Gaydukova com- mented, “The presenters spoke openly and independently, which induces future action.” EAJC Moscow Executive Director Natasha Schmidt, and anti-Semitism experts Victor Dashevsky, Andrew Glotser and Semyon Charney VISITS TO JEWISH INSTITUTIONS American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Visits to Home-Bound Elderly The group split up to visit and bring food packages to home-bound elderly members of the community, an experience that particularly touched many of the students.
The group reconvened at Chesed Chamah, the oldest charity organization in Moscow, for lunch and to learn about the elderly clients who receive medical assistance, food, spiritual support, and other services funded by JDC. “Our visit to lonely, old people who really need care, attention, and communication was a highlight for me”, said Moscow participant Marina Purmel. American participant Helen Helfand said, “I truly felt I was making a difference and learning a lot while doing it.” At Chesed Chamah Student visit to home-bound elderly
10 Etz Chaim Jewish Day School The student leadership participants enjoyed a tour of the Jewish Day School. Most of the Moscow students had never visited a Jewish day school before, and several expressed interest in some-day sending their children to a school like Etz Chaim in the future. American participant Mariya Kupershmidt said, “It was really interesting to see because it showed us how Judaism is taught to young children and how they come to understand their Jewish background in Moscow.” Moscow Jewish Children’s Home A highlight of the week was the visit to the Jewish Children’s Home, where we met orphans and children from troubled families.
The home is directed by husband and wife Svetlana and Rafael Xiaxiashvili. The children attend Etz Chaim Jewish Day School. The group presented games, books, and candy to the children and enjoyed a musical presentation. “The visit was, in many ways, the most remarkable component of the trip…I was humbled by the couple who run the orphanage…for the love they show for abandoned children and for the firm emphasis they place on Judaism in their upbringing” said American participant David Kessler. Moscow participant Lidya Khessed added, “I was impressed by the familiar warm atmosphere.” A performance at the Moscow Jewish Children’s Home E-Club (Young Leadership) The group met for dinner with members of the E-Club (also known as Project Moshe).
It is directed by Eugenia Mikhaleva, Director General of the Federal Jewish Ethnic-Cultural Autonomy of Russia, and Svetlana Muterperel, Phoenix Charity Foundation Chairperson. The club, which is made up of Moscow Jews between the ages of 25-45, seeks to develop leadership skills, encourage participation of members in local Jewish community charity activities, and encourage families to participate in Jewish community life. Also joining us during the evening were three past Moscow participants of the NCSJ Student Leadership Programs from 1999 and 2001 who have remained active in the Jewish community.
11 Genesis Philanthropy Group The group enjoyed meeting with Stanley Polovets, President and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group, and his associates. He discussed the history and goals of the foundation emphasizing their focus on secular Jewish education and culture for Russian speakers around the world. American participant Miriam Marks said, “The most meaningful [visit to Jewish organizations] was with the representative of Genesis who discussed the more secular and cultural Judaism of the Russian youth. As what one might call a more ‘secular’ Jew myself, I was very interested in the expansion of the Jewish community in Moscow comprised of young Jews like me.” At the Genesis Philanthropy Group offices with Stanley Polovets (far right) (l.-r.) former Moscow Program participants with Lesley Weiss and Eugenia Mikhaleva Additional highlights Additional highlights during the week included a visit with Rabbi Alexander Lyskovoy, Chief Rabbi of the Progressive movement at the Memorial synagogue at Poklonnaya Hill.
The group lit Shabbat candles with Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) student leaders at Moscow Hillel, and attended Shabbat services at the Marina Roscha Synagogue. In smaller numbers of four and five, the members of the group visited the homes of Moscow students for dinner with their families. Moscow participant Masha Filimonova described the dinner with [Moscow participant] Anton’s grandmother as a “turning point…she told us about anti-Semitism at the beginning and middle of the 20th century.” Highlights also included a tour of the Kremlin, a meeting with NCSJ member agency Project Kesher, a historic walking tour of Moscow, and a farewell dinner at the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.
12 Rabbi Alexander Lyskovoy Moscow participants with Svetlana Yakimenko, NIS Director, Project Kesher (left) Home hospitality with Moscow students’ families; (right) Motya Chlenov, of World Congress of Russian Jewry, leads a historic walking tour of Moscow Conclusion An eight-day trip to Moscow is an exciting prospect for any U.S. student. Spending twenty-four hours a day for eight days with U.S. students was revelatory for the Russian participants. For both groups of students, NCSJ’s access to American, Russian and Israeli government officials and Jewish community leaders was critical to the program’s unique quality and success.
The joint participation in these meetings of Moscow and U.S. students was a mutual experience in learning. As important as the meetings were, the students’ shared experiences as roommates, and their discussions about anti-Semitism, Jewish identity, issues of democracy, and Moscow Jewish life were equally meaningful.
The program informed and inspired this group of young adults about Jewish life Russia, Jewish identity, and leadership development. The extraordinary quality of the program is reflected in the appended excerpts from the student’s formal review of the program.
13 STUDENT IMPRESSIONS (excerpts) David Kessler Stanford University ‘11 History (Jewish History concentration) I certainly feel that this trip has reinforced to me the centrality of Judaism in my own life. I have always vaguely felt that I care for the welfare of every Jew, but to participate in a trip like this proved to me how much I sincerely feel for Jews all over the world.
I was able to connect with involved members of the Russian Jewish community in a way that I cannot with my own non-Jewish friends and neighbors here at Stanford. This trip has also exposed me to what I now hope might be a future career of mine— to work for a nonprofit organization such as NCSJ in order to serve less privileged Jewish communities. Before this trip, I had never even considered such a career option, but I now feel that such a choice is fully open to me. Until then, I certainly intend to continue immersing myself in Jewish life and Jewish practices to whatever extent possible.
Marina Purmel Moscow State University The visits with Moscow Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations expanded my knowledge of Judaism and Jewish practices in Moscow a lot. For example I didn’t know about the Chesed Chamah, Jewish Children House (orphanage) of Stan Polovets, one of the sponsors of different Jewish cultural projects. I suppose these are the items that impressed me most of all.
After this program I regained a feeling that I need to pay more attention to the Jewish part of my life, to stay part of the Jewish community (and not only Moscow Jewish community). For example I didn’t celebrate Passover with Hillel or any Jewish organization for about two years. And this year I got GREAT pleasure having dived into the atmosphere of common gladness. Shira Beery Stanford University ‘09 International Relations I had never been to a U.S. embassy before this trip and I certainly never met anyone from the Russian government so these were both first-time experiences for me. I really appreciated it because it was helpful to put things in a greater context in terms of the narrative that different states have about the same relationships.
It really helped me understand where I was and what the issues that are being dealt with by the U.S. and Russian government, in particular.
I can’t describe how important it was that we spent time with Muscovites on this trip. Without them, I really don’t think we could have processed the information from all the meetings, tours, and simply walking down the streets of Moscow. They put everything in context and allowed us to reflect on what we learned by asking more questions of them, comparing their experiences of what we did with our own, comparing our attitudes, etc.
14 I loved when they got excited about things we were doing because it made me realize how special it was that, for instance, we were able to go to the Foreign Ministry or to Echo Moskvy.
It was also clear from the first days that the Moscow Jews had a very different perception about what it meant to be a Jew than the Americans. This was very interesting and a theme that ran through our conversations throughout the trip. Another particularly important moment was being able to visit my Muscovite roommate’s apartment and eating dinner with her mother. I would never have the opportunity to do this otherwise. Now I have friends in Moscow that I can visit and who can visit me. It’s an awesome feeling to know that.
Galina Petrenko Moscow We had two very important group talks (at least, they were important to me): the one in Hillel when we discussed our ancestry, and the one on Shabbat when we discussed what it means for us to be Jewish, etc. They were very thought-provoking and inspiring at the same time. Like other people in the group, I really enjoyed watching the attempts of the Americans to learn some Russian and discussing some differences in our everyday lives. Being a devoted Muscovite who loves the city, I was also really happy to discuss the history and culture of Moscow with the Americans, to answer their questions, to tell some stories that I know - I just wanted to share the passion that I have for our city and to make sure that they would want to come here again.
This programme has had a really big impact on me - in fact, I'm still reflecting on it. I have more clearly understood the huge (and sometimes bitter) differences between being a Jew in Moscow and in the US; I'm not complaining, of course, but I now see even more clearly that we still have to go a long way to reach the level of the U.S. Jewish communities, if it's ever possible. I am person who is predisposed to frequent self-reflection on the whole but during that week (and later) I approached again some of my old inner questions regarding my Jewish identity, etc. - and I found some answers I had been looking for a long time (and many new questions too, of course).
This programme really helped to strengthen my own Jewish identity and this feeling of connectedness, of belonging to the community that is related to it. I find it really fascinating that even though, at first sight, we are people from different countries and even continents, of different background, speaking different languages as mother-tongues, when we get together, we don't feel alienated but, on the contrary, very related to each other because we share that huge cultural and historical heritage; and we're part of it too, whether we want it or not. (We want, of course, because we wanted to take part in this programme from the very start.
The programme also gave me a much broader view of what's going in the Jewish community in Moscow - I didn't know many things or organizations even though I live in this city. And of course, due to the programme I've met wonderful people and made new friends - this is true about both the American students, with some of whom I'm in touch, and the Russian ones. For example, several of us have started going to Hillel much more often, meeting each other at Shabbats, etc. This is wonderful!
As for the actual contents of the programme - it was wonderful, very thoroughly-built; Jewish life definitely covered from all possible aspects.
15 Julia Greenberg Stanford University ‘09 Economics Interacting with the Moscow students was one of the most unique and meaningful aspects of the trip. It’s rare that I can travel to a foreign country and have a group of locals showing me around and sharing what their life there is like. The Russian students were incredibly smart. During our free time they took me to a couple of museums and were able to answer my questions and tell me all about Russian history and every painting in the Tretyakovskaya Gallery.
It was nice to have them there to verify for us just how unique this experience was even for a local and how it translated to their everyday lives. On the bus, at meal times, and with my roommate I could always ask questions and get a more complete picture of how different and similar the student’s lives were socially, religiously, and culturally. I enjoyed visiting the social services organizations. I liked visiting the Jewish Day School and seeing what the atmosphere is like for students who go there and what their admission process is like. I also enjoyed the visit to the Jewish Senior Citizen center in the context of our visits to senior citizens.
I was surprised to see that such social services existed in Russia and it was interesting to observe to what extent they’ve developed. I also liked learning about the Jewish revival at the reform synagogue, seeing how little information was available about the holocaust at the museum there, and visiting the holocaust monument nearby. I liked the discussion that occurred while we were at the orthodox synagogue on Saturday morning about what we liked most and least about Judaism and comparing and contrasting the answers of students from the U.S. with those from Russia.
The trip has increased my sense of connection to both Russian and American Jews. It makes me interested in learning more about these topics. I’ve also been sharing a lot about my experiences with others. It will make me more likely to support the causes of the Jewish community. I was already somewhat involved in the Jewish community but I want to continue because the trip reminded how nice these interactions can be and how many commonalities I have with members of this community. It also helped me understand my background better and reconcile my own Ukrainian American Jewish identity and better understand the decision my parents faced of bringing my brother and me to the U.S.
Masha Filimonova Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute I was deeply impressed by the communication with my roommate and with other peers. It was really interesting to learn about politics, life and students in the U.S. Also, I had lots of conversations about the Jewish aspects of our lives. I think this kind of communication is the best way to improve relations between our two countries.
For me, the visit to the orphanage was one of the most important parts of the program. I wish we could have spent more time there with the children. During this week we visited lots of places where we could discuss, in my opinion, all the problems of modern Russian Jewry. But at the same time, I can’t say participants started out knowing all of the aspects of anti- Semitism in Russia. I think the turning point was meeting Anton Babich’s granny, who told us about anti-Semitism at the beginning and during the middle of the 20th century. Also really impressive was visiting old people at Chesed Chama.
16 Lidya Khessed Moscow State University I’ve taken part in some international projects before, but usually spent together about one or two days and it wasn't enough for us: we had no time to get closer to each other, to argue, to discuss serious subjects, to go out, to do something together - we never became a team. This time we tried to do it and I think we had a success. I am happy that I got a chance to know some of them better and I understood once again that we have a lot of things in common, we have same interests and problems. It's a wonderful feeling when you stop paying attention to the geography, to the nationality, to the language because you are interested in the person itself.
The life of the community looks very attractive and seems to be full of different events. Leaders of the Jewish community have strong charisma and they speak well. It was my first time in a Jewish school and in a Jewish orphanage. I’m proud that I took part in the charity project for old people (I mean home visits). It was a new stage in my self-education, it made me closer to the life of the community, it helped me to become more open to people, and it showed me the different aspects of Jewish (and not only Jewish) life. I'd like to continue following this way somehow.
Ilya Tsarfin Moscow State University Higher School of Economics The vision of American traditions, culture and simply way of life has absolutely changed in the last 10-15 years for Russian citizens.
In Russia, people are also looking for American movies, read American literature, and often use American words in our common life. But, of course, nothing can replace the opportunity of personal contact with American guys, especially from the same generation as we are! I can't say, that this trip absolutely changed my vision of Americans, as they are, but, and this is a fact, it gave me something more, it changed something in way I think! If we speak about Judaism, I think these meetings didn't change a lot. But of Jewish practices - of course yes. I think, without this program, I would have never had an opportunity to know about some practices, and, I can also say to you, I have started visiting Moscow Jewish organizations, especially Hillel much more often, then before this program!
17 Mariya Kupershmidt Stanford Law School ‘10 I thought it was really interesting to discuss stereotypes we all have about Russia so that we can understand what our expectations are going into the trip and see how they change after the trip. I think it was useful to recognize our stereotypes out loud as well so we can be better about trying to overcome our biases and assumptions when we met the Russian students. I know my own attitude toward Russian students changed instantly upon interacting with them since I had so many stereotypes of my own from my Russian family background. I think the students were very intelligent and genuinely interested in learning about other cultures and sharing their own as much as possible.
They knew a lot about Russian culture and history and I think a lot of times, Americans don’t know even close to that much themselves so it’s not as common to exchange this information. I think I gained a lot of insight into Judaism in Moscow. I learned a lot about how the ultra-orthodox group dominates the religious aspects of Judaism, while the reform and conservative groups are less well-known and have much smaller memberships. I think the most meaningful portion for me was when we had Shabbat at Moscow Hillel because it felt like even when we may not have had that much in common with the Russian students initially, we came together through our religion The highlights included going out at night with the Russian students and walking with them during our free time to various cafes.
I liked seeing how they actually live on a daily basis because this is the best way to understand a different culture, from my perspective. The dinners at their homes were really great too, again to understand how they live, how they interact with family, how Judaism is involved in their personal life. I think the metro scavenger hunt was a great way to see the beautiful metro stations and to further get to know the Moscow students.
I think it shows how diverse and incredibly powerful the Jewish community is and how our Judaism connects us, even when we live at opposite sides of the world. I definitely think that I will be more involved in my home and international Jewish community, especially since I am a Russian Jew, so my own community is intimately tied with the community we saw in Moscow. Svetlana Lerman All-Russian Distance Institute of Finance and Economics The most exciting part of this program was our meeting with Jewish students from America and famous people who are working in the Jewish community.
The most interesting thing is that this project made me feel like a tourist in my native city! I found out another side of Moscow, memorial places dedicated to our nation.
I can say absolutely that I learned a lot of new information about Judaism including Jewish schools synagogues, people who are involved in our community and organizations. I was also surprised to know about the Jewish feminism movement, and about the work they do. I liked the meeting with Alexander Smukler and was really drawn into his story about NCSJ and his biography.
18 We tried to show our Moscow night life to our foreign friends: clubs, night Kremlin and so on...I guess that these moments they will never forget. Sum up we spent a wonderful week. Matthew Levy Stanford Law School ‘10 I really enjoyed discussing our expectations for the trip. Specifically, I found it interesting to discuss our collective vision of Russian culture, society, and the people, and to then be able to measure those notions against the reality on the ground during our time in Moscow. Living together with a Russian roommate was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening aspects of the trip.
I learned more about Russian Jewry, attitudes toward the United States, culture, and politics from late night discussions with my roommate than I did from any other source. I truly felt that I formed a lasting bond with my roommate, one that I would not have been able to form if we interacted only in more formal settings.
The thing I most enjoyed about interacting with the Moscow students was learning about all the things we have in common, from our Jewish backgrounds to more mundane things, such as interest in sports or pop culture. It really helped me to realize just how small a world we live in, despite our geographic and cultural divides. I really enjoyed reading between the lines of the presentations we heard at both the U.S. Embassy and the Russian Foreign Ministry. I have not met with people in similar positions before, so I found it interesting to listen to how they framed their political views.
I really enjoyed the two home visits.
If I had gone to Moscow as a tourist, I would have never seen how our contemporaries lived, our have had the opportunity to sit down with the woman I met to hear her life story. Being able to have a home cooked meal at the home of a new friend and bring some joy to a woman who has gone through so much in her life was immensely rewarding. I definitely made a strong connection with my roommate as well as several other of the Russian students. I have already corresponded with them several times since returning home – mostly via face book. We have shared pictures and discussed memories from the trip.
Closer to home, I felt that the Stanford students formed a close bond, and I hope that we will be able to continue to see each other on campus.
I certainly aspire to stay/become more involved in the Jewish community. I would like to attend more events and talks at Stanford as well as look into taking courses on the subject matter of Jews in post- Soviet Russia. The trip affords you the chance to go to a place that would be fascinating on its own, but with the added benefit of being able to see it in a completely unique way.
19 Lilly Gaydukova Finance Academy, Government of the Russian Federation Going to orphanage was very important for me and made me think about lots of things, about how I can help those children not to feel lonely.
Really I have no idea what else could be incorporated, because as I know we’ve covered all the aspects of Jewish life in Moscow. This program helped strengthen my Jewish identity; I’ve strengthened my position as to who I am and what I am doing as a Jew. I’ve also discovered lots of opportunities that the Jewish community in Moscow offers. What is more important, I started feeling even more that all the Jews all over the world are always ready to help each other, that we’re responsible for each other and living in different countries, thousands of miles away from each other, we still share the same ideas and try to achieve the same goals.
What’s amazing about all of us is that even while speaking about things that are not connected with Judaism and Israel, we still always support those politicians and businessmen who are either Jewish themselves or help Israel somehow. And that’s the point that unites us all. Moreover, I found new friends in the program both from Russia and the USA; I became even more open-minded and improved my English skills. The program made me think more independently and actively. I starting understanding that I also have to give something to the community, not only consuming its “products”, so I brought together the representative of Sochnut, who organizes birthright trips, and the head of the orphanage, so that the children could also go on their birthright trip and be more involved into Jewish life.
All in all, this program was unique and very impressing, so that I will never forget the experience I gained. I wouldn’t change anything!
Anton Babich Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute The most exciting thing for me was a chance to communicate with Jewish young people from the other part of the planet, to understand how many differences we have but on the other hand to feel that we are rather similar. I had a great time with my roommate. I really enjoyed communicating with him and all guys from our group. Discussions were rather interesting and made me think about things, I've never thought about before. It was both joy and very impressive educational program. And it was a great opportunity to understand something new about other people.
It was the best time I've ever had.
20 Amanda Mener Stanford University ‘12 History, Pre-Medicine My favorite part about interacting with my Moscow roommate was finding common ground even with a language barrier, such as American music. I also enjoyed speaking with her about differences in Russian- U.S. politics, elections, and issues such as the separation of church and state. I realized that Russian and U.S. youth are more similar than I would have imagined. Because Russian Jews had experienced so much anti-Semitism, it made me realize how important Judaism was for them. Sometimes I feel that as an American, I tend to take my Judaism and ability to practice or not practice for granted.
The most meaningful highlights for me included the walking tour of Moscow, visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U.S. Embassy, and in general, hanging out with the Moscow students of my same age. For me personally, I enjoyed the sightseeing aspects given my lack of travel experience, but I definitely enjoyed learning about the politics and foreign policy. I also enjoyed hanging out with the Moscow students because they offered a completely new perspective on different issues. For example, I remember talking to one student about how he would never consider moving out of Moscow since his parents and grandparents were all from Moscow.
Coming from the U.S., where moving different places seems so commonplace, this was interesting for me to hear.
Since coming back, I have started to go to more Hillel events and I think that I will definitely become more involved in the Hillel at Stanford considering that from going on the trip, I actually know people now and feel a bit more comfortable going. As for national or international Jewish organizations, I haven't really looked into becoming more involved, but I think that in the future, it's a definite possibility especially if I go into medicine and would be interested in humanitarian work.
Helen Helfand Stanford University ‘11 History, Biology The information in Lesley's presentation was very useful and pertinent in preparing me for the trip, and I didn't have any burning questions after her presentation.
I definitely gained new insights into the similarities and differences between Russian and U.S. students. I think I most enjoyed the Russian student enthusiasm and pride in their culture and their city. There was definitely a degree of nationalism evident there that I'm not sure would have been as/at all evident if the exchange was run the opposite direction. The visits with Russian Jewish leaders were interesting overall. I most appreciated the last one (at the synagogue/Holocaust museum) because it seemed like that Rabbi was representative of a newer and more active movement in Russian Judaism than the other leaders, and it was interesting to see his developing movement.
I haven't ever met with anyone of comparable standing to the officials we met in Moscow. I think the Russian and U.S. diplomats were particularly interesting and useful. The Russian presentation was expertly tailored to the audience: not too advanced but not too trivial, controversial but not accusatory or rude, and very clear overall. I thought it was good (for the Americans) to have the U.S. meeting later on
21 in the trip, because we got to experience a lot of Russia for ourselves before we got a more technical view of the interaction between our government and the Russian government.
I would recommend the program to a friend, but definitely not a friend who was going to want some sort of relaxing vacation over spring break. I think it would be important to stress to them that you will be very busy for the whole trip, and that if you go into it having internalized that fact and ready to make the most out of it, then it will be a lot more rewarding. As long as they realized that it will require as much if not more intellectual power and dedication as school, then they should have an amazing time. Miriam Marks Stanford University ‘11 Economics, Public Policy, Middle Eastern Languages The experience of living with Russian students absolutely provided me with new insights into Russian attitudes and behavior.
I talked most with two girls in particular about their views regarding dating, marriage, and having a career. I think the best part about our interactions was that I had no expectations, so I was always interested in and pleasantly surprised by their answers to my questions. However, the best surprise for me was realizing how similar we are despite the different places in which we've grown up and even outside Judaism. In the end, we were just a group of young people having fun together; it was wonderful to me to observe how this could transcend so many cultural barriers.
The visit did expand my knowledge of Judaism in Moscow. I knew absolutely nothing about Jewish practices in Russia, so I found almost every visit with Jewish leaders and organizations very informative. I have never met with government officials in comparable positions in such an intimate setting. I particularly liked our meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; it was incredibly interesting to me to hear foreign policy matters from the viewpoint of a Russian government official. My highlights were the last several dinners of the trip. Towards the end of the week, I had really become friends with some of the Russian students, so meals became much more interesting as conversation flowed very easily.
I really loved talking with the Russians over Russian food and learning more about them and their culture. In particular, the night when we went to the apartment of one of the Russian students for dinner was very enjoyable. It was wonderful to see him in his home and with his family in order to get a better idea of life in Moscow.
This trip was quite possibly the best trip that I have ever taken. I felt very much exposed to Judaism and Russian culture. I saw a number of landmarks in Moscow as well as sites important to Judaism. Most important for me, I met a wonderful group of other young Jews with whom I had an incredibly enjoyable seven days.
22 Spring break in Moscow: Stanford students take a tour By Amanda Pazornik, Staff Writer J., The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, April 30, 2009 In March, the beaches of Miami and Cancun were packed with college students trading the harsh light of lecture rooms for bright sunshine during spring break.
Then there were the eight students from Hillel at Stanford, who spent their time off soaking up more knowledge than sun during a weeklong trip to Moscow from March 23 to 30. “This was an opportunity to explore a vastly different Jewish community,” said Sam Shonkoff, Hillel’s Jewish student life coordinator. “We wanted to break out of that Israel/U.S. duo and go back to the old country, yet unfamiliar territory.” It was the first time Stanford and the Washington, D.C.–based NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia coordinated the exchange program, which this year received support from the Koret Foundation, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
Paired with students from Hillel Russia, the cohort experienced a week full of activities. One day, they met with representatives from the United States embassy; the next, they embarked on a nighttime tour of Moscow, including Red Square and the surrounding areas.
It wasn’t exactly sightseeing for Ukrainian native Julia Greenberg, but more returning to a place she hadn’t seen since she was 9. “I was unsure how I would feel, whether I would feel connected to my Russian roots,” the 19-year-old senior said. “But being there was great. The people were very warm and welcoming.” A majority of their trip was spent discussing with Jewish community leaders and government officials the topics of anti-Semitism, the organized Jewish community and media freedom in Russia. The group had anywhere from five to seven meetings in one day, sophomore David Kessler noted.
Outside the educational setting, the students ate dinner at the Russian participants’ homes, cooked meals for the elderly and visited a Jewish orphanage.
They even squeezed in a bit of free time to wander the city. For Kessler, Moscow, for the most part, was a place of extremes. “I was so overwhelmed by the size of the city,” he recalled. “It seemed like it was by far the largest one I’d ever been to. I never saw traffic like I saw there. I never saw such a disparity in wealth. There were expensive cars, but also people who lived in places that looked much worse than anything I’d ever seen in America.” A history major at Stanford, Kessler attributed his interest in Russia to growing up in an area of Los Angeles heavily populated with Russian Jewish immigrants.
Also, his grandmother’s brother, who was presumed dead during the Holocaust, was adopted by a family in Moscow.
Visiting Moscow changed Kessler’s perception of Jewish life in Russia, which was largely shaped by conversations he’d had with neighbors back in Los Angeles. “They made it seem like it was impossible to continue traditions during the Soviet Union,” he said. Greenberg was “shocked by the Jewish revival” in Moscow. She said before her family left Russia, Jews worried about observing their religious practices. “Today it was so much more open. People were connecting with their Jewish heritage.”
23 Still, students noticed many of Moscow’s Jewish buildings, with the exception of the very old ones, lacked a Star of David, Hebrew writing or any decorative expression of Judaism.
Entering those buildings was like “going through airport security,” Kessler said. But that didn’t detract from his experience. “I’ve never seen Judaism practiced outside of America or Israel,” he said. “I always thought those were the primary places where Jewish life existed in the world. It was interesting to see Jews living in a different environment, feel connected to them and care about their welfare.” NCSJ Leadership Program for Hillel Students from Russia and USA Hillel Russia Monthly Newsletter, March 2009 In the end of March students from the Stanford University Hillel toured the pillars of Jewish life in Moscow with local Jewish students.
The eight students selected were paired with Russian roommates and spent an intense week in informational meetings with Jewish community leaders and government officials. Some had Russian educational background or family roots.
The weeklong retreat included a meeting with an official from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as representatives from the Israeli and American embassies, said Lesley Weiss, NCSJ's director for community services and cultural affairs. Students also met with the newly appointed president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Yuri Kanner, and Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief Chabad rabbi. At their sessions students discussed anti-Semitism, the organized Jewish community and media freedom in Russia.
The Washington-based NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, runs the exchange program, which this year received support from the Koret Foundation, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.
This joint initiative of NCSJ and Hillel Moscow is aimed not only to strengthen the participants’ Jewish identity and view Jewish life today in Russia, but also on building relations between students and young specialists of two countries, because the future of the Jewish communities in Russia and USA depends on them.
“I not only gained a lot of new friends from Russia and USA during this program, but visiting Jewish organizations and our fruitful discussions made my Jewish position much more active,” commented participant Lilia Gaydukova. “I have to not only get, but give to the Jewish community, and make a Jewish component prevailing in my spiritual life.” Stanford Hillel students visit Moscow JTA, March 31, 2009 MOSCOW -- Students from the Stanford University Hillel toured the pillars of Jewish life in Moscow with local Jewish students.
The eight students selected were paired with Russian roommates and spent last week in informational meetings with Jewish community leaders and government officials.
Some had Russian educational background or family roots. The Washington-based NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, runs the exchange program, which this year received support from the Koret Foundation, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.
The weeklong retreat included a meeting with an official from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as representatives from the Israeli and American embassies, said Lesley Weiss, NCSJ's director for community services and cultural affairs.
24 Students also met with the newly appointed president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Yuri Kanner, and Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief Chabad rabbi. NCSJ runs the yearly program as an opportunity for students to strengthen their Jewish identity and view Jewish life today in Russia. Students at their sessions discussed anti-Semitism, the organized Jewish community and media freedom in Russia.
Spring Breakers Trade Local Parties for Global Service Hillel News, April 27, 2009 Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the popularity of "Alternative Spring Breaks", where college students trade Caribbean cruises and lavish ski trips for the chance to travel to help communities in need. This year, Hillel's alternative spring break numbers continued to soar, but even more exciting was the growth in the diversity of global destinations.
"Local campus Hillels are planning trips to destinations rarely visited and some trips are even student-led," explained Michelle Lackie, Director of Weinberg Tzedek and Associate Director of Immersion Experiences at Hillel International. "Participants are serving in diverse global communities, some with a local Hillel and prominent Jewish community and others that are virtually void of Jewish life. This type of cross-cultural experiential learning has been extremely successful in engaging students in Jewish life and narrowing the gap between North American and international Jewish communities".
More than 40 Hillels participated in global alternative spring breaks over the past two months, whether it was organizing their own trips to Guatemala, Cuba or Berlin or traveling to volunteer alongside peers from Hillels in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Moscow. This is in addition to the 50 Hillels participating in domestic alternative breaks organized by the Schusterman International Center in locations such as the Gulf Coast and Tampa, Florida. "Nearly 250 students decided to come to Latin America and spend a week doing volunteer work, getting to know the local Jewish culture and sharing experiences with Latin American peers," said Gabriel Trajtenberg, Hillel Latin America Regional Director.
"The students were committed to the Jewish value of tzedek (social justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) through hands-on service, Jewish learning and reflection." "When I left the favela (shanty town) on our last day of work, I looked back and realized how much was done in a few days," reflected William Harris, a student at Bucknell University and participant on an alternative break to Rio. "Not only the physical work, but the interactions with the community, the learning and understanding. It all makes sense now. Our tzedakah was way beyond the actual work." Further north, Northwestern University in Chicago spent an alternative spring break week in Cuba, providing relief efforts, interacting with the local Jewish community and touring historical Jewish sites.
"While we were repairing and visiting the Jewish cemetery with other local Santa Clara Jews, we put our arms around each other in a circle and starting singing a prayer that I recognized and could sing with them," described Sara Kenigsberg, a junior at Northwestern University. "I felt a common identity and a common link. That is something I will remember throughout my life." Across the globe, Moscow Hillel hosted an eager group of spring breakers from Stanford University in California as part of the Student Leadership Program (SLP), an initiative organized in 1999 by Hillel and the Eurasian advocacy group NCSJ.
Eight students from Moscow and eight students from Stanford engaged in discussions, sightseeing, volunteering, meeting public and media figures, politicians, journalists, embassies and Jewish organizations.