New envoy to Moscow hails FSU’s ‘awakening’

Ambassador says her priority is cultivating better financial cooperation between Israel and Russia.

December 6, 2010 17:01
2 minute read.
Lev Leviav and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein at Kremlin.

leviav and rabbi eckstein. (photo credit: Courtesy)

MOSCOW – Less than three months into the job, Dorit Golender, Israel’s new ambassador to Moscow, has her hands full.

This week she’s had to balance her time among at least three award-giving ceremonies held by Jewish organizations.

Of course, the official excuse for the close timing of the events is Hanukka, which ends Thursday. But perhaps a better explanation might be the less-than-covert competition that exists between the groups, their rabbis and their patrons.

“As ambassador, I make an effort to have good relations with all our communities,” Golender said diplomatically at the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) in Russia and the Former Soviet Union’s big event in Moscow on Monday. “Everyone can find their niche to get in touch with their Jewish identity.”

As a Russian-speaker deeply familiar with the goings-on of the community, Golender knows better than to show a preference for any one local Jewish organization. Born in Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union, she made aliya in 1967. For the past 16 years, she was the head of Radio Reka, the mostly Russian- language station for immigrants in Israel. That role eventually led to her being named the country’s ambassador to Moscow earlier this year.

Asked what her top priority as ambassador would be, she cited cultivating better financial cooperation between Israel and Russia, a natural resources giant with seemingly endless reserves of oil and gas.

“We’ve had a 45-percent increase in tourism to Israel from Russia this past year alone,” she said. “I’d like to have more companies in Russia and Israel cooperate more.”

Having grown up in the Soviet Union, Golender comes with a great deal of knowledge about Russian-speaking Jewry. But the community to which she has returned is not the one she left behind all those years ago.

“There’s a great awakening here,” she said. “There are innumerable youth groups, people waiting in line to study Hebrew. Many Russians are inquiring into the Jewish backgrounds of their fathers or mothers. Freedom has changed everything, and being able to openly take part in Jewish activities has made a huge difference.”

The event Golender attended seemed indicative of the revival she mentioned. The massive theater inside the iconic red walls of the Kremlin was filled to capacity with about 6,000 people who came to hear Israeli singer David D’Or deliver his trademark falsetto renditions of Jewish classics like “Hava Nagila,” and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the Fellowship of Christians and Jews, was presented with an award by FJC president Lev Leviev for his charity’s donations to Russian Jewry.

The Israeli ambassador had graciously agreed to talk to The Jerusalem Post despite the ceremony’s lasting longer than expected, and the interview was cut a bit short; she apologized politely and said she and her husband had to leave. After all, she’s a busy person. On Tuesday she has to be in St. Petersburg for another award-giving ceremony by a Jewish organization.

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