Grapevine: Revival in Russia

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

VIKTOR VEKSELBERG (left) alongside Anton Vaino, chief of staff of the presidential executive office of Russia.  (photo credit: (COURTESY OF JEWISH MUSEUM AND TOLERANCE CENTER))
VIKTOR VEKSELBERG (left) alongside Anton Vaino, chief of staff of the presidential executive office of Russia.
Who could have imagined 40 years ago that there would be a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow? For those who may be unaware, the museum, which opened in 2012, was built at a cost of $50 million, and one of the donors was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who contributed one of his monthly salaries.
Over the past seven years, the museum has become a popular attraction with 600,000 visitors from the period June 2018 to August 2019. Last week, at a meeting of the museum’s board of trustees, chaired by businessman and owner of the Renova Group, Viktor Vekselberg, who is very keen to see the museum develop, there was considerable discussion about future events. Vekselberg stressed the importance of the museum’s educational mission and its role in preserving historical memory. He was particularly proud of the milestone event that took place in June this year when Putin attended the dedication of a monument to Jewish resistance fighters against the Nazis in ghettos and concentration camps.
The monument, which is housed in the museum, is an important emotional symbol, said Vekselberg, especially taking into account that next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by soldiers of the Red Army and the great victory against Germany and its allies. Within this context, the museum must continue its educational work focused on preserving historical memory, he said.
Given a recent antisemitic attack in Halle, Germany, Vekselberg emphasized, the problem of antisemitism remains critical in today’s world and the museum must make its contribution to fighting against this kind of extremism.
The board of trustees of the museum was founded in February of 2013, shortly after the official opening of the museum and is comprised of a number of prominent Russian and international business and political leaders, as well as representatives of religious and public organizations, culture and arts.
Among them, in addition to Vekselberg are Anton Vaino, chief of staff of the presidential executive office, Leonard Blavatnik, chairman of the board of Access Industries, Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Mikhail Gutseriev, OAO Russneft president, Lord John Browne, executive chairman of the board of directors of L1 Energy, gallery owner Darya “Dasha” Zhukova, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, Oleg Soloshchansky, vice president of the Russian Builders Association and others.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to come to Israel at the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join in the special Yad Vashem conference of world leaders in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During his visit, the dedication of another monument to resistance and victory against the Nazis will be dedicated.
■ THE INTERNATIONAL Baha’i community is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Báb, prophet-herald of the Baha’i faith with an event on Friday, October 25. The Baha’i community in Israel is celebrating this milestone anniversary with a specially guided descent of the terraces of the Baha’i Gardens and a visit to the golden-domed shrine, where the remains of the Báb were interred in 1909. The descent will begin at 45 Yefe Nof Street in Haifa, and a shuttle service will be provided for those who do not wish to walk.
At the beginning of this month, the Baha’i International Community organization announced the appointment of Dr. David Rutstein as its new secretary-general. He is succeeding Dr. Joshua Lincoln, who in 2013 succeeded his father, Albert Lincoln, who had been in the position for 19 years. Joshua Lincoln had previously worked for the United Nations, which had assigned him to projects in Africa, New York and Geneva. He had hoped to remain in Israel for several more years, but for family reasons is returning to the United States.
Rutstein comes to his new position at the Baha’i International Community following an international career as a senior health executive and physician. He served as a primary care physician in Micronesia and held multiple administrative positions within the United States government’s Department of Health and Human Services, including as a rear admiral in the US Public Health Service, and a term as the Deputy Surgeon General of the United States. He was also the vice president for medical affairs for a private healthcare system in China and founded a global public health charity. He is married and has three children.
■ THE BEST laid plans of mice and men are bound to go awry goes the ancient maxim – the truth of which has been borne out all too often. Top musicians, who throughout the years have played under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta, have been appearing in tribute concerts for him in different parts of the world in which he has led orchestras.
Itzhak Perlman, who was scheduled to play at Mehta’s final concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv this past weekend, pulled out early last week due to a slipped disc.
Happily, Yefim Bronfman was available to fill the void, but because certain IPO subscribers may have purchased tickets for this concert more to hear Perlman than to say farewell to Mehta, the IPO was forced to notify all ticket holders of the change.
■ SINGER, GUITARIST and composer David Broza has won several awards for bringing together Arab and Jewish musicians to create musical harmony which could hopefully lead to harmony beyond music. He has now been recognized again for his efforts in this direction and will receive a special citation from Oranim College President Prof. Yaara Bar-On for serving as a musical bridge between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s not really surprising that Broza is engaged in this mission of reconciliation. It’s in his DNA. His grandfather, Wellesley Aaron, was a co-founder of Neve Shalom, the village near Jerusalem in which Jews and Arabs live together in harmony and mutual respect.
■ JUST AS Holocaust survivors are becoming fewer in number with the passage of time, so too are the Righteous Among the Nations. Jonny Daniels, who made aliyah from England and subsequently relocated to Poland, established an organization called From the Depths, through which he discovers Holocaust data which may not be generally known, honors survivors and most particularly honors Righteous Among the Nations. A little more than two months ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Daniels is hosting a special event to commemorate both the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland and the 75th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz and the eventual end of the war. To the best of his knowledge, the oldest living person recognized as Righteous Among the Nations is Jozef Walaszczyk, who is celebrating his 100th birthday in tandem with the above mentioned events. At great risk to his own life, Walaszczyk saved the lives of 54 Jews.
At the bittersweet event on November 14 at the Kino (cinema) Luna in Warsaw, there will be both commemoration and celebration.
In addition to Righteous Among the Nations from Poland, there will be other modest heroes from Belarus and Albania. Many Jews were saved by Albania’s Muslim community, which has been recognized by Yad Vashem. The museum had hosted a photo exhibition of the rescuers some years ago. Ninety-three-year-old Xhemal Veseli is one of the few of these noble Albanians who is still living and has agreed to accept the invitation to come to Warsaw.
El Al, which is a co-sponsor of the event, is flying 15 Israeli journalists to Warsaw as well as actor Aki Avni, who is a co-presenter with Hollywood actor Dean Cain and Polish actor Alan Anders.
Numerous politicians and other dignitaries will be among the speakers. Presumably, whatever Jews are still left in Warsaw’s woodwork, and have continued to disguise or deny the fact that they are Jewish, will probably emerge, because this will be one of their last opportunities to say thank you.
■ CAN YOU still be a professional dancer when you are 80-plus? Dancer and choreographer Rina Schenfeld is living proof that it is indeed possible. She is still dancing, and not only in Israel. Schenfeld will be the guest in the Meet the Artist series at the Agam Museum on October 29 at 8.30 p.m., where she will talk about famous dancers with whom she has appeared on stage, and about other aspects of her career. There will also be video clips from her early days to the present time to illustrate and validate all that she says.