Heroic flight attendant wins Russian Jewish award

Viktoria Zilberstein's heroics allowed 10 people to escape jet; 124 perished on S7 Flight 778.

On a doomed flight that would kill dozens, Viktoria Zilberstein risked her life to rescue others. A flight attendant aboard a Russian airliner that crashed July 9 on landing at an airport in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Zilberstein managed to open the emergency hatch in the back of the plane. Her heroics allowed 10 people to escape; 124 perished on S7 Flight 778. Zilberstein was honored Sunday as a Person of the Year 5766 by Russia's largest Jewish group, the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The 15th annual awards ceremony, held at Moscow's Red Army Theater, also recognized the contributions of Russian Jews in politics, culture, community work and philanthropy. Honorees received a "Fiddler on the Roof" statue created by Israeli sculptor Frank Meisler. To honor Zilberstein, Jewish Russian pop singer Leonid Agutin and Russian heartthrob Vladimir Presnyakov performed a song called "Airports." "We are all alive today because of people like you," Agutin told the flight attendant. Agutin was not on the stricken airliner. Lev Leviev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, honored Soviet-born businessman Arkady Gaidamak in what appeared to be a public rapprochement between the two. Since 2005, Gaidamak, once a major donor to the federation and a business partner of Leviev's, split from the federation to head up a rival Jewish religious umbrella organization, the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities of Russia. On Sunday, Leviev presented Gaidamak with an award for establishing an emergency oceanfront camp for displaced residents of northern Israel during the war against Hezbollah. Brothers Vadim and Vyacheslav Aminov became first-time recipients of a Person of the Year award in philanthropy. The Aminovs have donated to several educational projects, including a school for girls and courses on Jewish culture and traditions for low-income students from the Russian provinces who come to Moscow for higher education. Political analyst Alexander Ignatenko, president of Moscow's Institute of Religion and Politics, was cited for his coverage of this summer's Hezbollah-Israel conflict. Other award winners were choreographer Boris Eifman, for his lifelong contribution in arts and culture; journalist Boris Klin, for his articles about Jewish traditions in Izvestia, a prominent Russian daily newspaper; television personality Vladimir Molchanov, for producing the TV documentary "The Melodies of Riga's Ghetto;" and writer and translator Asar Eppel, for publishing "The Prose of Jewish Life" book series. Awards also went to theater director Mark Rozovsky for producing "The Singing Mikhoels," a play about Solomon Mikhoels, a Soviet Jewish actor and theater director killed by Stalin; and Rabbi Zalman Ioffe, for promoting Jewish values and traditions in Volgograd, a southern Russian city that supposedly has one of Russia's highest rates of intermarried and assimilated Jews.