Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2002

February 7, 2002


The first conference for publishers and editors in the CIS was organized by the Memorial Foundation in Moscow on January 13-16. Thirty nine journalists from 19 communities from all over the CIS, including Moscow, Orenburg, Novosobirsk, Khelmitsky, Odessa, Samara, Kharkov, Ekaterinburg, Simferopol, Kiev, Vinnitsa, Minsk, Lvov, Nalchik, Dnepropetrovsk, Volgograd, Omsk, St. Petersburg and Vitebsk participated. The group was not only geographically but also ideologically diverse, with representatives from communal, Zionist, religious-ranging from Chabad to liberal — and even formerly Communist media, attending. The professionals worked in all the media currently operating in the CIS-newspapers, magazines, the internet and television — under both Jewish and non-Jewish auspices.

After the meeting of the Foundation's executive committee in July, I remained in Moscow for one day to meet with selected journalists from Russia, Ukraine, and several other republics to discuss their problems, challenges and needs as Jewish journalists, and the possibility of organizing a conference for them. They were unanimously positive and shared freely with me their conception and goals of such a meeting. The conference in Moscow followed closely the directions they recommended.

The goals of the conference were threefold: upgrading the professional skills of the journalists; increasing their Jewish literacy and sensitivity; and providing the journalists with a forum to discuss common concerns, challenges and problems, and share information, ideas, experiences and even material.

Attached is a copy of the program, which also lists the faculty, outstanding journalists and educators, deeply committed to the aims of the conference. We were fortunate that Mr. Milton Gralla, a prominent journalist who had built a magazine empire in the United States and who has contributed to Foundation programs in the CIS, was prepared to underwrite the cost of the conference, as well as participate as a member of the faculty.

One of the notable achievements of the conference was the support we were able to elicit from the representatives of the central communal bodies and personalities from all the ideological sectors of the Jewish community, who spoke at the opening session and the closing banquet. These included both Chief Rabbis Berel Lazar and Adolf Shayevich; Evgueni Satanovsky, the newly elected President of the Russian Jewish Congress; Dr. Valery Engel, Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS; and a delegation from the Israel Embassy. Also in attendance at those sessions were representatives of the American Joint Distribution Committee, the Sochnut and other Foundations providing support to Russian Jewry.

Grigori Lipman, Chairperson of the Association of Jewish Schools in the CIS and Baltic States, also addressed the conference and reported on the success of his group over the last decade, which could serve the journalists as a model of what could be achieved if they decided to continue meeting after the conference.


Journalism and Community Building

In my opening remarks to the conference, I stated that the Memorial Foundation saw the role of the Russian-Jewish press not only as the agency for disseminating news and information and serving as a forum for community issues. It could also serve as a vehicle for community building, creating a positive ambiance for the reconstruction of Jewish communal life in the CIS and the revitalization of Jewish culture there.

In the session on the role of the Jewish press on the first day, lead by Ms. Toby Dershowitz of the American Jewish Press Association, it became clear that the emphasis of the Jewish media in the CIS was reporting community news. It appeared that the Russian Jewish press was not ready yet, or attuned to, the advocacy and watchdog functions of the American Jewish press.

Despite the constraints — political and financial — that Jewish media and journalists faced in the CIS, about which there was considerable discussion at the meeting, the enlargement and intensification of the community building function of the Russian-Jewish press appeared a viable and salutary option for which to aim, compatible with the emphasis expressed by the journalists.

The other sessions dealing with upgrading of professional skills lead by Mr. Milton Gralla, Gary Rosenblatt, Leni Reiss and Marc Joffe were significant not only for the ideas, materials and issues presented. No less important was the ambiance of these sessions; American and other non-Russian professionals who came, as colleagues, to help their Russian counterparts. This approach was totally congruent with the theme of the conference articulated at the outset — that the Memorial Foundation had no political agenda for this meeting; our only goal was how we can serve them.


Next Steps

The conference was deemed a success by all who attended-participants, faculty and observers. This was especially clear at the two sessions which the Russian journalists themselves conducted. Although all the sessions were chaired by Russians, those two were focused wholly on their concerns. Both were intense and wide ranging, in which all present actively participated. The atmosphere in the room and the body language of the participants, even to those who did not understand Russian, made abundantly clear that these were their sessions, indeed, even their conference.

They debated about the current condition of the Russian Jewish press, its problems, and their challenges in the future. In what appeared very democratic even by American standards, they set up a coordinating committee and unanimously voted to organize a second conference. They also agreed to develop a website through which they could communicate with one another and share materials, information and ideas.

To me the most poignant sign of the success of the conference took place the last day. A small group of Russian journalists were descending with me in the elevator to the final banquet. A woman journalist from Siberia approached me. "Excuse my poor English," she said. "In Siberia, I feel completely isolated and alone as a Jewish journalist. Here I met my group. Thank you."

That articulates better than could any non-Russian what the conference was all about for the Russian-Jewish journalists.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President