Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2003

March 26, 2003

CONFERENCE OF JEWISH MEDIA IN THE CIS

The Memorial Foundation successfully organized the second Conference of Jewish Editors and Journalists in the CIS in Moscow on March 3-5, 2003, with the financial support of the Shirley and Milton Gralla Foundation.

Forty-six editors and journalists from 27 cities, many from small provincial communities, participated. Those who attended represent the whole range of Jewish media in the CIS - newspapers, magazines, journals, radio and television, and the Internet.

It is within this framework that the Memorial Foundation has broken new ground with the burgeoning Jewish media in the CIS. In our view, the Jewish media there can play a crucial role in reaching the large mass of Russian Jewry beyond the nucleus of cultural activists that constitute at best 5 to 15 percent of CIS Jewry, and transmitting Jewish culture and values to them.

The group we selected was a microcosm of the ideologies and sectors of CIS Jewry - the religious groups from Chabad to Reform, and representatives from the Zionist and other diverse cultural and communal groups that now constitute CIS Jewry. According to the journalists, one of the major accomplishments of the meeting, aside from the substantive content, was the tolerant ambiance that pervaded the conference and the civility and mutual respect that characterized the deliberations. That is no small accomplishment in the CIS today.

The journalists perceived the meeting as their conference. The conference program was not formulated in New York or Jerusalem, but was based on consultations that I and Natalya Zubkova, the Russian coordinator of the conference, held in Moscow a half year ago with a number of journalists who attended the first conference and were elected as representatives of that group.

One felicitous decision that resulted from those consultations was the "Russification" of the conference. All the major roles at the meeting were assigned to the local journalists and the leadership of the Russian Jewish community, not to experts or leaders from Europe, Israel or the United States. Those we invited who lived outside of Russia, like Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week in New York, performed this time more as colleagues than experts.

 

Goals of the Conference

The underlying objective of the Conference was part of the Memorial Foundation's decades-long program to support the development of the cultural infrastructure of CIS Jewry, intended to facilitate the creation and dissemination of Jewish cultural materials and programs there.

The second Conference of Editors and Journalists from the CIS took important steps towards achieving the three goals established for this undertaking:
To inspire collegiality among the Jewish journalists from all over the CIS, and to make the conference a venue where they could discuss their common concerns and challenges and share information, ideas and materials.

To help the participants become more skilled journalists, not only enabling them to report, and effectively interpret, the news from a Jewish perspective. Together with them, we sought to expand the parameters of their agenda as Jewish journalists to include utilizing their media to help build the Jewish community and to interpret Jewish culture, tradition and values. These new programmatic foci were the subjects of three very successful workshops at the Conference (see attached program).

To sensitize the journalists to the larger cultural issues relating to the future of CIS Jewry. Among those issues were Raising Consciousness in the CIS, which was addressed by Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar; Building the Connection between CIS Jewry and the Global Jewish Community, discussed by Evgueni Satanovsky, President of the Russian Jewish Congress, Dr. Valery Engel, President of World Congress of Russian Jewry and Dr. Michael Chlenov, executive director of the Euro-Asian section of the World Jewish Congress; and Combating Anti-Israel Activities, very expertly handled by the noted Russian journalist and former Russian Ambassador to Israel, Alexander Bovin.

 

CIS Jewry and the Global Jewish Community

The session on The CIS and the Jewish Global Community was especially important for both the participants and us because it established the context in which the conference took place, and provided them and us with a useful snapshot in time of where CIS Jewry stands today.

What was reported at this session was the accelerating change in the balance between the role and activities of the external and local Jewish agencies operating in the CIS. Those groups, according to all the discussants, are now less and less a source of funds for CIS Jewry. With aliyah from the CIS declining and the emergence of other relief crises around the Jewish world, like that in Argentina, the Russian-Jewish leaders expect that the budgets of the major external agencies in the CIS will be reduced in the future.

Concomitantly, CIS Jewry is not only raising more funds locally. They are also moving to establish organized formal contacts with former Russian Jews in Israel and in other Diaspora communities. Aside from hoping to increase their political clout by achieving these international contacts, some of the Russian leadership articulated a surprising long-range cultural agenda - to save Russian Jewry in the Diaspora from their cultural assimilation and social integration into their host societies.

All this certainly reflects a remarkable change in the posture of Russian Jewish leadership. The bottom line appears to be both their hope for, and the actual emergence of, a culturally autonomous Jewish community in the CIS. The Conference of Journalists needs to be seen and understood within this context.

 

The Future of Jewish Media in the CIS

There are a number of important observations I gleaned at the conference. There is huge interest in the general media about things Jewish. The important non-Jewish media regularly feature articles written about Jewish subjects by outstanding Jewish journalists who have little or no connection with organized Jewish life. Part of our future challenge is to reach and mobilize these Jewish journalists as agents on behalf of Jewish culture.

The number of Jewish journalists and media, despite very weak financial support, is growing in the CIS. Furthermore, the Jewish media are far more effective than the general media in mobilizing the Jewish community for the Jewish community's organizational purposes. This is not unexpected, and adds to our challenge of making the Jewish media more effective.

One of the most promising new trends discussed at the conference is "niche journalism" aimed at specific sectors of the Jewish community. The successful Chabad magazine "L'Chaim", which reaches Jewish intellectuals in Russia is a very good example of this genre.

There was a strong recommendation to create such niche media for students in Jewish schools and young Jews who were not being reached by the other communal media. The promise of the Internet was also the subject of intense discussion, and we benefited from the presence at the conference of Anton Nosik, a young Jewish journalist who operates one of the largest general Internet sites in Russia.

It is abundantly clear that within the emerging Jewish community in the CIS, the media have a vital role to play in raising Jewish consciousness, disseminating Jewish culture and community building. It is unfair and premature to compare the Jewish media in the CIS with their counterparts in the Diaspora, but they are growing and improving quickly, and will continue to do so.

In the past, the Memorial Foundation's focus in the CIS was on the development of professional and communal leadership for CIS Jewry, publication of books and educational and cultural materials and on Jewish schools. At the two Conferences for Jewish Editors and Journalists in the CIS hat we organized, the Foundation under the leadership of Prof. Anita Shapira, the Foundation's President, and Prof. Ismar Schorsch, Chairman of its Executive Committee, has taken an important step in identifying and impacting on the Jewish media as a crucial catalyst for the cultural future of CIS Jewry.

We hope that the Jewish community, inside and outside the CIS, will support these media to more effectively stimulate and activate a wider circler of CIS Jewry than heretofore. This hopefully will enable CIS Jewry to better fulfill its potential as the vital Jewish society it is capable of becoming, providing a meaningful Jewish future to those who choose to remain there, and prepare and encourage those who seek to make aliyah.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President