Cablegate: Jewish Life in Ivanovo

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1. (SBU) Summary: The Jewish community in Ivanovo is
close-knit, active and shrinking, as increasing numbers of
its young residents emigrate to Israel. While the Jewish
community is generally accepted among the wider oblast
community and relations with authorities are good, two
Ivanovo residents are currently on trial for attacking
Ivanovo's Rabbi last year. A Jewish community leader spoke
of his efforts to work with one of the alleged attackers,
during a February 12-13 visit to Ivanovo by Emboff. End

2. (SBU) Ervin Kirstein, a doctor, leads the Jewish
community in Ivanovo. Ivanovo, located 300 kilometers
outside of Moscow, has been without a Rabbi since last summer
when its Rabbi (a Canadian citizen) was attacked and he and
his family moved to Stavropol. Kirstein said the move was
unrelated to the attack and merely reflected the family's
desire to live in a warmer climate in Russia. Kirstein told
Emboff during a February 12-13 visit to Ivanovo that Jewish
life there started "at the end of Soviet times," and was
formally organized in 1993 with the establishment of the
Society of Jewish Culture. In 1999, this organization joined
the Federation of Jewish Communities, headed by Rabbi Lazar
in Moscow. Prior to 1999, their organization survived by
collecting money "here and there." Today the community is
active and close-knit. They organize events around Jewish
holidays and feasts in addition to their regular Shabbat
services on Friday evenings. They have youth and women's
clubs, a Torah school and offer Hebrew language courses for
all ages. They participate in local community events, and
present exhibits on Jewish history, Jewish culture and
Israel. For 12 years, they have participated in Ivanovo's
annual cultural festival.

3. (SBU) Kirstein estimated the actual size of Ivanovo's
Jewish community at approximately five thousand with many
more people having Jewish roots -- including the current
Governor, Mikhail Men, he noted. Kirstein said young people
in particular are interested in Jewish life but that they
struggle to keep Jewish youth in Ivanovo. Most of these
young people graduate from university then move to Israel, he
said. Many people from within the region and outside are
researching their family history and discovering their Jewish
roots. Many of them also decide to move to Israel upon
discovering their Jewish heritage.

4. (SBU) Ivanovo's Jewish community occupies a small building
in the center of the city, which sits behind the city's
former KGB headquarters. The city owns the building and has
notified Kirstein of its desire to sell the property.
Kirstein has scrambled to find money to purchase the building
even reaching out via letter to Mayor Bloomberg of New York
City. While he had heard the Mayor had been willing to give
money for such causes, he had not received a response at the
time of our meeting. Outside the entrance to their
headquarters is a small monument to victims of the Holocaust.

5. (SBU) When asked about their relationship with local
authorities, Kirstein told us that with the Mayor it is
decent, "but not warm." While they are able to live a
traditional Jewish life, Kirstein said authorities do not
particularly like it when they wear yarmulkes, or "stand
out," in any way. Kirstein said one young boy "is brave
enough" to wear his yarmulke in school. He said their
relationship with the Deputy Mayor improved after he made a
trip to Israel.

6. (SBU) Kirstein said that law enforcement officials were
responsive in the wake of the attack on Ivanovo's former
Rabbi by three young people, one of whom fled the scene and
was not apprehended. A trial is in progress against the
other two suspects who were charged under Russia's ethnic
hatred article of the criminal code. At the time of the
attack, Kirstein told us, people in Ivanovo were furious.
They called television and radio stations to vent their anger
regarding the incident. Kirstein was given free time on
television to discuss the attack. He said they expected a
strong reaction from Governor Men but were disappointed when
Deputy Governor Yuliya Zhukovskaya, whose portfolio includes
civic and religious organizations, responded that there would
be no statement until there was a court decision.

7. (SBU) Both suspects in the attack, Sergey Novikov and Ivan
Novikov (not related), have stated their regret over the
incident. Sergey Novikov claimed he was drunk at the time of
the incident and emphasized he had no affiliation with any
extremist groups. The other suspect, Ivan Novikov, is a
student in the history department of the local university and
has espoused extremist views both directly to Kirstein, who
visited him in jail after his arrest, and in court. Despite

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this, Kirstein has opted to work with him by providing him
with books about Judaism and inviting him to Jewish community
events. Kirstein argued for his release from jail pending
trial and said he does not believe he should be sentenced to
prison if convicted. "Prison is not a school of life,"
Kirstein told us. Kirstein sat in on the first day of the
trail and said he felt the judge was objective and that the
authorities were not pressuring the court in any way.

8. (SBU) Kirstein said there are nationalist and fascists
groups in the region, with some incidents of vandalism and
anti-Semitic graffiti. In 2007, a Muslim cemetery in the
region was desecrated. Some of these cases have been
prosecuted while others have been ignored by law enforcement.
He said the situation has improved somewhat under Governor
Men, who was appointed in December 2005.

© Scoop Media

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