tzhak Elharar, NFC
Limmud FSU has set itself a goal of intensifying the intellectual dialogue between Russian- speaking Jews throughout the world. With this aim in mind, a tour took place recently “In the Footsteps of the Russians” – those people of Russian origin who settled in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Russian Compound and Haneviim Street (“Street of the Prophets”), from the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century.
Taking part in the tour were several lecturers who had taken part in recent Limmud FSU conferences. They included Gideon Meir, the Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his wife Dr Amira Meir, Moshe Vigdor, the Director-General of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, Yoram Dori, senior strategic advisor to the President of Israel, Nadav Tamir, political advisor to the President and his assistant, Anna Kotikov, Ilana Gochkoshik, administrative director of the President’s Office, Yelena Yagutina, Channel Nine news presenter, and Limmud activists including Chaim Chesler, its founder, Chief Operations Officer, Roman Kogan, together with volunteers from Israel and overseas.
Chaim Chesler said “We of Limmud FSU are hungry for intellectual and cultural stimulation, and that is a central element of our conferences in six countries. At the same time we continue our research into the connection between Russian-speaking Jews throughout the world as part of world culture in general and that of Israel in particular. Here today, we have concentrated on the connection between the Russians who themselves arrived in Jerusalem and Jews of Russian origins who contributed to the growing yishuv (the Jewish community of pre-state Israel). I would say that a people who has no roots has no reason for being. Our Sisyphean and specific cultural task is to prove that our hunger for culture made the Jewish people relevant and it is that hunger that will continue to help our people survive.”
The tour began with an emotional meeting in the Ludwig Meir bookshop on Shlomzion Street, adjacent to the Russian Compound, which was founded in 1908. Gideon Meir, the grandson of Ludwig Meir told the story of his grandfather’s dream to immigrate to Eretz Israel and to provide the local population with culture by opening a book store. He played to the audience a radio interview with Ludwig Meir which had been conducted by Yaakov Ahimeir, several decades ago for Kol Israel, the Israel Broadcasting Service. In the interview grandfather Ludwig Meir, spoke about some of his clients in the bookshop, such as Eliezer Ben Yehuda, in the early years of the 20th century.
During the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, it was a state secret that books were being borrowed from the bookshop by a police officer so that Eichmann could retain his clarity of mind by being able to read during the trial. Ludwig Meir’s wife, the mother of Gideon Meir, who worked in the shop, was shocked to the core by the notion that Eichmann was reading books from the shop and insisted that they not be returned. She took private revenge inasmuch as the books she selected to be sent to the prisoner only concerned Zionism and the dream of the creation of a Jewish state.
From the bookshop, the group set out for the southern gate to the Russian compound which had been purchased by the Russian ecclesiastical authorities in the second half of the 19th century where they heard an explanation given by Natan Roee, a writer and historian who works for the Jewish Agency and is a Limmud FSU volunteer. The tour continued to the building that housed the thousands of Russian pilgrims who visited the city over the last 100 years.
From there, the group proceeded to the northern part of the Russian Compound and visited the B’nei B’rith library which was created by that organization as a national Jewish library together with a Dr Joseph Hazanovich, in the home of the reviver of the Hebrew language, Eliezer ben Yehuda, and it was in this house that the poet Rachel lived in the 1920s after having been taken ill with tuberculosis.
All the buildings which were visited by the group are in close proximity to the Russian Compound and to the Russian delegation and the current daily and cultural relations between them were explained to the tour’s participants.
The next Limmud FSU event will take place in Uzhgorod and Munkatsch (Mukachevo) in Western Ukraine on Nevember 1-4.