Twenty Years of SEFER

Victoria Mochalova, Rabbi Berl Lazar, and Mika Chlenov speak at the SEFER conference.
Victoria Mochalova, Rabbi Berl Lazar, and Mika Chlenov speak at the SEFER conference. photo: photo credit: Nikolay Busygin

SEFER – the international conference on Judaic studies – celebrated its 21st year this week, a testament to the staying power and importance of one of JDC’s first projects upon its return to Russia 20 years ago. 

Held in Moscow, the event brings together Jewish scholars from Russia and abroad. Today SEFER is supported by JDC, the Russian Jewish Congress, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the Genesis Fund, and the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund.

Russia’s Chief Rabbi Belz Lazar opened the conference by discussing JDC’s centennial year, praising the organization for its work throughout the former Soviet Union.

"It is good to have knowledge, but you always have to apply this knowledge and bring action for the good of the Jewish people,” Lazar said. “And that’s what unites the SEFER conference and the Joint and makes this union a very successful one: combining knowledge and action.”

Following the opening speeches, a plenary session featured: JDC researcher and historian Michael Beizer, of Jerusalem, who spoke on JDC's first years in the FSU; Misha Mitzel, a JDC archivist from New York, who spoke on the exile of JDC from the Soviet Union by Stalin and repressions against its employees; Anita Weiner, the author of “Renewal. Reconnecting Soviet Jewry to Jewish People. A Decade of JDC Activities in the former Soviet Union 1988-1998”; and Rabbi Jonathan Porath, who spoke on JDC’s mission in the former Soviet Union (FSU), drawing on his experience as JDC’s country director for central Russia at the time SEFER was founded.

Support of SEFER by the conference sponsors is critical for the future of Jewry in the FSU, Professor Arkady Kovelman told the crowd.

“By supporting SEFER and other academic programs, JDC develops a strong intellectual climate in the FSU,” he said. “The existence of this climate is impossible without the donors’ support. And without it, post-SovietJewry will be absolutely naked, unable to generate and study its own culture.”

The conference gathered scholars from Russia, Germany, Israel, the United States, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Georgia, Czech Republic, and Brazil.

Among the topics discussed were: the work of the Agro-Joint, the history of Jews in the FSU, the Holocaust, Jewish language, literature, art, tradition, and the State of Israel.

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