Taking Charge Of Russian Jewish Congress
Yury Kanner, a Moscow-based businessman recently selected to be president of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), was in New York last week meeting with leaders of the World Jewish Congress-American Section. Kanner, 53, a former assistant director of a Siberian kolkhoz (collective farm) during Soviet times, will be officially inaugurated as RJC president on May 14, succeeding his mentor, Moshe Kantor. He sat down with The Jewish Week and laid out his agenda for the RJC.
Q: What are your priorities as president of the Russian Jewish Congress?
A: We want to create a self-governing Jewish community like those in Europe or America, which raises the money it needs to carry out its various functions. I want to make sure that everything istransparent in terms of how money is spent, which was not always the case in the past. We have now moved beyond the era when a few oligarchs ran everything in Jewish communal life, so I am working to involve the next level of Jewish businessman as lay leaders in the RJC. I want them not only to make a monthly financial contribution, but also to devote their time and energy to building the Jewish community.
You are known to be focused on memorializing so-called “mini-Babi-Yars,” forgotten Holocaust sites throughout the FSU? Why is this so important for you?
It’s very personal with me. I grew up in a small town in the Ukraine and when I was 5 my grandfather came home with a sack of human bones. There had been dynamiting at a nearby quarry, and the blast showered all around bones from a mass grave of Jews murdered by the Nazis. I want to identify and memorialize the forgotten places of mass burial of Jews in the villages, fields and swamps of the former FSU so that the millions shot and buried there can finally rest in dignity.
It has been said that Jews thrive in democratic countries, but suffer under dictatorial regimes. What is the situation of Jews in Russia today under a regime that appears ever-more authoritarian?
Actually, Jews suffer less under strong empires than during times of transition from authoritarian regimes to less repressive ones, such as in the early years of the 20th century when the worst pogroms took place as the Tsarist regime was weakening. As for the present situation, there is no governmental anti-Semitism in Russia today. Jews are represented in Parliament and government. In contrast to many countries in Europe, there was no upsurge of anti-Semitism in Russia during the war in Gaza earlier this year.
How can American Jews be of support to the Russian Jewish community?
Our two communities need to speak candidly, listen to each other’s concerns and work together to find answers to our common problems. Joining together to memorialize the killing fields around the FSU and the millions of Jews killed there, is one cause that we can certainly unite around.
The Jewish Week (США)