SEFER @ 21: FSU Jewish Studies Celebrated

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Victoria Mochalova, Rabbi Berl Lazar, and Mika Chlenov speak at the SEFER conference; photo courtesy JDC.

As the world was readying for the Olympic games in Sochi, SEFER – the international conference on Judaic studies – celebrated its 21st year last week, a testament to the staying power and importance of the former Soviet Union’s Jewish revival. Held in Moscow, the event brought together more than 200 Jewish scholars from Russia and abroad and serves as a platform for study and knowledge exchange between established scholars and researchers and cultivates the younger generation of scholars who later become Jewish studies specialists in the FSU.

Today SEFER is supported by the Russian Jewish Congress; the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, whose chairman Mikhail Chlenov was an official feature speaker; the Genesis Philanthropy Group; the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund; and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), whose representative Alik Nadan also participated.

“It is good to have knowledge, but you always have to apply this knowledge and bring action for the good of the Jewish people. And that’s what unites the SEFER conference and the Joint and makes this union a very successful one: combining knowledge and action,” said Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, referencing SEFER’s impact of the regional Jewish community and JDC’s founding of the conference more than two decades ago.

Support of SEFER by the conference sponsors is critical for the future of Jewry in the FSU, Professor Arkady Kovelman told the crowd who gathered for the opening session. The room was packed with participants from Russia, Germany, Israel, the United States, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Georgia, Czech Republic and Brazil.

With 150 academic papers delivered, the conference was divided into 25 sections on topics as broad the history of Jews in the FSU, the Holocaust, Jewish language, literature, art, tradition, and the State of Israel. Among the more specialized sessions were those on architecture of synagogues in Georgia, Jewish images in Arabic art, Buchari Jewish art, linguistic explorations of the Jewish Georgian dialect.

Participants also celebrated the 100th anniversary of JDC with a panel including researchers Michael Beizer and Misha Mitzel, historian Anita Weiner; and Rabbi Jonathan Porath, who spoke on his experience as JDC’s country director for central Russia at the time SEFER was founded.

SEFER’s work outside the conference includes publishing books on Jewish history, literature, language and text studies. After each conference all reports and speeches are printed for further distribution.