Speaking at a news conference after the signing ceremony, FJC President Lev Levayev described the Memorandum as an historic document, one proving that Russia is on the path toward democracy and religious freedom.
As Mr Levayev pointed out, there has been a vibrant Jewish community life across Eurasia in recent years. The FJC tries to cover all of the Jewish communities' social needs, including education, care for young children and the aged, and legal defense. In its work, this organization draws from the AJC's expertise, which is much richer than its own-not least because it was set up only 70 years after the foundation of its American counterpart in 1918. Nonetheless, the FJC now includes as many as 500 communities across Russia and the CIS, and 170 of these communities can be described as proactive. The Federation is also working to extend its outreach to European countries, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Germany, Mr Levayev said. In his opinion, cooperation between the FJC and AJC could be mutually beneficial.
The Memorandum identifies priority areas of cooperation between the two organizations, including protection of the civil and religious rights of Jews, concerted efforts to fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia, consolidation of international and interregional cooperation, and development of Russo-Israeli and Russo-American relations.
One of the first collaborative projects will be the arrangement of a visit to Russia by several Senate delegations, Mr Levayev said. He hopes that here, Senators will be able to see for themselves that the Jackson-Vannick Amendment is absolutely irrelevant today. The U.S. Congress passed the amendment in 1974 to prevent trade with the former Soviet Union, which had restrictive emigration policies, most notably vis-a-vis Jews. The USSR is no more, but this legislative act is still in force.
The President of the AJC, Jack Rosen, agreed that it was high time the Jackson-Vannick Amendment were abolished. There aren't any institutional impediments for Russian Jews wishing to emigrate nowadays, Mr Rosen remarked. He also said that during his current visit to Moscow, he had been able to see that Russian society did enjoy the freedom of civil and religious expression these days.
Mr. Rosen said his organization was more than willing to share with the FJC its expertise in providing legal defense for community members, including in cases related to anti-Semitic bigotry and hate crimes.
The officials attending the news conference all spoke with one voice as they pointed out the inadmissibility of rewriting history, specifically the history of the Holocaust. Mr. Rosen expressed satisfaction with the fact that this topic was now being introduced to the Russian school curriculum. He had learnt the news from Culture & Education Minister Alexander Sokolov.
The Jewish officials also spoke against the erection of monuments to Nazis and collaborators with the Nazi regime. David Twersky, Vice President for PR in the AJC, cautioned Latvia, as well as the other two Baltic nations that used to be part of the USSR, against equating Nazism with Stalinism.
One other issue of mutual concern is acculturation. According to statistics cited by Mr. Rosen, about 50 percent of the American Jews have assimilated into the predominant culture. Jewish officials in Russia share concerns over the danger of complete acculturation. As Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar of Russia said, the FJC tries hard to tackle this problem, both in the CIS and beyond. Thus, for instance, Mr. Levayev runs a network of Jewish schools for Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants in the States.