Will success prove perilous for Jews still in Russia

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Under the new order, Jews are becoming integrated into society and assuming prominent roles in the political and business arenas.

But success has its price: anti-Semitism.

"It's the same old story," said Eugenia Lvova, president of the Jewish Federation of St. Petersburg, on a recent visit to the Bay Area. "Jews are suspected for the intention to take power, to get powerful positions to take money."

Whether in Nazi Germany or modern-day Russia, she said, the more successful a Jewish community, the more attractive it becomes as a target for the dissaffected of the larger society.

Lvova and Alexander Frenkel, executive director of the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center, came to address this very question: "Is Success Dangerous for Russia's Jews?"

While always part of the fabric of Soviet society, anti-Semitism is on the rise, they said. There have been some acts of violence, but of greater concern is the pervasive anti-Semitism reflected in the media and in Russians' attitudes and behavior.

For many, the new liberalism means freedom to express anti-Semitic feelings. Coupled with an unstable economy, that means Jews are being blamed for society's ills.

"This really is an old song that anti-Semites sing and they're singing it again," said Pnina Levermore, executive director of the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal in San Francisco.

"Things will go very badly [for the Jews] if the economy gets bad. It's in the interest of the Jews to help society get strong financially. Then people won't feel the impetus to use Jews as scapegoats."

To compound the problem, there are no governmental institutions to respond to anti-Semitism.

"The police don't work; courts don't work," said Frenkel. "The authorities are not organized or interested enough to combat anti-Semitism."

However, the rise in anti-Semitism has not deterred the Jewish community from its continued growth and from doing what it can to support the economy. "Our interests are the same as the general society's," says Lvova.

St. Petersburg's Jewish community is doing something about racism not only for itself, but also for other ethnic groups. "People are seeking help and protection from the Jewish community," said Frenkel. "It's a place to go to share problems. There's a more positive attitude toward problems."

At the Jewish community's instigation, an organization called the Climate of Trust has been established. Its members, representing such ethnic groups as Armenians, Chechans, Finns, Georgians and Germans, meets monthly to discuss issues and develop strategies to deal with problems.

Last year theMoscow-based Russian Jewish Congress was formed. It comprises Jewish businessmen who want to support the developing Jewish community in Russia. Not only does it provide money to Jewish communities, but it also has an Anti-Defamation Committee to monitor anti-Semitism.

Lvova credits the BACJRR and the American Jewish community for much of the St. Petersburg Jewish community's success. In addition to money, books and other materials, they have provided counsel and guidance to the St. Petersburg community.

"There is a growing desire among the Jews in the former Soviet Union to discover their Jewishness," said Levermore.

"They want to know what being Jewish means. Years of communism have erased the historic memory. They are creating a renewal movement."

Bay Area Jews, through the BACJRR, has "provided resources, information and materials for them," Levermore said.

Leaders of St. Petersburg Jewry are now trying to encourage philanthropy among Russian Jewish businessmen. That's because there is no tradition of philanthropy in Russia, Levermore said.

"The American Jewish community can be very helpful not only with money but how to establish a Jewish foundation," said Lvova. "That's absolutely a new matter. [We have to] teach Russian businessmen how to support the Jewish community."

Levermore also emphasizes the importance of making sure the world pays attention to events in Russia.

"Russians in decisionmaking positions care about the opinion of the West," says Levermore. "It's important that Jews in our community shine the spotlight on the renewal of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union to show the authorities there that we care and are watching."It helps the Jewish community there to grow and develop."