The Jerusalem Post reports:
…The Limmud model, with its relaxed discussions, artistic creativity and general undisciplined hodgepodge of Jewish debate and study, seems to fit young Russian and Ukrainian Jews like a glove. The local organizers … fashioned a conference that represented the Judaism they crave, without the religious language or institutions they still largely distrust.
Rabbis tend to behave like the non-Jewish clergy in their host countries. This point was driven home last weekend with the ad nauseam discussions among Russian Jewish leaders and in-the-know activists about the shift in influence away from Chabad and its head, Rabbi Berel Lazar, toward Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt and the Russian Jewish Congress leadership.
Whereas Lazar has long been said to be the only rabbi with the Kremlin's ear (he alone represents Russian Jewry on official government committees), a recent and unprecedented meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the European Jewish Congress executive did not include Lazar, who was apparently in the US for a family event, but did include one of the non-Chabad chief rabbis of Kiev. On that visit, EJC head Moshe Kantor then took the committee to visit Goldschmidt's Choral Synagogue instead of the Morina Roscha Synagogue.
The incident bred bewildering gossip (the feverish speculation even saw Putin trying to push Arkadi Gaydamak for Jerusalem mayor through Gaydamak's connections with Goldschmidt) that is, to a Jew with an American background, moderately troubling.
The image one is left with is of rabbis trampling one another to curry favor in a royal court - something similar to the Kremlin's historic treatment of the Russian Orthodox Church - while Shabbat services (both Goldschmidt's and Chabad's) remain almost empty, even though 800 people attended the conference. Intelligent, curious and active young people played cards in the lobby, discussed newly-acquired Jewish ideas or slept, but seemed to have or want little contact with the rabbis. The rabbis' power, one learns from conversation at Limmud, flows not from the people, but from the king. It bodes ill for the future of the Russian Jewish renaissance if its rabbinic establishment remains a creature of political intrigue isolated from the growing popular longing for a Jewish cultural connection.…