Dr Anya Sverdlova and Nathan Roi
May 5, 2011 / 1 Iyar 5771
Dr Anya Sverdlova, a young and attractive academic is the daughter of a professor of Indian history, and her mother is a lawyer. She herself has a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in behavioral sciences. She represents several Russian commercial companies and has had considerable success in getting them to patronize and display art works on their premises. We meet in Red Square in the center of Moscow as it prepares for the First of May celebrations.
Her parents are Jewish and she worked for the Jewish Agency in Moscow before she completed her studies. Politics do not interest her. She has a feeling that Limmud serves a purpose for reluctant Jews who here have an opportunity to drink from the tap of Jewish intelligentsia. Lev Nazovnof, a television presenter and another participant explains that Russia gave rise to its own brand of intelligentsia, but not to intellectuals. He explains convincingly that the Russian intellect differs from that of the West.
Here in the streets and homes of Moscow there is a feeling of uncertainty both among the well-off and among poorer people. In the renowned Gum Mall, which is certainly the most prestigious in Russia, the visitors’ main purpose is window shopping: looking at the designer labels but just eating an ice-cream. But there is no giving up on culture.
When I first visited here – it was in 1993, the Rossiya Hotel was an extraordinary place. There I interviewed a “representative singer” of the Soviet Union and I taught her the words of the poem “Walk to Caesarea” written in 1943 by the Israeli parachutist, Hanna Szenes. Today, everything is in the open, there are no “representative singers.” There is a free-market economy but the Moiseyev Ballet remains the same Moiseyev. There is jazz at every turn and classical music of the highest quality although all the violinists and pianists long for recognition by the Berlin Philharmonic, which this week marked the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster by a memorial concert conducted as a gesture by a Russian.
One can envy this country. So many people live in grim Soviet buildings dating from the time of Brezhnev, and yet this is a city where one of the most important magazines in the country, “Snob” is published. The editor is a Russian woman of Jewish origins as are many of the writers. Mikhail Prokorov, dubbed by Forbes Magazine in 2008, as the 24th richest person in the world, invested millions of dollars from the billions in his pocket on the magazine. Snob, a Russian-language, general-interest magazine that caters to the country's global elite is exactly what you would expect from its name.
The editor of Snob was not at Limmud to talk about the magazine, but in order to give a fascinating presentation to a packed audience on Grigory Perelman. The legendary mathematician, a notorious recluse, was awarded a one million cash award by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in March for proving a theorem (hitherto considered to be unsolvable), known as the Poincaré Conjecture.
I enjoyed listening to Dr Dima Maryasis, another of the founders of Limmud Moscow and Professor Viktoria Mocholova, speaking about the origins of Russian culture with its roots firmly planted in the soil of Russia. They were referring to the forest: Joseph Brodsky chose to refer to the trees.
On the otjher side of the street is a row of dachas. At the bus stop workers are waiting to go to work. I wonder to myself how is it possible to think about culture in this cold. And I realise how deeply culture is engrained in the blood of Russian Jews. I remember when Shimon Peres had a long meeting with Alexander Solzhenitsyn who told him that what links the Jews and the Russians is the shared hunger for culture.
Photos & Story: Nathan Roi, Moscow
Translation: Asher Weil