Israel — To mark the end of Hanukka, Russian oligarch and Jewish philanthropist Alexander Mashkevich invited Moscows elite to the annual reception of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress at the citys prestigious Safisa Palace banquet hall on Thursday night.
With some of the Russian capitals richest and most powerful residents in attendance, Mashkevich called for an emergency fund-raising drive to aid Israel in recovering from the Carmel forest fire and announced a project to bring hundreds of European members of parliament to the Jewish state on a solidarity mission in February.Mashkevich, who started out as a philology professor in his native Kyrgyzstan and became a billionaire through investments in Kazakhstan during perestroika, sprung up on the Jewish philanthropic scene a decade ago.
A major shareholder in the Eurasian National Resources Corporation, one of the worlds leading natural resources groups, with direct access to decision-makers in Israel and across the former USSR, Mashkevich, nearly single handedly, created the Euro- Asian Jewish Congress, turning it into a proactive organization on the European stage and providing a voice to the regions resurging Jewish communities.
Thursdays reception, which was jointly organized with the Moscow Jewish Religious Community, featured the cream of the citys business, cultural and Jewish spiritual citizenry and gave the groups a chance to review the years accomplishments and plans for the future.
Dressed in their finest, men in tuxedos and women in formal dresses, Moscows rich and famous climbed the red carpeted steps, past a giant and ornately decorated Christmas tree, into the luxurious hall. With Jewish music playing in the background, Mashkevich personally greeted all the arrivals as president of the EUJC and the evenings benefactor.
Upon being seated at tables laden with bountiful kosher food and quality Israeli wines, the 600 guests were asked to address their attention to the stage for three hours of speeches, award ceremonies and entertainment.
The chief item on the agenda was the announcement of an emergency fund-raising drive for United Israel Appeal- Keren Hayesod dedicated to assisting the rehabilitation of Mount Carmel after last weeks forest fire.
During the blaze, Mashkevich arrived in Israel at the behest of UIA World Chairman Eliezer Moodi Sandberg, to provide financial and moral support.
Though it is not yet known how much money has been raised in Russia and the region, Mashkevich estimated the amount at several millions of dollars.
The numbers are maybe not so important. Whats more important is what the Diaspora, what people outside of Israel feel, when Israel is in pain, Mashkevich said in an interview to The Jerusalem Post. The tragedy in Israel has brought Jews around the world together.
Today we are talking about a few millions of dollars, but Im sure it is only the beginning.
Speaking about his experience during the recent visit, Mashkevich said he was highly impressed by the way the Israeli government handled the crisis.
Israel may not have been ready to face this last disaster, but no state in the world can predict everything. Its impossible.
But the way the government reacted, the way they organized everything, the effort they put towards battling the fire… I was excited, Mashkevich said.
The most important thing is how we react to challenges.
When I came, it was four days after the fire had started and I was very proud of Israel. I was very proud of Jews. I was proud because the organization was very good. Everybody knew their roles. It was organized like clockwork. I am not sure that any other country could react in such a way.
In his address to the audience, he described the EUJCs role as Doing everything possible to improve Jewish life.
This, according to Mashkevich, means battling anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel in Europe and Asia.
Mashkevich said that therefore, he had set the goal of bringing to Israel in February a delegation of 500+ European politicians on a solidarity mission.
Europe today has become the main area of fighting between anti-Semites and people who support Israel. The media in Europe today hates Israel. That is why our target is to explain to the members of parliaments, to inform them, to convince them about Israel.
To explain to them what Israel is, who Israelis are and what Israels policies are. The way we do it is first of all by providing a lot of information, Mashkevich said.
We are not talking only about members of the European Parliament. We are talking about members of all parliaments, of all the countries represented in the European Union. We are talking about 500 out of approximately 8,000 people. Five hundred members of European parliaments is serious power. That is why we have to show them what Israel really means, what Israels policies mean, Mashkevich said. Only when they come to Israel and fall in love with Israel, when they understand that Israel is a very peaceful country, they will fight against the enemies of Israel.
A representative of the European Parliament, Antonyia Parvanova, from the Bulgarian Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, attended Thursdays event on behalf of the European Parliament and expressed her support for Israel and the Jewish people. She also gave Mashkevich an honorary award on behalf of the EUs 27 member states.
Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, attended the event and spoke about the importance of Jewish unity.
It is a privilege being here and seeing Jews working hard at returning Jewish life and culture to Russia. I grew up in the United States after the Second World War, witnessing how Jews had to give up on their rights and freedoms during the Soviet era. It is remarkable to see Jews from Russia and the rest of the region expressing their Judaism proudly and openly, Rosen said.
However, we still have battles to fight as we are witnessing a new breed of anti-Semitism.
Threats on Israels legitimacy and the threats of terror and war bring us closer together and we have to continue fighting together as Jews, he said.
When asked what he planned for the future at the EUJC, Mashkevich said he wanted less talk and more action.
I dont like when people talk too much, I want to see action.
I think that any organization and every person has to do something every day. Every day we have to do something to make Jewish life better, to make Israel stronger. And then, after a while of doing daily actions, you look back and see youve come a long way already, he said.
We do what we do because we are Jewish people and because we love Israel, not because it gives us any advantage.
I know only one important point. In the history of the Jewish world, when people became passive, catastrophe came. Only a constant active position can lead us forward.