Russian Jews Choose People of the Year

RIA Novosti Photo

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, by Marianna Belenkaya) — The presentation of the Man of the Year 5766 title by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia was held, as the world’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar said: "Presenting the Man of the Year title during the Hanukkah week has become a tradition."

The title was set up in 2002 and is granted to people, irrespective of nationality and religion, who have made a practical contribution to their country’s cultural and social development. The number and categories of nominations differs from year to year, and the winners are selected by the Federation’s council of trustees, which is made up of the communities’ sponsors and prominent cultural and public figures. Russian businessman Roman Abramovich is among the council trustees.

This year the title was granted in nine nominations. The winners are:

  • Boris Klin, a political commentator with the popular daily Izvestia, for a series of analytical articles about Jewish traditions (Journalism).
  • Film director Vladimir Molchanov, for his documentary titled "The Melodies of the Riga Ghetto" (Television).
  • Alexander Ignatenko, president of the Institute of Religion and Politics, for his honest and unbiased stand on the Middle East conflict (Public Stand).
  • Rabbi Zalman Yoffe from Volgograd, for promoting spiritual development and traditional Jewish values in Russian Jewish communities (Community Life).
  • Boris Eifman, art director of the St. Petersburg Academic Ballet Theater (Legend).
  • Vadim and Vyacheslav Aminovs, for their contribution to the development of Jewish education and community life in Russia (Patron).
  • Mark Rozovsky, art director of the Moscow-based Nikitsky Gate Theater, for his invaluable contribution to Russian theater and his play Singing Mikhoels (Theater).
  • Flight attendant Viktoria Zilbershtein, for heroism displayed during the crash of the A310 Airbus in Irkutsk on July 9, 2006 (Courage).
  • Writer and translator Asar Eppel, for the idea and organization of the Prose of the Jewish Life book series (Publishing).

Each winner received a Fiddler on the Roof sculpture made by Israeli sculptor Frank Meisler for the ceremony, as well as a money prize, the amount of which is not disclosed.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Lev Leviev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, presented a special diploma to Arkady Gaidamak for his assistance and support to Israel during the war against Hizbollah. The businessman had organized a big tent camp on the Mediterranean for refugees from northern Israel.

According to the Federation’s press service, Gaidamak was not nominated for Man of the Year because he had received this award several years ago and the prize is awarded only once in a lifetime. But his services were not left unnoticed.

Journalists who monitored the ceremony described Leviev’s presentation of the diploma to Gaidamak as a gesture of reconciliation between two rivals.

Both businessmen work in Russia and Israel, and claim leadership in the Russian Jewish community and in the Israeli Russian-speaking community.

Gaidamak is head of the Congress of Jewish Communities and Organizations, one of Russia’s three largest national Jewish organizations, and Leviev is president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS.

Their rivalry continues on the football field: Gaidamak owns the Beitar Jerusalem football club, and Leviev has a stake in Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Their handshake at the Man of the Year ceremony does not mean that they will work together in the Russian Jewish community, although they could join forces for Israeli projects.

The Russian Jewish Congress, which is friendly with Gaidamak’s Congress of Jewish Communities and Organizations, celebrated the Hanukkah separately from Leviev’s Federation, although the event took place on the same day. This forced the Russian elite and member of the Jewish community to choose between the two venues.

The Russian Jewish Congress simultaneously celebrated Hanukkah, the 10th anniversary since the congress’s establishment, and the 100th birth anniversary of world-famous documentary director Roman Karmen. President of the Congress, businessman Vyacheslav Kantor, said Hanukkah was a festival of lights and enlightenment, which is also the goal of his organization.

He also said the celebration of Karmen’s 100th anniversary marked the beginning of a new project, "Russian Jews in their Image in the Public Mind," aimed at "telling the world about Russian Jews who made a major contribution to the development of Russian and global culture, science, and other areas."

The celebration of Hanukkah in Moscow traditionally began with the lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah nine-candle holder by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov near the Kremlin Wall. The weeklong festival will include official celebrations and informal parties.