Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Jewish Community Studies

Moscow, Russia: Field Notes on Site Visit, 1991

Daniel J. Elazar

Wednesday, July 24

We flew to Moscow directly from Tel Aviv on an El Al non-stop flight on Wednesday evening, July 24th. El Al now flies two flights a week to Moscow and return. Officially they are charter flights, but they are numbered, leave on a regular schedule, and are announced as regular flights in the Moscow Airport. The plane was full with a very interesting mix of people. About a quarter were ultra-Orthodox in full dress. Later I discovered that Chabad was having a conference of shlichim in Moscow and they were flying up for that. Many were Soviet Jews now settled in Israel returning to the USSR to visit family. Still others were businessmen and academics going to pursue their respective interests in the Soviet Union. There may have been some government officials on board as well but I could not tell. Direct flights bring Moscow closer to Tel Aviv than Los Angeles is to New York. Indeed, it took my colleagues from Novosibersk the same four hours to fly to Moscow non-stop.

Our experience at the Moscow Airport was a foretaste of our overall Soviet experience. The International Airport is relatively new and the plane did pull up to a jetway but once I was wheeled off of the plane in my wheelchair we confronted two steep flights of steps down to customs with no elevator and no facilities for getting handicapped people down the steps. We had to find two airport workers who were willing to carry me down in my wheelchair. They had obviously had no experience with such things in the past and, in addition, were heavily under the influence of vodka, but they did the job and felt amply rewarded with a couple of packs of cigarettes.

I took a wheelchair with me after discussing the problems of travel in the USSR with Dr. Seymour Epstein of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in charge of their Soviet operations, at headquarters in Jerusalem. Epstein encouraged me to take the trip but in the course of his conversation indicated to me how hard it would be. He indicated that he had never seen a wheelchair in the Moscow Airport and even suggested flying a JDC wheelchair from Vilnius to Moscow to meet me since it was the only free wheelchair he knew of in the Soviet Union. I indicated that I would rent my own and take it with me, which I did. It was absolutely indispensible. There would have been no way for me even to get out of the airport had I not done so.

Customs and immigration continued to indicate what we were facing. There were no customs declaration forms in English. They had run out. We had to use a form in French. They were also available in German and Russian. There were red and green lines for passing through customs, but anyone bringing in foreign currency had to go through the red line. Thus there were long lines of people by each of the red lines and no one by the green line except that periodically people who looked questionable passed through it. It took us well over an hour to pass through the red line although they now have electronic scanners so they do not open every suitcase and obviously are not as strict as they were until a few years ago.

We were met by Leonid Polishchuk, senior economist of the Institute for Economics and Environmental Technology with a van from the Soviet Academy of Sciences to take us and our baggage to our hotel, Uskoye, the deluxe hotel of the Academy of Sciences located in the southwestern suburbs of Moscow. The hotel would probably receive a minus one star rating from Mobil guide. Quite spartan. Of course it had six steps leading up to it so I had to be carried up in my wheelchair. It looked like a large barn or youth hostel but was otherwise reasonably comfortable. Its biggest drawback was that there were no screens or netting on the windows, this in an area with heavy mosquito infestation. (Moscow is north. It has heavy summer mosquitos as in Minnesota or northern Canada.) Apparently Russians do not open their windows summer or winter but it was stifling in the rooms as a result. After two days we had to open the windows during daylight, close them at twilight, and then kill mosquitos in the evening. As the week went on, the number of mosquitos who got in and settled in, increased, so that by the end we could not sleep.

On the other hand, the rooms were each equipped with color television sets which picked up the range of Moscow channels plus CNN so that we were able to keep in touch with the world. Indeed, early the next week we watched the Bush-Gorbachev summit on CNN where Gorbachev essentially surrendered to Bush as it was happening in Moscow.

Russian hotel rooms, even deluxe ones, are spartan, to say the least, but adequate for all that. Another peculiarity is that the hot water pipes in the bathroom are exposed so that they exude heat. This must be very helpful in the winter, but in the summer when the temperature is in the 70s or 80s it is problematic.

The food in this deluxe hotel is best described as unspeakable. We indicated that we were vegetarians so the two meals we ate in the restaurant the first day when we were hosted by our hosts both consisted of sunnyside-up eggs plus potatoes and beans. No thought to prepare the eggs in a different way for the second meal, just exactly the same as before. At first I thought it was because we were presenting them with problems but then I saw our hosts had been given identical meals at lunch and at dinner. The taste of the foot was greasy and bad. Even the bread had been made with rancid cooking oil so it tasted strange. Our Russian hosts received the same thing that we did except unappetizing pieces of meat instead of the eggs. This for the director of one of the institutes in the Academy of Sciences with the rank of academician and a senior member of the Russian Supreme Soviet. As for drinks, they served Pepsi Cola in pitchers, sweeter than the kind we know but still it was something to drink. The water was poor. Our hosts suggested that I try Russian champaign. I did. It was simply dreadful and undrinkable. The vodka was good. I am not a vodka drinker by preference but one can tell good vodka as one can tell good anything and this was good. They also drink a highly alkaline soda water that tastes like what they used to kill people and livestock with in Death Valley days.

The hotel was essentially barn-like. There was no place to get a newspaper. Yet it had a foreign currency shop where one could purchase preserved foods and various electronic appliances for hard currency. There was not much for sale, though we did use it to buy soft drinks and some preserved foods imported from Western Europe.

There is a small theater in the hotel where performances were held several nights a week while we were there or perhaps always. There was a Soviet folk orchestra playing the folk music of the various ethnic groups. We found out about it by accident after Harriet heard the music coming from the hall. Although their performances are open free to hotel guests, there were no notices posted so that is the only way we could have found out. Once we found out, people were very gracious to us and made sure that we knew when the next performance was so that we could come on time rather than have to walk in at the very end as we had done with the performance we discovered, but had we not discovered the existence of this performance, nobody would have told us. Russian secretiveness again.

The one thing that could be said about the hotel was that for possessors of hard currency it was cheap. While my hosts paid for me, I was told in advance that I would have to pay for Harriet and Gidon and that since it was a ruble hotel I would have to pay in rubles. Their stay for the full week came to $17 and change at the official exchange rate. We broke a glass dish in the room (which came equipped with a refrigerator). The concierge on the floor insisted that we pay for it, which of course we did. It cost us the equivalent of 3 cents. Fortunately the room did have three decent chairs so that we could sit. Very plain but sturdy and not uncomfortable.

Thursday, July 25

At 10, Leonid Polishchuk appeared as planned and we had a meeting lasting several hours until 1:15 during which time he described the Institute at Novosibersk, its work in regional science, its connections with the International Regional Science Association, and Walter Isard's group at the University of Pennsylvania, a group at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Rehovot Rural and Urban Study Center in Israel, among others, and how they were trying to turn their attention to federalism. It turns out that the Institute is headquartered in Novosibersk but has branches around Siberia where it undertakes various kinds of economics and environmental studies. It does a lot of work on the theory and practice of regional planning and development. While its total staff is numbered in the hundreds, its academic staff numbers in the tens. In other words, it has a complete support system of janitors, cooks and bottle washers, drivers, translators and what have you, probably with a lot of featherbedding.

They do not have the foggiest idea of what to do with regard to federalism. They know the difference between federation and confederation and that is about it. There is no literature on the subject. As Polishchuk and others were to tell me, all they have are the slogans that were said to them during the Communist regime. Apparently a few of them read English and even fewer speak, so that without having a literature in Russian they have no access to information and there is no literature in Russian. I was struck throughout the trip by the fact that they did not know what to ask and, being secretive, could not bring themselves to ask me to tell them what they should ask. I had to wing it with regard to what information I should impart to them that would be useful and the communication problems were generally such that I could not know if I was on the right track.

Polishchuk was by far the most polished, cosmopolitan, and connected with the West of all of them. Not surprisingly, he is Jewish, born in Berdichev. His father was a professional army officer and he was raised in Georgia where his father spent most of his military career. He has lived in Novosibersk for ten years. His wife is non-Jewish but they are contemplating a possible move to Israel. His comment to my wife in private was that he loves Russia and, if he leaves, needs to go someplace where he will feel that he has a motherland and that can only be Israel. His wife does not object. They contemplated sending their son to the Jewish camp at Novosibersk this summer but in the end did not. Even in our conversation it was clear that he saw himself as Jewish in the way that all Soviets know their nationality. He will be spending the coming academic year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver as a visiting lecturer.

It seems that most or all of the autonomous republics inside the Russian Federation have proclaimed themselves the equal of the Union republics and are demanding that the Russian Federation itself become more of a true federation. This matter concerns the Novosibersk Institute as much as the new confederation that will be the Soviet Union of the future, indeed, maybe even more, since they see Russia more or less going it alone in having to put its own federal house in order. It will require a restructuring of its own. There is also a movement in that part of Siberia which is simply part of Russia (i.e., not within the boundaries of any of the autonomous republics) to somehow form its own entity. I was unable to find out just how serious that was but just that it exists and that Novosibersk is apparently the center of it.

Novosibersk is also the center of the intellectual members of Pamyat with many scientists attached to the scientific institutes there, members of or sympathetic to that organization. Thus there is some growing anti-Semitism. I should note that just outside Novosibersk there is an academic city where the Academy of Sciences has many different scientific institutes. It is apparently considerably nicer than Novosibersk itself which everybody says is one of the ugliest cities in the world -- extraordinarily ugly architecture of the socialist realistic style and heavily polluted.

At 3 we met with Dr. Viacheslav Selivestrov, deputy director of the Institute, obviously Granberg's right hand man. He was my first contact with the Institute since he attended Murray Forsythe's conference at the University of Leicester in September 1990 and initated the contact, indicating then that the Institute wanted to join the International Association. At that time he did not speak English. He visited the Institute at Queens University during the year and Ron Watts and Doug Brown told me that in the three months he was there his English improved considerably but he still would not speak English with me and insisted on speaking Russian through the interpreter, Mischa, who was a member of the Institute's staff and who was assigned to us for the duration of the trip.

We had lunch in the hotel restaurant and he wanted to talk about the Institute's membership in IACFS almost exclusively. His own field is regional science and they are in close contact with the Center for the Study of Urban and Rural Settlement in Rehovot which is a very active member in the International Association and which has received Soviet visitors over the last few years. Indeed, they are supposed to have a joint conference with that Center in October and Granberg is supposed to attend. Before I left, Granberg had decided that he could not go and that Selivestrov would represent him.

Selivestrov does not really understand the differences between federalism and the hierarchical approach of regional science but he does seem to appreciate that there is a difference and that they have to learn something about it. As I said above, he was most interested in discussing the details of how they would be accepted to membership and what kind of signing ceremony there would be to accept them. Either Granberg or he will plan to come to Jerusalem in October where we will have the signing ceremony.

They also want to hold an international conference jointly with the International Association in Novosibersk. They have the funds to cover ground expenses and internal travel. When I indicated to them that the schedule of regular IACFS conferences is committed until the mid-1990s they indicated that they would like to hold a special conference in 1992 or 1993 and I indicated that we could probably accommodate that.

We were together for two hours and then, after a 2 1/2 hour break, Alexander Granberg, the Institute director, arrived, and the four of us went down for dinner at the hotel restaurant where we sat together until 11. Granberg apparently knows only a few words of English and does not really understand an English conversation, unlike Selivestrov, who can listen to English and only answer in Russian. Thus the entire conversation was conducted through an interpreter. It was very difficult to get any information from him. His answers tended to be vague and, while very friendly, not particularly forthcoming.

Granberg was in Moscow working out the details of the Russian-Lithuanian treaty which Yeltsin and Landsbergis were to sign the following Monday and, indeed, had postponed his leaving for a Swedish vacation by a day because of that. I indicated that I would be very interested in attending the treaty signing on Monday. He responded that I could watch it on television. It seems that this is part of his responsibility as Chairman of the Committee on Inter-republic Relations, but more than that, that he was an academic politician skilled in such matters, leaving most of the truly academic work to others even in his institute. His high position in politics was apparently very good for the Institute but had removed him more or less totally from academic work.

He essentially repeated what I had learned from Polishchuk and Selivestrov, adding that as chairman of his committee he was interested in maintaining the status quo in the Russian Federation. He raised the example of Birobidjan, obviously thinking that as a Jew I would be interested in what happened to the Jewish Autonomous Region. Apparently Birobidjan is represented in the Russian Soviet by two Jews, the senior one named Kaufman, even though the population of Birobidjan is overwhelmingly non-Jewish. He indicated that the Jews were elected out of courtesy to the fact that Birobidjan was formally a Jewish Autonomous Region. Somebody, perhaps they, had asked that Birobidjan be raised to the status of an Autonomous Republic. He was not prepared to go along with that, in part because of a general desire to let sleeping dogs lie. If every ethnic group asked for Autonomous Republic status, he said, there would be no end to it. Partly because of the special situation of Birobidjan where the Jewish population is in such a small minority. It was clear to me that whatever transformations Russia wanted in the Soviet Union, it was not prepared for nearly as much within Russia proper, hardly surprising at that.

We agreed on my schedule for Friday and he formally invited me to appear before his committee. Again, formality seems to be quite important.

Friday, July 26

In the morning I made calls to various contacts around the city. I was unable to reach Jack Matlock who was involved in preparations for the Bush summit, but left word at the American Embassy where we were. We did the same with the Israel Consulate. I spoke to the president of the synagogue and arranged to meet him. I tried to reach the privately-sponsored Center for the Study of Federalism in Moscow but did not succeed in doing so. I did not succeed throughout my trip. There was never any answer at their phone number.

9:30 to 12 we were taken on a tour of Moscow - the university, central Moscow, and the Kremlin-Red Square area. From 12 to 2 I met with Granberg's committee in their offices in the building of the Russian Supreme Soviet. This is the famous "White House" which was to become world famous a few weeks later during the coup where Yeltsin made his stand. It is a massive building, very ugly and disproportionately large.

I spoke to them about federalism in general and Soviet and Russian federalism in particular. Only one of them spoke or understood English, thus the meeting was also conducted through an interpreter. Again, it was clear that these people did not know what to ask and could not ask me to tell them. I spoke to them in general terms about the spread of federalism in the world but had no idea whether it was the most relevant thing that I could have said to them. There was like a curtain between us and, though they seemed appreciative, it was hard to say what I had accomplished other than to bring them in contact with the larger world and to indicate that there was a world out there with experts on federalism, with federal systems that worked and that had accumulated experience that might be beneficial and a literature that might help. Since most of those present were politicians, the latter part interested them less. One was a labor union leader and the one who spoke English was an academician, an economist who had some better idea that there was a world out there.

After we finished the meeting Selivestrov took me to lunch in the restaurant of the Russian Supreme Soviet. Its restaurant was a touch better than that of the hotel but considering this was the restaurant of a parliament and legislators usually know how to eat well, it was quite poor. We had to look at a wall menu as we entered, decide what we wanted, and buy chits for it in advance. My colleagues had herring for an appetizer, which I politely declined. When their three slices of herring came covered with luminous skin, it reminded me of John Taylor of Caroline's famous insult directed at a colleague in the U.S. Senate. "There he sits, shinning and stinking like a dead mackerel in the moonlight." Of course they had one of the meat dishes which did not look in the least bit appetizing. In the end I had plain spaghetti with a little cheese on it, also of poor quality and poorly done. Either these people do not know what decent food is or they just do not have any.

Moscow is not a beautiful city but it is not as ugly as it was pictured to me before I came. It is true that it is dominated by blocks and blocks of huge public housing apartment buildings that have all the architectural elegance that one has come to expect from public housing throughout the world, but since Moscow is essentially built on a plain with some low rolling hills, they are not nearly as ugly as the similar housing in Stockholm which ruins a beautiful natural setting. The city itself has 8 million people and by now is quite spread out. The housing blocks in the outskirts are more massive but also somewhat more attractive. The architecture has improved a bit.

The most interestingly attractive buildings are of course in the Old City, but Moscow does not have much of an Old City. It has a few buildings that go back to the fifteenth century but most of its Old City is sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, from the looks of things, Russian architecture was not so great then either other than the churches. Late eighteenth century Moscow is probably the most attractive. Nineteenth century Moscow is typically European nineteenth century buildings, not ugly but not distinguished. The railroad stations are mostly from that pre-revolutionary period and are a little ginger-bready and thus cute but not in any way distinguished.

The drastic change in architecture after the revolution is apparent. Even the monumental architecture of the Soviet regime is gross. For example, the city center is spotted with those kind of rococco "skyscrapers" build mostly as government buildings in the 1930s, of which Moscow University is perhaps the best known example. They look simply monsterous and silly, separating form and function as completely as possible. Moscow University spreads out over a substantial campus on the bluffs overlooking the Moscow River at what is probably the most beautiful site in the city. The promenade overlooking the river gives a vast perspective of the city with the parklike setting of the University behind it.

The University campus is fairly well-maintained. The boulevards and parkways otherwise look rather scruffy. Nevertheless, Moscow does give the impression of being an imperial city, the same kind of feeling one gets in New York, London, Paris, Beijing, New Delhi and other capitals of present or past empires or in Vienna where the past is clearly past. It does have broad boulevards, now becoming more congested with traffic although still far short of what a city of 8 million would have in the West, though more polluted in a primitive way. When one drives on the street one comes back filthy dirty from the dust and the fumes. Vehicles are not maintained and, except for the official cars of the official leadership, do not ever seem to be washed either. The city is a city of imperial vistas. The river flowing through the city gives it its best feature. Most of its banks are in park or landscape except where the riverboats dock and it is a moderately interesting river. There is considerable traffic of tourist boats on it and also commercial shipping.

The Kremlin is much more attractive and less massive than I expected. This is not to say it is little. It is quite big, but perhaps because it is in a much older architecture it has a certain manageable scale and the buildings within it an attractiveness long since disappeared even before the revolution. The churches are its most attractive feature with their beet bulb domes painted so many different colors. The whole of the Kremlin is surrounded by a park where the moat used to be, which adds much to its attractiveness.

Red Square is not that impressive or dominant. Again, it is more human-scale than I anticipated, not unattractive. The buildings adjacent to the Kremlin where the museums and many government offices are located are mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and thus fairly attractive, much more so than the newer construction further out for the same purposes.

Many buildings are surrounded by scaffolding indicating repairs that never seem to end. The National Library is one example. It is presumably being restored but apparently the scaffolding has been up for years and nothing has been done. The State Historical Museum is surrounded by scaffolding and has been closed for two years, because, I was reliably told, they do not know what history to present or how to present it so they are just keeping closed. The KGB building with the statue of the founder of the CHEKA in front of it (torn down three weeks later after the coup) is right there as in all the spy novels. Harriet and Gidon went to the Pushkin Museum, Moscow's great art museum. It has neither drinking fountains nor lavatories. Some hotels are being restored and new hotels built, all requiring hard currency and at least $300 a night for a room. Most of the city's downtown looks like an ordinary European city center.

We had Shabbat dinner at the hotel. With one pot, an electric fork for boiling water, and the foods we brought from Israel we had a far better meal than anything we could have had in the hotel restaurant. In general, we eat our meals in our room, making instant soups, vegetable couscous from the package, and opening canned goods, food much better than we would get anywhere else. Harriet and Gidon have discovered the Pizza Hut which turns out to be the one culinery highlight of our visit. It is built so that ordinary Russians can buy Pizza with rubles by queuing up on the outside, going past a little window and buying a slice or two which they then have to eat on the street, while those with hard currency and entitled to have it go into the restaurant itself which is a typical American Pizza Hut, including salad bar, although the salad bar is limited to vegetables available in Russia, i.e., cabbage, not lettuce. Prices are 50 percent higher than in the States but, all things considered, it is a reasonable replica. Apparently Pizza Hut is in the Soviet Union because it is owned by Pepsi Cola which has the soft drink franchise. Almost all the ingredients for the pizzas are imported from Western Europe. There is always a line by the Pizza Hut window, but it is nothing compared to the line for McDonald's which varies between three and four blocks in length any day of the week and seemingly any time of the day, though it is especially long on the weekends.

Saturday, July 27

We spend the day at the hotel. Our driver and interpreter, being non-Jewish, take Harriet and Gidon to the Main Synagogue which is quite far away. (I do not go because of the many steps into the synagogue.) There they encounter the usual picture of Soviet Jewry. The synagogue has perhaps two minyanim of men, almost all older men or tourists. The woman's gallery has about the same. The acoustics in the main synagogue are terrible. The men break up into groups for the Torah reading and the women come down to stand by and listen. There is also a Sephardi minyan in one of the side rooms which had slightly fewer participants. The rabbi, who was officially Chief Rabbi of Moscow, was trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Hungary, having been sent by the Soviet government in the days when the regime held tighter control over such matters. He is now something of an unfortunate, rather isolated, not particularly respected (one gathers) by the representatives of the new Orthodox presence in the USSR, certainly not by Chabad or other Hassidic groups. Chabad keeps challenging him for control in his own synagogue apparently, although they have their own congregation in the Marinskaya Synagogue elsewhere in town.

On one hand, he and his president believe that the synagogue should be the center of Jewish life. On the other hand, they have been passed by by the Vaad and the various outside groups that have come in. Still, the synagogue remains a great meeting place and Harriet and Gidon are approached by many people during and after the synagogue, many of whom stand out in front rather than come in. There are people who want to send mail to relatives in Israel or the United States and who would like telephone messages to be delivered. There are refuseniks who are not allowed for security reasons to apply to leave as yet, most of whom have dates in the future when they will be able to do so, and who are seeking to go either to Israel or to the United States.

The synagogue itself is an early nineteenth century building on a tree-lined street. It was impossible for me to get into it because of the steep steps, but it was not unattractive, just poorly maintained. Moscow has quite a few tree-lined streets which do much to relieve the architectural ugliness of the city. We went by the synagogue two other times. There was always some activity going on.

In the afternoon Harriet and Gidon walked out to a nearby shopping area just to look at the stores and see what they have and how people go about their lives on a Saturday afternoon. They came back very depressed.

Unfortunately, because the hotel was so far away and we needed to arrange transportation in advance, though the Academy provided it when we asked for it, we did not get out and about as much as we might have liked, especially at nights, when apparently it is more of a problem to arrange for a car and driver. Therefore, our visit was somewhat restricted with regard to night activities in Moscow. In the evening we watched Soviet television, which has quite a few variety shows, and CNN.

Sunday, July 28

We have asked to be taken outside Moscow to see some of the surrounding countryside so our car and driver and interpreter take us up to Zagorsk, a small city some 40 miles away, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Vatican. We ride mostly on a four-lane divided highway. It is not unpleasant. The countryside looks something like the more boring parts of Minnesota. The dachas we see are old or poorly constructed and crowded together. There are occasional lakes and it is clear that the area was forested and partially cleared, probably long ago.

Zagorsk itself is an historic city, quite attractive because it has many old buildings, including the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth century buildings of the Church. The "Vatican" itself is a Kremlin surrounded by a wall with many churches inside, quite large, not quite on the scale of the Forbidden City but not too much smaller. Inside, the Russian Orthodox Church is functioning fully with services restored and many people coming to participate in one way or another. Indeed, we see many people on the streets of Moscow, particularly young people, wearing crosses around their necks. It is clear that there is a religious revival going on.

We go back to Moscow and have lunch in Pizza Hut which is air conditioned and very pleasant. Our interpreter comes in with us, something he cannot normally do. Not only does he not have the money but there is a guard at the door, so that even if he somehow got hard currency he would not be allowed in since he is not entitled to any. It is clear that he is enjoying a unique treat and relishing it. He is also getting more to eat than he normally has. The waiters and waitresses are young Russians, apparently teenagers, who know basic English and are trained to wait in the Pizza Hut manner. After lunch we go over to the synagogue and find that there is a Beit Din in session. The Soviet Union does not have enough indigenous rabbis to man a Beit Din so there is one from Brooklyn who has come for the summer to serve on it so that they have the necessary court of three. We have a conversation with him and he describes the rather routine but very necessary work of the Beit Din.

At 4:30 the president of the synagogue, Federovsky and his wife come to visit us at our invitation. They do not eat or drink. We discover that Russians drink before they go visiting and do not drink during visits. He tells me about the synagogue and the community and about the struggle between the synagogue and the Vaad for control. He insists that the synagogue should be the dominant body in Jewish life in the USSR but he rejects the Reform and half rejects Chabad. So on one hand they want to be exclusivist in the contemporary Orthodox manner and on the other hand they want to be an umbrella body. Clearly it does not work in Moscow any more than anywhere else and the synagogue must give way to the keter malkhut -- in this case, the Vaad, which is the only place where all Jews can sit together. Chabad apparently runs the synagogue school since they are the only ones who have the manpower to do it. In general, Chabad is intertwined with the community in various ways as much as it is separate, since it is the major source of Jewish religious energy in the Soviet Union.

The Federovskys clearly plan to stay in the USSR. His position there as synagogue president by now is his full-time position, since he has retired from his previous job. He has no particular Jewish background but became involved in the synagogue by accident and slowly allowed it to take over his life. He now is learning what we might call synagogue skills and he would like to learn Hebrew but, alas, he has no time. He speaks only Russian but his wife is an English teacher and speaks a good English. She interprets for us. They are in Moscow for the duration.

At 7 we go to the folk music concert in the hotel. It is very pleasant. The orchestra plays typical Soviet folk instruments, most fairly primitive. They are dressed in costume and have a nice little act. Afterwards we see them walking out of the hotel in their street clothes looking like typically harrassed Soviet citizens.

Monday, July 29

Monday morning I visit the headquarters of the Vaad and the Shalom Theatre which is adjacent. Actually the Vaad has only a small two-room office so I meet people in the Shalom Theater, a fairly shabby looking place but active. As always, there are steps. I had to be carried up steps into the Russian White House. I had to be carried down steps into the theater.

I meet with Mikhail Chlenov whom I had called earlier. He fills me in on current developments. Chlenov, who is co-chairman of the Vaad and clearly senior co-chairman, is reasonably fluent in both Hebrew and English, so communicating with him is no problem. He also introduces me to his co-chairman who does not speak either language, who is younger and who obviously plays a Mr. Inside role as against Chlenov's Mr. Outside.

Chlenov tells me that there are presently over 300 organizations affiliated with the Vaad from across the USSR and that the larger communities are already forming kehillot. He mentions Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk. I believe he mentioned Odessa but I am not positive. He is more or less in touch with all the various groups from outside of the Soviet Union who are working in the country which includes Chabad, which he sees good-naturedly as something of a problem because of their exclusivism; the various groups of young people from Israel and the United States who have come to organize summer camps (of which more below); and the delegations from "major Jewish organizations" that come to be photographed and seen and get publicity for being involved in the USSR but who really deliver nothing substantial. He seems to take all of this in good humor, understanding that the Jewish people are like that. Organizations proliferate, people seek headlines rather than substantive work, there are jealousies and competitions, even where such are unnecessary, but he knows the Vaad is in the saddle, that it is the comprehensive organization to which everyone seeks to belong and which has become the representative of the community.

The day I am there is the first meeting of the Soviet Confederation of Jewish Women's Organizations with Jewish women in attendance representing organizations from 20-30 communities. I am asked to deliver greetings. Chlenov gives me a very nice introduction and I do so in English with simultaneous translation. Many of the women come up to me afterwards to tell me that they have children already in Israel and that they are planning to leave. Many even mention dates on which they are going to depart. Once again, it seems that there is an initial generation of leadership that is about to leave the Soviet Union, requiring this work to be done all over again.

I hear the greetings of the chairman and the other women presiding who talk about womens' role in an uncannily prefeminist manner, the way women used to talk at Sisterhoods and Hadassah groups in the United States 25 years ago, how women have responsibility for the home, how they support the men in their efforts, things like that.

I suggest to Chlenov a number of ways in which the Jerusalem Center might be able to help out and how we would like to document the revival of Jewish communal life in the USSR. We are prepared to hire people to do so. (By my figuring it should cost us maybe $10-20 a month per person so if we can find the people it should be possible.) He plans to be in Israel towards the end of September or in October and will visit us them, at which point he should have some names for us. We also talked about translating the Jerusalem Letter into Russian and circulating it in the USSR. Altogether it was a pleasant and useful visit.

There is a tremendous amount of Jewish activity going on in the USSR this summer. I have already mentioned Chabad which is working just about everywhere. It even brought its shlichim to the country for a meeting. Bnai Akiva and Ezra and the Jewish Agency are in the Soviet Union from Israel, organizing summer camps and youth programs. Yeshiva University has organized a program whereby college-age young people from the United States and Canada come to the Soviet Union, organize 10-day summer camps in various parts of the country. Harriet and Gidon ran into them at the synagogue.

We have lunch again at Pizza Hut then return to the hotel. In the evening Selivestrov comes for a wrap-up conversation and we go over preliminary details of his visit to Israel and the admission of his Institute to the IACFS.

Tuesday, July 30

Harriet and Gidon tour sites to which I cannot get while I stay in the hotel and work. In the evening Granberg calls me for a final long conversation about future plans. Meanwhile the Bush-Gorbachev summit is going on and I watch it on CNN. Bush is gracious but he is clearly accepting the surrender of the Soviet Union, gently or not so gently lecturing everyone on the virtues of capitalism and the market economy and democracy.

I had hoped to see some more Soviet Jews or Jews working in the Soviet Union but they are all out of the country. The JDC staff is meeting in Jerusalem, others are visiting Israel or the United States for busines and personal reasons so I miss most everyone.

Wednesday, July 31

We spend the morning touring Red Square and other parts of Moscow. The city is by now taking on form in my eyes. We go to the synagogue on Archipova Street twice to talk with people. There are classes and programs going on. We return to the hotel at 4:30, work and pack.

The time comes to leave for the airport and the van comes from the Academy of Sciences. It is a new vehicle with a different driver than we have had, but like the other van, I can only sit in the front seat. He refuses on the grounds that it is against the law for security reasons, locks the doors, and absolutely refuses to let me in. We argue with him to no avail. In the end, Mischa, our translator, and Gidon take the wheelchair and the luggage in the van to the airport while Harriet and I go by taxi. The manager of the hotel who is very nice and sympathetic orders us a taxi, but of course we have to pay for it very heavily, since the fellow has us over a barrel. He earns at least a month's wages, perhaps two, by virtue of this trip.

While we are waiting we discover that there are other Israelis in the hotel. First of all, we ran into a Russian Jew who lived in Haifa for 13 years, married an Israeli woman and then went to the United States where he is now living in New York. Then we met two Israelis from kibbutzim who do some kind of work on lasers and who are in the Soviet Union in connection with their work. They are very secretive about what they are doing and clearly do not want to talk about it. Finally, I run into Zevi Dinstein, head of the Israel Petroleum Institute, who is also in the Soviet Union in some kind of official capacity. He is staying in the hotel overnight before going to the oil fields in Baku the next day. We have a nice friendly talk.

Arriving at the airport we find that getting out is somewhat easier than getting in but not by much. Again, it is good that I have my wheelchair with me as it was every step of the way, especially since gates are posted and then changed and there are no announcements. One simply has to go by rumor or word of mouth to find out how one gets on and there are no provisions for early boarding or anything like that. The flight is announced just like a regular flight and appears on the departures board in a regular manner with no indication that it is officially a charter. It is called over the loudspeaker like any other flight and it is a pleasure to see El Al Tel Aviv up there along with flights to Kabul, the far eastern communist countries, as well as more conventional destinations.

The waiting area is one big duty free shop. Obviously they are trying to get their last slice of foreign currency before people leave. On the departure side there is an elevator so getting up and down is not a problem.

Thursday, August 1

The flight back is uneventful. I run into an acquaintance of mine, a journalist for Erev Shabbat who had been in the Soviet Union for Agudat Israel's Ezra youth movement. He was in charge of setting up a summer camp in Byelorussia near the Lithuanian border. He describes how it was successfully done including an interesting story of how they were provisioned. Unlike others who come to set up camps, Ezra did not send food, figuring that they could be provisioned locally, especially since most of the period was during the nine days when no meat could be eaten anyhow. When he went to the store to get provisions the store was empty and they would not sell him even what they had. He was then advised by his local sponsors to call a certain Jewish owner of the bakery which supplied the store, which he did and was told to go back in an hour. When he did, obviously calls had been made because he was ushered to the back of the store where there was plenty of everything and he was easily and fully provisioned, and continued to be during the ten days.

He was very proud of how the campers took to things Jewish. He gave as his example the fact that even though none had ever heard of Tesha B'Av before the camp, all of them fasted.

Summary and Conclusions

Altogether this was a difficult but fascinating trip. It was difficult because there are absolutely no facilities for handicapped. Had we not brought a wheelchair with us we would have been stuck at the end of the jetway on arrival, but for that matter there was hardly a building that we visited that I could get into on my own steam. My hosts, who had probably never thought about the issue before, were suitably embarrassed. They even built a permanent ramp at the hotel but it is too steep and not properly done.

Everybody was as helpful as they could be with the exception of the van driver the last night and we have no complaints about the human quality of our reception, but the country is simply extremely primitive. There are no two ways about it. Whatever they do with rockets and nuclear weapons, they live in a very primitive fashion. Everything is rationed and limited. Mischa, our interpreter, and others gave us plenty of information over the week about how this is so, about how in order to get an apartment one has to be married. If not, one lives at home. After marriage the couple goes to live with one set of parents or the other because only then can the couple sign up for an apartment, which is five to ten years coming. Of course the apartments are owned by the state with a nominal rental, perhaps 10 rubles a month. A couple gets a two-room apartment and cannot get a larger apartment unless they have two children of different sexes. Moreover, the shortage is such that they are now talking about the fact that people may be made to give up their three rooms when the children move out and go back to two room apartments.

While apartments are assigned, one can refuse an assigned apartment and wait even longer until one is available in a desired neighborhood, usually based on what is closer to work. There is also something of a "market" in apartments with regard to neighborhood. That is to say, there are brokers who arrange exchanges of apartments among families.

Food is rationed, not readily available, and sold only according to plan. Thus, for example, a family of three receives a ration of six kilos of meat a month: 2 kilos a week for three weeks and then none. One must buy the meat during the prescribed period or lose the ration. Thus there is no way to decide to hold off for 4 kilo one week unless one can make a swap informally or has space in the small refrigerators that are available. The only thing that is not rationed is bread. There are dairy products which are, like everything else, bought in special stores, but the milk sours rapidly. Apparently the delay from the time it is extracted from the cow until it reaches market is such that it is already at the end of its life.

Fruit is available in stores but mostly through farmers markets. Farmers are allowed to come in to sell their produce directly. Otherwise it cannot be sold except through regular channels. The fruit is limited and tasteless. Even the rasperries we had were sour, although Mischa who brought them to us was very proud of his find.

Everyone waits in line for everything and is very accepting of it, apathetic is more like the right word. More than that, people do not question. When told on several occasions that Red Square was closed for whatever reason, Mischa never asked when it would be open. He just accepted the guard's word and when the guard said come back later and see, he said we would come back later and see.

Arbat Street which is supposed to be the semi-legal free market is essentially a sad place because there is almost nothing to sell except Gorby dolls, political versions of the old babushka dolls of one grandmother inside another. Now they have dolls with Gorbachev on the outside and various communist leaders of the past inside. They are in irregular supply. For example, one day Harriet saw keychains with Gorby figures dangling from them which I thought that I would purchase as souvenirs for the JCPA and CSF staffs when I got back. We went the next day to buy them; they were no longer available and no new ones were around.

Conversion of all of this to a market economy would be terribly difficult because the ruble economy, based as it is on subsidies and controlled prices, is manageable on the ruble equivalent of $5-20 a month, which is what Russian salaries are worth. (The average Russian earns the dollar equivalent of $10 a month.) A rapid shift would impoverish everyone.

There was much discussion of the new Union Treaty while I was there and I had discussions with my hosts throughout the visit. The Treaty was being kept secret but details were leaking or were being reported in the media as agreements were reached. When I arrived the major sticking point was over who would levy taxes. The republics wanted to keep the full taxation power and only commit themselves constitutionally to provide a certain percentage of taxes they collected to the Union government, while the Union wanted to maintain its own taxing power. The very last day of my visit Mischa told us that he heard a report on Russian radio that Gorbachev had given in and all taxation would belong to the republics.

All I heard about the Union Treaty before the coup was that it would indeed establish a confederation in place of the nominal federation that existed before and that most powers would be in the hands of the republics. The real problem was that foreign affairs, defense, and state security would remain in the hands of the Union government which of course would pose a threat to republican independence. Most of that seems to have disappeared as a result of the coup and the response to it.

Basically speaking, it was already clear that the republics did not want to simply reform the existing Union but wanted to build a new one from the bottom up so that they would each claim their sovereignty and independence and then agree to confederate. It was expected that there would be two circles -- an inner circle of perhaps ten of the fifteen republics which would be full partners of the confederation; an outer circle of the five seceding republics (the three Baltic states, Moldova and Georgia) which would be linked for economic purposes only in a kind of a common market. The Russian-Lithuanian Treaty which I mentioned above was part of the movement in that direction. Russia was taking the lead in all of this and was already clearly the dominant actor.

Of course, none of this would be brought before the people. It would simply be decided upon by representatives of the Union and the republics in negotiations with each other and then presented to the people as a fait accompli. While the date had been set for signing the Union Treaty (the Tuesday of the coup), it was not at all clear that it would be published for people to see before the signing.

On the other hand, it was clear that people felt generally free. I was told that the KGB organization still functioned. In other words, people still evesdropped, listened in, bugged, wrote reports and the like on a routine basis, but that nobody looked at them. Even so, there are increasing numbers of ex-KGB agents looking for work. Chlenov told me that some are even teaching Hebrew, that is to say, people who were taught Hebrew as KGB agents from within the KGB had been let go because there was no need to teach more KGB agents and were being hired by the Jewish communities because they knew Hebrew and could teach it.

One thing was clear. Part of the Soviet commitment to democracy is a commitment to federalism, mostly in the form of confederation but also federation within the bigger republics. If Soviet democracy succeeds in sinking roots, it will be federal democracy.

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