MELBOURNE, Australia (Aug. 15)
Australian Jews have used traditional Jewish chutzpah to breach a long-standing Soviet wall, and are now embarking on an ambitious project which they hope will breathe new life into the Soviet Union’s languishing Jewish population.
Soviet-sanctioned auditions were held in Melbourne last week for Australian Jewish singers who are expected to tour the Soviet Union in November under the auspices of the Soviet Ministry of Culture.
The choir will sing traditional hasidic as well as modern Hebrew songs. They will be the first foreign Jews to perform in the Soviet Union in many years.
The story began about three months ago, when Isi Leibler, president of the executive council of Australian Jewry, received a letter from the artistic director of the Moscow Jewish musical theatre, Mikhail Gluz, asking the Jewish community to welcome his troupe during its first visit to Australia.
“I wrote back to him and told him it was obscene to imagine the Jewish community here, which has campaigned strongly for Soviet Jewish rights for three decades, would welcome this group while the Soviet Union still denies its Jews the rights to emigrate and denies them freedom of religion and culture,” Leibler said.
“I said they would only be welcome here when Australian Jews are allowed to return the favor.
“I never imagined at that time the Soviet authorities would really take me up on it.”
SERIES OF CONCERTS
But they did, and Leibler, together with leading members of the Australian Jewish community, found themselves on the inside of a Melbourne theatre last week watching a Soviet cultural performance, instead of outside with placards and banners.
The Jewish community here is flabbergasted, but has given Leibler the go-ahead for negotiations for a series of concerts in Moscow and possibly other Soviet cities.
The Soviet Embassy’s deputy head, Valery Zemskov, has agreed to address Australian Jewry’s leaders at a meeting in Melbourne next month.
“I have made it clear in all my discussions with the Soviets that we will not stop our campaign for Soviet Jews until all Jews who so desire are permitted to go to Israel or elsewhere,” Leibler said.
“But we are prepared to adopt a two-track policy of exploring official contacts at the same time, especially if such contacts enable us to build bridges with Soviet Jews and provide them with Jewish culture and religious input.
“We hope that through the official contacts, we will be able to do a little to raise Jewish consciousness in the Soviet Union through the vehicle of Jewish music,” Leibler said.