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Granddaughter of Sholom Aleichem Appears at Moscow Jewish Benefit

Bel Kaufman, granddaughter of writer Sholom Aleichem and an author in her own right, made her Moscow debut Sunday night narrating a Jewish oratorio about the Holocaust.

The event was a fund-raiser for a Jewish charity, moving Moscow even more firmly into the orbit of the world Jewish community.

Kaufman, author of the 1960s novel “Up the Down Staircase,” told the story of a Czechoslovak concentration camp as rendered by British composer Ronald Senator in “Holocaust Requiem: Kaddish for Theresienstadt.”

The presentation of the liturgical oratorio was accompanied by drawings and poems by children of the Nazi concentration camp, which were collected into a book, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

Jews flocked to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory to hear Kaufman and the Moscow Philharmonic under the direction of New Yorker conductor Joel Spiegelman.

The audience roared its approval of Kaufman, who is 80-something and a living link to the lost Russian-Jewish past.

Sholom Aleichem was born Sholom Rabinowitz in Ukraine in 1859 and wrote first in Russian and Hebrew. From 1883 until his death in 1916 in New York, he wrote more than 40 volumes of novels, stories, plays and memoirs in Yiddish. He is most renowned for his stories about Tevye the milkman, which became the basis for “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Although knowledge of Jewish history and culture was denied to the generations born under communism, Sholom Aleichem was permitted. His work continued to be published in Soviet Russia as a kind of showcase Jewish writer.

Because of his fame, Russian Jews turned out in large numbers to see him in person.

Explaining her flawless Russian, Kaufman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she was born in Berlin but came to live in Odessa and Moscow before leaving Europe forever at the age of 19. “I was raised in the Russian language,” she said.

The concert was a charity event — still a novelty in Russia, where communist propaganda long derided the idea of philanthropy — to benefit Yad Ezra, a local Jewish organization.

The charity is active in many areas, among them helping the elderly, both Jewish and non-Jewish, cope with the inflation and shortages now affecting Russian life.

The cost of the event was underwritten by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the New York-based Jewish Presence Foundation.

Advance sales collected 120,000 rubles. While that amounts to only $500 at current exchange rates, it buys a lot here, where prices are still much lower than in the West.

Thousands more rubles were collected at the door, from many Muscovites who fear the onset of another difficult Russian winter.

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