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Russian Jewish Congress Opens St. Petersburg Branch

The Russian Jewish Congress has created a branch here to boost the development of the local Jewish community.

“By creating a branch in this city with such a large Jewish community, we are showing that by uniting our strength, we can help reach the goal of a renaissance,” Russian Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich told the opening conference of the local branch.

Among those attending the session were more than 150 members of the Jewish community, including representatives from the St. Petersburg Jewish Association, the Hillel student organization and local charity organizations.

Also attending were Rabbi Mendel Pewzner, St. Petersburg’s chief rabbi, and Galina Starovoitova, a Jewish deputy in the state Duma, or lower house of Parliament.

During the opening session, Mikhail Milashvili, a prominent local businessman, was elected the branch’s first president.

“After decades without religious life, a lot of problems have arisen,” Milashvili said. “We can’t solve these problems if we don’t have a strong community.”

He expressed the hope that the local branch would address both communal interests as well as broader political and civic issues.

An estimated 100,000 Jews live in St. Petersburg.

Although Jews dominated many aspects of the city’s life during the Soviet era, particularly in the arts, their Jewishness was often an obstacle to educational and career advancement.

Vladimir Goussinsky, president of the RJC, the parent body of the St. Petersburg section, said the congress should encourage those who are still afraid to acknowledge their Jewish identity to overcome their fears.

Rather than listening to urgings by the older generation to tread quietly in Russian society, Goussinsky added, younger Jews should be proud of who they are and contribute openly to the country’s development.

Goussinsky became president of the RJC when the organization was founded in January with the financial backing of some of Russia’s most prominent Jewish bankers and businessmen.

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