MOSCOW, Feb. 3 (JTA) — A new center for Jewish studies — the first-ever cooperative project between Israeli and Russian universities — has been dedicated at Moscow State University. The program is affiliated with the school’s prestigious Institute for Asian and African Studies, which has trained many well-known politicians, diplomats and public figures. Throughout most of its history, however, the institute was unofficially closed to Jewish students. The joint project of this prestigious Russian university, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Moscow Jewish University marks a high point in the revival of Jewish studies that has taken place in Russia following the collapse of communism. This week’s dedication coincided with an annual conference on Jewish studies that demonstrated the breadth of the subject now available in Russia. Jewish studies are currently being taught in over 70 universities and other academic settings in the former Soviet Union to more than 2,500 students. Thirty students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have enrolled in the 5-year program of the Center for Jewish Studies and Civilization. The program offers majors in Israeli politics and economics, Jewish history and Hebrew language. Classes will be taught by visiting Hebrew University faculty as well as by local scholars. Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Yom-Tov Assis, head of the Hebrew University’s Institute for Jewish Studies, said a “fresh spirit is now filling the old building” of Moscow State University. Indeed, that fresh spirit can be seen in the Hebrew graffiti that has joined Hindi, Japanese and Arabic on the tables of the institute’s central auditorium. “We used to have scores of experts on anti-Zionism,” Yevgeny Satanovsky, chairman of the board of the Russian Jewish Congress, said, referring to the Soviet era. “However, we have no experts on Israeli politics and economics. Fortunately, the old-time ideology became a thing of the past.” The center is being supported by the Russian Jewish Congress, the Israeli government and the Stanley Chase family of Los Angeles. The center is not the first full-time academic program on Jewish studies to operate in the Russian capital. In addition to the Moscow Jewish University, the city hosts a few other Jewish institutions, including Project Judaica, a joint program between a Moscow university and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Faculty and students from these and other schools gathered this week in Moscow for an annual conference on Jewish studies. Dozens of participants from throughout the former Soviet Union gave presentations on the Bible, Jewish history and thought, sociology, psychology, literature, arts and education. The conference was organized by Sefer: The Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization. First held in 1994, this conference has become one of the highlights for those engaged in Jewish studies at the university level. At the conference, local academics were joined by an international delegation of professors and guests from Israel, England, Canada, Germany and the United States. One of them favorably compared the event to a similar annual conference on Jewish studies held in the United States. “What takes place in America is a minor achievement compared with what I see here,” said David Singer, director of research and publications for the American Jewish Committee. “The rich and broad program of this conference is absolutely miraculous.” The conference was underwritten by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and private donors.
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