(JTA) — The Russian Jewish Congress is defending itself against criticism for renting out a Moscow synagogue that also functions as a Holocaust memorial for a party.
Russia’s Bank of Industrial and Investment Settlements, or PIR Bank, celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Poklonnaya Hill Memorial Synagogue on Jan. 20 with a barbecue of lamb, alcoholic beverages and loud music, according to a report on the website MK.ru.
PIR Bank is a donor to the Russian Jewish Congress, which built the synagogue in 1998 in memory of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who died in the Holocaust.
Valery Engel, vice president of the World Congress of Russian-Speaking Jewry, told the Pravda daily that while American Jews often hold events at synagogues, “Russian tradition has no such parallels. To some extent, it is blasphemy.”
Boris Spiegel, the president of the World Congress, said, “Holding secular events there perhaps is not appropriate.”
The Russian Jewish Congress in a statement published last week on its website defended its decision to allow the party to take place at the synagogue, which does not have a rabbi or regular congregation.
According to the Russian Jewish Congress, the synagogue has been rented out before for cultural activities, including a jazz concert.
“The Memorial Synagogue at Poklonnaya Hill regularly sees not only religious events but also secular, educational, public and charitable activities aimed at both the Jews and non-Jews, the statement said. “We plan to continue this practice, acting upon the example of most of the leading museums of the world.
“In 2014, one such social event was a recreational evening for the bank — a longtime partner of charitable projects of the Russian Jewish Congress. We are grateful to the media for the major interest in the activities of the Russian Jewish Congress.”