MOSCOW, April 9 (JTA) A recent rally here to help Iranian Jews may have been small fewer than 200 people took part but it didn’t lack for symbolism.
“I consider it a historic event. For the first time in many years, Russian Jewry has launched efforts to help” another Diaspora Jewish community, said Pinchas Goldschmidt, Moscow’s chief rabbi, one of the organizers and speakers at last week’s rally.
The protesters stood quietly in a downtown Moscow boulevard outside the Iranian Embassy, carrying signs reading “Let My People Go,” “Justice for the 13 Iranian Prisoners” and “Free the Political Prisoners in Iran.” The signs were reminiscent of those carried during the 1970s and 1980s by American Jews working to help refuseniks and Zionist activists in the Soviet Union.
The protest attracted a crowd of onlookers drawn by rumors of a possible clash between the demonstrators and Iranian students living in Moscow, but no students showed up.
The Iranian Embassy apparently had decided to downplay the event. It had lodged a protest against the demonstration and tried unsuccessfully to have Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Goussinsky cancel it.
Most of the demonstrators were not longtime Jewish activists but young people, some of them teen-agers.
“I came here because I am not indifferent to the fate of my kinsmen in Iran. Our schoolchildren painted the posters and brought them here on their own initiative,” said Grigory Lipman, director of Moscow’s secular Jewish high school.
Many in the Russian Jewish community believe that their country could use its ties to Iran to play an instrumental role in the fate of the “Iran 13,” said Rabbi David Karpov, a Lubavitch leader in Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a delegation of visiting American Jews in February that his ministry has been raising the issue with Iranian authorities since June.
“We have been including this question on the agenda of practically all Russian-Iranian political contacts,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a letter to Moscow’s Jewish community last month.
The RJC, one of Russian Jewry’s umbrella organizations, has been pressuring the Iranian Embassy in Moscow to issue visas to Goussinsky, two leading Russian Jewish lawyers and some media people to attend the trial.
Just before the demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy, Goussinsky met with the Iranian ambassador regarding his visa requests, but he did not receive an answer.
But the message of the demonstration was clear to many ordinary Jews in Moscow.
“When I saw the demonstration on TV, I was happy to learn that the Jewish community here is at last able to do something other than celebrate Jewish holidays and work for its own benefit,” said Nadezhda Korabelnik, 45, a historian at a Moscow museum.