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February 12, 2016     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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February 12, 2016
 

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 12, 2016 By Cnaan Liphshiz KAZAN, Russia (JTA)-- When the six members of the Simcha klezmer band ~ hauled their instruments into a dilapidated rehearsal space, no one suspected they were about to hijack a govern- ment building in this large, clean city some 450 miles east of Moscow. But that's exactly what happened in 1995 when this popular ensemble-- founded .in 1989 by Jewish musicians during the Soviet Union's twilight years--en- tered the Teacher's House, a government-controlled build- ing that had once been a syna- gogue. For three years, city officials had pledged to return the structure to the Jewish community. But the band's members had had enough of empty promises. Determined to hold the mayor to his word, the players remained barricaded inside for three days as police prepared to storm in. The standoff endedwith the city giving up the synagogue, which it signed over to its 8,000-member Jewish com- munity the following year. In this part of Russia, near the Ural Mountains that divide Europe from Asia, Simcha has been the linchpin of the Jewish community's growth and strength and a symbol of the Jews' determination to maintain their religious and cultural identity amid persecution. '"Many Russian JewiSh communities grew to in- clude klezmer bands," Eduard Tumansky, the band's cur- rent leader, told JTA after a performance in September celebrating the synagogue's centennial. "But I know of no other klezmer bands besides ours that grew into a Jewish community." Violinist Leonid Sonts, who founded Simcha, "used musical activities as avehicle for building a Jewish com- munity long before open worship became tolerated again in Kazan," said the city's Chabad rabbi, Yitzhak Gorelick. Sonts, who opened a Jewish cultural center, Menorah, in 1987, "used the band to turn musical events into cultural- religious events," Tumansky recalled. "We performed during the holidays. Before [Kazan's] Jewish people had a synagogue, they got together at Simcha concerts. Simcha became the engine for Jew- ish life. "Simcha was the Jewish community's main lobby- ing platform and face," he said. "So when the Soviet Union collapsed, we already had strong partnerships. Everybody in Kazan knew Simcha." Later the community hired a rabbi for its synagogue and built a Jewish school--in- stitutions that took over the task of serving as an axis for Jewish life here. Sonts became the president of Kazan's Jew- ish community--a role he maintained until his passing in 2001. After returning the Teach- er's House, authorities in Ka- zan have done more than give the Jews a synagogue: They turned it and the community into tourist attractions. Since 2012, the city has held an annual Jewish mu- sic festival around Rosh Hashanah. And last year, the city held a series of Jew- ish-themed events outside the synagogue, including Kazan's first Limmud FSU Jewish learning conference and a gathering by Chabad rabbis from across the former Soviet Union. The events attracted an unlikely mix of secular and religious Jews, who flooded Eduard Tumansky, third from left, with the spacious, red-cobble pedestrian streets of Kazan's old city, with its mosques and gold-spired Russian Orthodox churches. Local Jews say they feel safe among the Sunni Muslim majority in the Russian state of Tatarstan, of which Kazan is the capital. "I regularly put my tefil- lin on while waiting for the subway in the morning," said Gershon Ilianski, 16, a student at the Jewish high school here. "I know they have problems with Muslims in western Europe, but I never worriedanyone would bother me here." Thirty years ago, however, when Russia was still com- munist, Jews, Muslims and Christians all needed a non- religious alibi to worship. "Simcha performed at Purim and Hanukkah parties while camouflaging the reli- gious and communal nature of these events," Tumansky said. "To the community, the concerts were [seen] as a Jewish event. To authorities, just a musical one." Even so, such musical gatherings were not allowed elsewhere in the Soviet Union, where Communist govern- ment sought to blur ethnic identities. This policy was less strictly enforced in Kazan, as its population was deeply attached to Islam and its heritage. "Moscow realized it couldn't restrict the locals too much on religion and tra- dition, because there'd be too much alienation," said Chaim Chesler, founder of the Lim- mud FSU organization. "The result is an inspiring example of coexistence," This atmosphere of relative tolerance in Kazan during the Soviet era attracted hundreds of Jews from other parts of the Soviet Union. At a time when some universities nearer to Moscow barred Jews, they fellow Simcha musicians, Sept. were accepted without prob- lem at Kazan's institutions of higher education, the Ukraine-born Sonts said in an interview he gave to local media before his death. When the Soviet Union col- lapsed in 1991, Kazan already had a functioning Jewish community--something that would take years to grow in other Russian cities. This head start has meant that Jewish lay leaders have been able to have a more hands-on approach to devel- oping their community. For example, unlike most other Jewish Russian communities, Kazan employs its Chabad rabbi, Gorelick, full time. Elsewhere in Russia, rabbis often work independently of the community, sometimes competing with its lay lead- ers for donations from local philanthropists. Last September, the com- munity celebrated its strength alongside its synagogue's 3, 2013. centennial by rededicating the shul following renova- tions. Tumansky, wearing his trademark black hat, per- formed with Simcha's other five musicians before a crowd of several thousand outside the synagogue. "It's true that we are now the sideshow of the commu- nity we used to run," he said of the band. "But then again, that was exactly what we fought for: to have a normal community." The concert was unortho- dox; while Simcha primarily played klezmer, there were notable electric guitar and country music influences. Af- ter each solo, the crowd, a mix of Jews and non-Jews, waved blue and white balloons emblazoned with a Star of Da- vid, enthusiastically reacting with whistles and yelps. "Tell me," Tumansky told a reporter after the show. "Have you ever seen a Jewish com- munity built on rock and roll?" By Ron Kampeas (JTA)--The Iowa caucuses are over--and the first real test of the presidential can- didates' viability gave us more questions than answers. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the Republican caucus on Monday night, relegating Donald Trump, the real estate billionaire, to second place. Both Trump and Cruz ran insurgent anti-establishment campaigns. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made astrong showing for third place, well ahead of the other "establishment" candidates. On the Democratic~side, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., effectively tied for first. The New Hampshire pri- mary is on Feb. 9, with Nevada and South Carolina later this month. By March 2, the day after Super Tuesday, when 14 states and a territory select favored candidates, we should have some an- swers-like who among the 11 GOP candidates is serious, how much stam- ina Sanders has and what the general election might look like on Nov. 8. In the meantime, here are some of the known un- knowns for the Jewish and Middle East obsessed. 1. Will Jeb's exclamation point turn into a ques- tion mark? Ayear ago Jeb Bush, the for- mer Republican governor of Florida, was the GOP's favored son, literally and figuratively, despite his convoluted at- tempts to distant himself from his father and his brother, including dropping "Bush" from his logo and replacing it with an exclamation point. Bush attracted the lion's share of the party's traditional fundraisers, including Jewish funders like Fred Zeidman of Texas, Mel Sembler of Florida and Sam Fox of Missouri. They raised over $100 million toward an extension of the Bush dynasty. Trump, who went hard at Bush from the outset, has more or less killed that dream. Bush scored 3 percent in Iowa, and before the Iowa vote was polling at 6 percent in New Hampshire. His backers have been loyal until now, but it may be time for a reality check. Rubio--once Bush's protege, although they have clashed during the campaign--is hop- ing to reap the establishment dividends of a Bush departure. 2. Is Donald Trump fired? Before the Iowavote, the re- ality TV star--who relegated dozens of would-be appren- tices to the unemployment line--was well ahead in the New Hampshire race and na- tionally. But he has staked his candidacy on being a winner and decreed his victory in Iowa a foregone conclusion. On Monday night, he delivered an uncharacteristically subdued concession speech, promising to win in New Hampshire and consider buying a farm in Iowa. Plenty of Jewish Republi- cans wouldn't mind seeing Trump with a hoe. He has alienated a broad cross- section of the community, offending the socially moder- ate with his broadsides against Muslims and Hispanics, while unnerving conservatives with his dithering over whether all of Jerusalem is Israel's capitaland questioning of Israel's commitment to mak- ing peace. 3. "Cruz and the Neo- cons": A new hit band? Cruz has been second to none in his Israel boosterism; of the four victory speeches Monday night, only his men- tioned the country. "If you want a candidate who will stand unapologeti- cally with the nation of Israel, then support a candidate who has led the fight over and over again to stand by our friend and ally, the nation of Israel," he said. But Cruz has also faulted neoconservatives for leading the country into too many wars, among them the sig- nature foreign policy event of George W. Bush's presidency, the Iraq War. The Venn dia- gram overlap between Jewish Republicans and neoconser- vatives is substantial. Cruz's broadsides against that ideol- ogy, coupled with attacks on "New York values," have made some Jewish Republicans wary of whether the Texan is using code to appeal to the less salutary values in the Ameri- can conservative heartland. Now that he has emerged as a front-runner, does Cruz reach out to the establish- ment's Jewish wing of the party and make nice? 4. What will the Ariel- sons do? Sheldon Adelson, the ca- sinomagnate, pro-Israel powerhouse and Republican kingmaker has taken to jok- ing in recent weeks about his bickering with his physician wife, Miriam, over Cruz and Rubio. She favors the former, he the latter. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, itwas revealed that the couple had maxed out direct donations to Cruz's campaign, each anteing up $2,700, It doesn't necessarily mean they've made up their minds. The Adelsons gave similar amounts last year to the campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., but thus far have refrained from spending the tens of millions to fund political action commit- tees not directly affiliated with candidates. The couple have made known to associ- ates that they do not want to repeat what they now feel was a mistake in 2012- giving millions to groups supporting Newt Gingrich, only to wound the ultimate nominee, Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama in the general election. With Cruz and Rubio still viable, don't expect an Adel- son determination just yet. One thing the couple will be watching is whether Rubio improves his ground game, the network of volunteers and staff necessary to get out the vote state by state. Reporting has suggested that he was surprisinglyweak in this area in Iowa. 5. Does Bernie do for- eign policy? In his speeches, Sanders manages to turn typically soporific economic analysis-- income inequality, banks, health care--into a rousing call to action. Not so on foreign policy, where he has allowed himself to be put on the defensive by Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, who has framed Sanders as naive and inexperienced--with some Success. It doesn't helP that in one debate, Sanders called for "normalization" of ties with Iran and then seemed to backtrack, or that he has repeatedly called Jordan's King Abdullah, a monarch not especially thrilled with the democratic process, one of his heroes. Sanders has focused on the opposingvotes he and Clinton cast 14 years ago on the Iraq War: He voted against when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, she voted for when she was a New York senator. If Sanders hopes to peel away foreign policy-focused voters from Clinton, he will need to flesh out his pians for the Middle East in particular, where he has said he agrees with Obama and Clinton that America needs to maintain leadership.