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March 13, 2009

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 13, 2009 I Deportation of rabbi in Russia alarms Jewish leaders By Grant Slater MOSCOW (JTA) Nearly three years ago, Rabbi Yis- roel Silberstein uprooted his wife and young son from New York and moved with them to the far eastern edge of Russia to start a new life as a Chabad emissary. As with most Chabad- Lubavitch rabbis in Russia. it was a lifetime appoint- ment. The mission:  to nurture an enfeebled Jewish community of about 6,000, where intermarriage rates surpass 95 percent. Cognizant of the chal- lenges, Silberstein said he relished the opportunity. He won't have the chance to tackle it--at least for now. Last week, a Russian court expelled Silberstein from the country and barred his return for five years. "This is a Jewish com- munity that was very far away with no real Jewish leadership," he told JTA in a telephone interview from New York. "People don't even know that they're Jew- ish, and we came to change that." Silberstein's deportation has set off alarm bells within Russia's largest Jewish um- brella group, the Chabad- run Federation of Jewish Communities. The group has taken the rare step of openly criticiz- ing Russian authorities and suggesting that anti-Semitic sentiments are behind the deportation order. "Such things couldn't have happened without latent or open anti-Semitism." federa- tion spokesman Baruch Gorin told JTA. "That could be a signal to the community and to the federation that we are not welcome here. that they don't want the opening of new synagogues, schools and so forth." Chabad in Russia relies heavily on foreign-born rab- bis-mostly from Israel or its global headquarters in Brooklyn to nurture and oversee its projects in Russia's far-flung regions. More than 100 foreign-born rabbis and their families are scattered across Russia, most of them on yearlong visas, Gorin said. Other Jewish organizations with operations in Russia. such as the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, also rely on for- eign staff, but they have not reported similar troubles. In Silberstein's case. he was given three hours' notice that he would need to appear in court in the regional capital of Vladivostok, a port city on Russia's Pacific coast, where he served as Chabad's head rabbi. On Feb. 10, the court ruled that Silberstein, 26. would have to leave after he checked the wrong box in a series that appears on Russian visa ap- plications. Silberstein mistak- enly chose cultural exchange rather than religious activities as his reason for entering the country. Silberstein, a U.S. citizen, lost an appeal and he was forced to leave Russia two weeks ago. He is the second Chabad rabbi to be posted to the far- east post in five years. Rabbi Menachem Raskin left in 2005 amid-difficulties with local officials. Russia previously has used visa discrepancies to alter the immigration status of rabbis. In 2003. Chabad Rabbi Elyashuv Kaplun was de- ported frorn the southern city of Rostov-on-Don after immigration officials charged him with overstaying a busi- ness visa. Kaplunjeportedly was sent packing because of a personal conflict with a pow- erful local Muslim cleric who was close to the authorities. Two years later, federal officials prevented Moscow's head Orthodox rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, from entering the country in an incident that many believe was politically motivated. Federation President Alex- ander Boroda said that given the history in Rostov-on-Don and Vladivostok, the latest expulsion represents a dan- gerous trend toward foreign rabbis, which he noted arc an essential part of the Jewish community here. "Unfortunately, since the fall of the Soviet Union, the situation has proved entirely inadequate to train a new generation of Jewish religious leaders among the citizens of Russia despite the fact that the Jewish community has made every conceivable ef- fort to train new personnel," Boroda said. Chabad leaders in Russia have stopped short of point- ing fingers at specific local officials in Vladivostok. but they have launched a public relations campaign and lob- bied Russian authorities on Silberstein's behalf. Late last week, the federation took its campaign to Russia's Public Chamber, a semigovernmen- tal body of national leaders with no official power. As a result, a committee for the Public Chamber respon- sible for religious and cultural organizations sent a letter to the head of Russia's Federal Migration Service warning it to tread lightly with the rabbi's status and come to a"positive decision." "We believe that public of- ficials should be very sensitive to tlae needs of believers in our country," the committee chair. Nikolai Svanidze. wrote in the letter. "The execution of rabbinical duties could be considered as a cultural activity." Silberstein's deportation has been widely discussed in Russian newspapers where, in many instances, the Chabad-led federation has referred to historical perse- cution of Jews to make the case for the rabbi. Russia's head Chabad rabbi, Berel Lazar, said the deportation was an irrespon- sible act by the local authori- ties that will serve only to harm Russia's international standing. "The last thing Russia needs is for the international community to label it as anti-Semitic." Lazar said in an interviewwith the Chabad- Lubavitch global network. "And I don't believe it is anti- Semitism, but I am taking it up on the federal level." Chabad officials and Sil- berstein say they are holding out hope that a compromise can be reached with Russian government officials. Gorin, the federation's spokesman, said it is unlikely that Chabad will be able to fill the post in Vladivostok anytime soon because young rabbis would be reluctant to go to a distant city with a history of problems. "They know that the city is problematic. Vladivostok is problematic in itself." Gorin said. "It's not an easy place to live." Silberstein was attacked and robbed last year. though there is no indication that the attack was anti-Semitic in nature. For his part, Silberstein remains undaunted. "The community is defi- nitely not self-sustaining at this point," he said. "We are hoping, praying to go back soon." Chabad. too, has. not let up, despite budget problems resulting from the global financial crisis; On March 3. officials announced they would send a new emissary to Rostov-on-Don as soon as possible. Shoah photos worth more than a thousand words By Julie Gruenbaum Fax Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Ilsa Maier is guilty of inap- propriate smiling. She's been told this her whole life, and admits it's probably some sort of defense mechanism she giggles so she doesn't cry. That's how she explained the smile on her face in a photograph of herself some 65 years ago, just after she was se- lected for labor at Auschwitz. And that is probably why she snickered on a recent after- noon, as she pointed herself out in that same photograph, now hanging on the wall of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Maier's 22-year-old vis- age stares out from a photo included in "Auschwitz Al- bum," a Yad Vashem exhibit, continuing through April 3, of an album documenting the SS processing of a Hungar- ian transport to Auschwitz- Birkenau. When Maier, who lives in Encino, Calif., saw that the exhibit was visiting the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust on Wilshire Boulevard, she sent a letter to museum director Mark Roth- man informing him that she and her cousin were in one of the photos. She couldn't make the Jan. 27 opening, but Rothman invited her to visit a few weeks later. The photo Maier is in is labeled, in precise hand- writing, "Einweisung ins Arbeitslager, .... able-bodied for work." Those not deemed able -bodied were sent directly to the gas chambers. The photo was taken just after Maier arrived in Aus- chwitz in May or June of 1944. She is still wearing her own clothes, rather than a prisoner's uniform, but she and the hundreds of women with her have already had their heads shaven in the de- lousing process. Against the gray landscape of chimneys and barbed wire. the women march in loose order, carrying blankets. Most look dazed; some, like Ilsa. are smiling. "We were blank at the time," she recalls. "We were just happy to survive." The 193 photos in the al- bum were taken by SS guards and document the entire selection process, short of the killings themselves. Days after the war ended, survivor Lilly Jacob-Zelma- novic Meier (no relation to Ilsa) came upon the album as she searched for a sweater in the chilly former SS bar- racks where she was being housed. She recognized the rabbi of her town in the pho- tos. Lilly distributed some of the photos to survivors she recognized. She allowed the Jewish Museum of Prague to copy the photos in 1949, which accounts for their publication in several books, and in the 1960s she presented the photos at the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt. In 1981, Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld convinced her to turn the album over to Yad Vashem. Ilsa Maier first saw her photo in a New York bookstore in "Commandant of Aus- chwitz: the Autobiography of RudolfHoess" (PhoenixPress, 2000) a moment she said she handled with the same nonchalance she still uses as a defense mechanism. "You can save a lot of calo- ries, taking the path of least resistance," she said. Maier comes from Brno, Czechoslovakia. Her father was killed in 1939 in a Nazi raid in a restaurant. She and her mother were taken to Terezin, the so-called"modei" camp. Her mother was trans- ferred to Auschwitz before her and was spared because she had befriended the mother of a beautiful young woman whom a Nazi officer fancied. After three years in Terezin, Ilsa landed on a transport--a deliberately deceptive Pull- man car rather than a cattle box--to-Auschwitz. "We looked out and said, 'Oh, those poor people,' and we had no idea that we were part of it," she recalled. Maier spent about sixweeks in Auschwitz and then was sent to a labor camp 40 miles from the Czech border, where she helped manufacture propellers. After she was liberated, Maier discovered from Red Cross lists that her mother, who had ended up in Bergen-Belsen, had survived the war, as did Maier's cousin, who is pictured with her. Maier and her husband, also a Terezin survivor, married after the war, and in 1947 they arrived in New York. They and their two children moved to Los Angeles in 1968. Maier wasn't the only survivor to view her picture at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, which is constructing a new facility in Pan Pacific Park set to open in summer 2010. At the ex- hibition's opening reception on Jan. 27. Rothman invited brothers Mike and Josef Kre- itenberg. Soon afterthe album had been discovered, they spotted themselves, another brother and their father in one photo, and their mother and sister in another. The two brothers were the only survi- vors from the family. "For me that night, there was only one thing that ex- pressed survival more than being able to stand with someone whose younger self stared out from a picture of the damned," Rothman said of the opening night. "That was having the Kreitenbergs pose together with all the other Holocaust survivors in attendance that night in a life-affirming photo." For more information on the Auschwitz Album exhibi- tion, visit http://www.lamoth. org. Julie Fix is a senior writer for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. New Jewish Congregation is growing New Jewish Congregation at Temple Shalom welcomed 28 new members Feb. 28 at a reception in their honor. TheReform congregation, at 13563 County Road 101 in Oxford, Fla., near The Villages, now has 576 members. Jewish Pavilion salutes centenarians The Jewish Pavi|ion eel- residentatHorizonBayatLake ebrated two 100th birthdays Orienta, eachturnedthemagic during February. Rose (Rody) number of 100 with a cake and Mansberg, a resident at the all the trimmings provided by. Mayflower Retirement Corn- Pavilion staff and volunteers. munity, and Jack Sigman, a Mazei tov to Rody and Jack. The Jewish Pavilion is a constituent agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. For more informa- tion, call Nancy Ludin, execu- tive director at407-678-9363. /