By Oxford Chabad Society
March 2008 Anno Domini
The Second Annual Joseph Graham Memorial Lecture Presents
Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar
Welcome and tribute: Rabbi Eli Brackman
Director of Oxford University Chabad Society
Good evening! I would like to welcome everyone here tonight to the Oxford University Chabad Society’s second Joseph Graham memorial lecture. Tonight’s lecture is hosted in memory of Joseph Graham, the grandfather of Elliot Shear. We are very grateful to Elliot and his parents for joining us tonight and for sponsoring tonight’s lecture.
Joseph Graham is someone who came to England from Germany in 1939, leaving behind his entire family who perished in the Holocaust. This is part of a series of lectures we host in memory of people who died in the Holocaust and it is in these lectures and the general perpetuation of Jewish life that the memory of these people live on and we dedicate tonight’s lecture to Joseph Graham.
Tonight’s lecture will be delivered by Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar. We are honoured to be hosting him and we thank him for coming out to Oxford despite his extremely busy schedule. His lecture is the second Joseph Graham memorial lecture which follows the previous lecture given by former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
Tonight we are also honoured to be hosting the Honourable Nathaniel Rothschild, who is here with us tonight as Guest of Honour. We thank him very much for coming.
We are also honoured to be hosting the Head of the Russian Studies Centre at St Antony’s College, Professor of Russian Studies at Oxford University, Professor Robert Service.
We are also hosting the Honourable president of the Oxford University Chabad Society, Melissa Friedman, and all the esteemed guests who are with us tonight.
The subject of tonight’s lecture is “Jewish life in Russia: Yesterday and Today”. We will proceed with an introduction by Professor of Russian Studies, Professor Robert Service, who has agreed to offer some introductory remarks on behalf of the university.
Introduction: Professor Robert Service
Director of the Russian Studies Centre, St Antony’s college
It is a great pleasure to have been invited to help to introduce Chief Rabbi of Russia Rabbi Berel Lazar.
It is impossible to understand the history of Russia, the USSR and Russia again, without understanding the relation between Russians and Jews, Russians and Ukrainians and Ukrainians and Jews. It was complex and tormented. For most of the 20th century it was extremely tormented.
Often we think of the years of the 1930’s as being the nadir of Jewish religious life, Christian religious life, Muslim religious life and all religious life. But in fact, one of the greatest persecutors of religious faith in the USSR was the successor to Stalin, namely Nikita Khrushchev.
In other words, the decades of religious persecution, the decades in attempt to eradicate religious belief, religious organisation, religious practice, were very long indeed and then vastly outlived Joseph Stalin.
We are talking about a theme that is now possible to talk of as historical. There is now something like religious tolerance in Russia but it is contested religious tolerance in Russia. It is not completely simple matter to be a religious believer in the Russian federation today. All sorts of political, cultural, social, as well as religious questions are involved. It gives me really much pleasure in introducing the speaker tonight. He is Chief Rabbi of Russia, recognised by President Vladimir Putin. It is a great honour to have the pleasure to help introduce Rabbi Lazar, our speaker, tonight.
Guest of Honour: The Honourable Mr. Nathaniel Rothschild
My only qualification for speaking tonight is that I am very good friends with Rabbi Lazar. I thank Elliot Shear for sponsoring this event and I thank my friend and business partner David Slager for sponsoring this centre and making it a reality.
I have been going to Russia since 1992, when I was still a student in Oxford. When I began visiting Russia regularly around 2001, I didn’t have much idea about the resurgence of Jewish life. However, I met Rabbi Lazar in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in Davos and I was struck by watching this figure and we eventually connected and started talking, and from there began a friendship and I started visiting his centre in Russia, many times a year.
For me it was an incredible experience to watch it grow and his efforts in this. It has over 140,000 members, serves over 1,000 meals a day and helps 15,000 elderly people. It is a place where Jews and non-Jews visit. It has a synagogue and swimming pool and there is work a foot to build a Jewish museum. At the same time Rabbi Lazar is a great unifying force in Russia. I have met some important people at his centre, including a leading Muslim businessman n Russia, who is now a close friend.
I have only wonderful things to say and I am very honoured to introduce him here tonight.
Lecture: Chief Rabbi of Russia Rabbi Berel Lazar
My call to fame is actually being Mr. Rothschild’s friend and it is a pleasure to honour Mr. Rothschild and David Slager for what they have done here in Oxford for the Oxford University Chabad Society, with the opening of the Slager Chabad Centre, under the leadership of Rabbi Brackman. It should be a lesson for many of us not to forget ones Alma-Ata. Not to forget what one received and remember to give back. Another reason I am here is in honour of Elliot Shear who has sponsored tonight’s lecture in memory of his grandfather, Joseph Graham.
We will be celebrating in a few weeks the holiday of Purim, when we read the scroll of Esther. The story begins with a big feast, divorcing his wife, remarrying and goes on and on until finally arrives at the point, when the Jews were saved from the wicked Haman during the Persian of the Jewish people in 5th century BCE. Most of the narrative, however, has nothing to do with actual point of the story. Many people have asked why it’s necessary all the details, aside from the fact that Jews are good story tellers.