Laura Janner-Klausner
Laura Janner-Klausner

In Moscow, Limmud is not just invaluable, but brave

It’s a very Jewish Yom HaShoah – our family spread throughout the Jewish world marking the occasion in their own way. Our eldest child, Tali, in Jerusalem, despite working, just like on every other Sunday, the eerie 10am siren ensuring it’s not just another normal working Sunday.

Our daughter, Ella, in Auschwitz-Birkenau with RSY-Netzer with March of the Living. As my husband, David and son, Natan, are in England, I feel a long way away – in Russia, at Limmud FSU Moscow.

Here the shadows of the Shoah and the Soviet era lurk, much as the KGB did when I visited refuseniks in the USSR as a teenager.

These dual Shoah-Soviet shadows were palpable in the questions and responses to my sessions on LGBT and on Muslims and Jews.

The comparison with sessions I had presented two years ago on similar topics at Limmud FSU Moscow, was fascinating, seeing what had changed and what had worsened.

In the session that was about being an ally to LGBT people, we focused on gender identity. We discussed concepts of non-binary gender identity and gender fluidity, which even in the UK we are only starting to grapple with.

Two years ago in Moscow, with only a few exceptions, there was palpable aggression and disdain over any possibility that being gay was acceptable. This time was markedly different. The rule last time was the exception now.

Only one person expressed anger: “I don’t want to have a fight, but how would you feel if your child grew up and said ‘I’m Napoleon’?” The cruelty and absurdity of his question was met with jeers.

These exchanges were set against the background of horrific crimes committed against gay men in the Chechen Republic in southern Russian being called ‘pogroms’.

Anna, a Moscow Limmudnik and a psychologist, suggested that anti-gay violence in Chechnya has combined with another factor to create a paradoxical improvement in some peoples’ views towards LGBT people.

The 2014 Russian Propaganda Law enforces an anti-gay school curriculum. Instead of silencing discussion, this putrid law has encouraged young Russians, in particular, to debate LGBT issues and has triggered some people to have the courage to come out.

Russians are comparing themselves to Chechnya and recognise the extreme anti-gay violence as an outcome of anti-gay education. They are realising they don’t want to be like their Chechen neighbours.

Outrage at Chechnya has led some Russians to find their voice and change their views. Russia’s police closed a popular website which enabled LGBT people to get advice from psychologists.

The site chose the name Kids404, the error number that appears when websites do not work. This name showed Russian LGBT young people challenging the idea that as LGBT they are human errors.

On Yom HaShoah, we remember six million Jews who were killed for seeming “different”, seeming “weird” and “queer” – alongside hundreds of thousands of other people who wore pink triangles.

The echoes of commonality of Jews and gay people as victims in the Shoah were amplified when a Limmudnik recounted how some Russians posted pink triangles on their Facebook profiles in solidarity with LGBT people.

Limmud creates rare spaces where traditional views can be challenged and tested. In Moscow Limmud is not just invaluable but brave.

About the Author
Rabbi Janner-Klausner grew up in London; worked as an educator in Jerusalem for 15 years working with Jews and as dialogue facilitator trainer of Palestinians and Israelis. She is the Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism in the UK.
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