Russia Up Close and Personal

TAU’s “Fascinating Russia” mission provided a unique cultural learning experience
28 September 2016

A large group of Tel Aviv University governors and supporters from across the globe joined in a discovery tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The participants’ common interest was cultural understanding, and their common cause – advancing education, research and society.


Enabling rare access to Russian points of interest, the weekend in Moscow kicked off with a city tour, followed by a visit to the giant Moscow Cathedral Mosque and a meeting with a mufti. He warmly greeted the TAU group and spoke on interreligious tolerance, peace and understanding.


TAU President Joseph Klafter said, in his greetings, “It’s fitting to begin this journey of cultural discovery with our Muslim brothers, especially in the light of Tel Aviv University’s significant research on the three Abrahamic religions and inter-religious understanding.” He noted that TAU is an “oasis of pluralism and tolerance, welcoming all faiths and ensuring freedom of religious practice and expression.”


TAU officials attending included Rector Yaron Oz and Vice President for Resource Development Amos Elad.


The three-day Moscow conference was officially opened at a gala dinner generously hosted by TAU benefactor and Honorary Fellow Dr. Boris Mints and Mrs. Marina Mints. It was held at the Museum of Russian Impressionism, which Dr.  Mints founded and which houses his private art collection. The evening afforded an opportunity to celebrate the finest in Russian culture – art, music, literature and gastronomy. Keynote speaker was writer, film director and TV presenter Avdotia Smirnova, who spoke on Lev Tolstoy and Russian culture. Among the guests was Israeli Ambassador to Russia Zvi Heifetz, a TAU alumnus, and President of the Russian Jewish Congress Dr. Yuri Kanner.


TAU President Joseph Klafter introduced Dr. Mints as a an influential business and Jewish community leader, well-known patron of the arts, and founder at TAU of the Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges at the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences. “In just one year of operation, the researchers and students at the Mints Institute are already advancing policy solutions for hunger, sustainable agriculture and food safety,” noted Prof. Klafter, adding that future issues on the table would be energy, refugees and water.  Dr. Mints had just returned from the first international conference of the Institute held in Helsinki, Finland."


During the evening, Prof. Klafter announced the establishment of a $100,000 Boris Mints Institute Prize to be awarded to an outstanding researcher whose work has had a transformative impact on global policy formation. Ten percent of the prize money will be earmarked for scholarships to outstanding students at the Mints Institute, he noted.


Dr. Boris Mints and Ambassador Zvi Heifetz at the Mints gala dinner in Moscow


Prof. Klafter spoke of the profound influence of Russian cultural figures on the development of Israeli identity, including major poets and authors who made their stamp on Modern Hebrew literature: Chaim Nachman Bialik, Joseph Brenner and the poetess Rachel, among numerous others.  “Throughout the waves of Russian and Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel in the last century, including the 1990s when one million people arrived, Russian culture has greatly enriched the music, theater, painting and intellectual life of Israel,” said Prof. Klafter.


Shabbat dinner was hosted by Dr. Temur Ben Yehuda (Khikhinashvili), Chairman of the Israeli-Russian Business Council and President of PATERO Development LLC, and his wife, Jannette, in the presence of Israeli Ambassador to Russia Zvi Heifetz, a TAU alumnus. Among the attendees was President of Dagestan Ramazan Gadzhimuradovich Abdulatipov.


From left: TAU President Joseph Klafter, Dr. Temur Ben Yehuda and President of Dagestan Ramazan Gadzhimuradovich Abdulatipov.

Prof. Klafter thanked the hosts and noted that the Israeli-Russian Business Council will be hosted at TAU to expand business networking and joint R&D opportunities between Israel and Russia. “Tel Aviv fits into Moscow almost 50 times, but it has an outsized reputation and impact in the global innovation and entrepreneurship arena,” he said.


Highlights of the Moscow tour included visits to the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, the Moscow Choral Synagogue, including a meeting with Rabbi Shimon Levin, Director of the Congress of Russian Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations; a tour of Red Square and the Kremlin; the State Tretyakov Gallery; the Pushkin Museum of Arts; a performance at the Bolshoi Ballet; a visit to Saint Basil’s Cathedral including a private choral performance; The Art Treasures of Russia Exhibition; a night tour of the Moscow Metro; and a lecture by Andrey Movchan, Senior Associate and Director of the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, who spoke on major trends in the Russian economy.



St. Petersburg – City of 101 Islands

A group of governors and supporters took a pre-tour of dazzling St. Petersburg, taking in some of the city’s major artistic and cultural landmarks. These included a visit to the St. Petersburg Grand Choral Synagogue and a meeting with the Chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg Rabbi Menachem Mendel Pewzner and listened to magical cantorial singing; the Catherine Palace including the Amber Room; a private tour of the State Hermitage Museum and its restoration laboratories; the Faberge Museum; and the Peterhof Park and Palace.


Guests enjoyed a display of world-class tennis at the St. Petersburg Open 2016 Tennis Tournament at the Sibur Arena, hosted by Dr. Michael Mirilashvili, an Israeli-Russian businessman and philanthropist. Later that evening Dr. Mirilashvili and his wife, Laura, hosted a special dinner in the presence of heads and senior officials of St. Petersburg universities and academic institutions.


Prof. Klafter summed up the Russia Mission: “An important aspect of our visit here was to enhance and promote the relationship between Tel Aviv University and the Russian Friends Association. We hope this will lead to increased opportunities for academic cooperation and exchange with Russian institutions, and a deepening of Israel-Russia friendship.”



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