(In honor of Avraham Infeld, Hillel presented its Meyerhoff Award for Meaningful Jewish Experiences to Minsk Hillel at the Renaissance Award event on June 2. Minsk Hillel Director Maxim Yudin accepted the award. Below is the text of his remarks.)
Minsk Hillel Director Maxim Yudin.
It is hard to express how glad I am to see so many close and dear people here tonight.
I am proud to join you and to represent the Jewish community of Minsk which has always had a special place in Jewish history. I am sure that many of your grandparents or great grandparents came from Minsk.
Today, Hillel is helping to create a renaissance of Jewish life in Minsk. Two generations ago, 90 percent of the Jewish population was killed in Belarus during the Holocaust. The few survivors who returned were forbidden from practicing their religion.
Times have changed completely. Nowadays there are Jewish schools, JCCs, synagogues, and, of course, Hillel has been operating in Minsk for 15 years.
There is a saying: "A candle never loses anything by lighting another candle." In Minsk, one generation of Jewish students is teaching the next the basics of Judaism. They are taking ownership of their Jewish identity and making an enduring commitment to Jewish life, as Wayne Firestone just said. I myself have been a member of Hillel since I was a university student in 1999. It changed my life completely and it keeps changing the lives of others. Thanks to your support, our young people are lighting many candles and creating a bright future from our gloomy past.
We are proud to be the first Hillel in the former Soviet Union to receive the Meyerhoff Award for Meaningful Jewish Experiences. When we look at the difficult work that lies ahead of us, and the many obstacles that often fall in our way, this award will remind us of our Hillel family and will give us the encouragement to carry on. We are grateful to the Meyerhoff family for their continued support for Hillel's educational initiatives.
I also want to thank our dear honoree who has a special place in the life of my Hillel and my family.
Avraham Infeld is well known to Jewish students throughout the former Soviet Union who have attended his many inspiring lectures over the years. Avraham has helped our Jewish students to increase their Jewish literacy and Jewish affiliation; to find their own cultural identification with Judaism; to expand their Jewish horizons. It is life-changing help. Thanks to Avraham many young Jews have returned to their people. Avraham has taught them what it means to be a part of the whole Jewish community with its eternal motto: "One people, one heart. All Jews are responsible for each other." It is fair to say that Avraham has contributed to the spiritual rebirth of young Jews in the former Soviet Union.
I personally met Avraham about 9 years ago when I attended the FSU Hillel Congress. Avraham gave one of his powerful speeches and I hoped someday to be able to address a large group of Jewish activists just like him. Well, maybe someday.
His translator that day was a beautiful, petite woman who did the best that she could to keep up with him, as we all do. At the time she was the director of Hillel in Yekaterinburg. Today she is my beloved wife for almost 5 years.
Each time Avraham sees me here in United States or in some other country, he asks how is HIS girlfriend doing.
Thank you very much for this award and for helping to make the dream of Jewish life come true for students in the former Soviet Union.
Additional coverage:JTA reports on the event.Wayne L. Firestone remarks.Randall Kaplan remarks.Main Infeld page.