[LH] No. 17, November 2001

29.11.2001. 14:57

LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH

November, 2001 (17)


Fourth International Conference "Jews in a Changing World" - a Survey


From 20 to 22 November 2001 the fourth international conference "Jews in a Changing World" was held in Riga at the assembly hall of the University of Latvia – a place with rich historical, sociopolitical and academic past.

The opening ceremony, addressed by the President of Latvia Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga and the Prime Minister Mr Andris Berzins, and the conference itself attracted great attention among local academicians, the Jewish community representatives, Latvian state officials, as well as the mass media. Greetings to the conference were also delivered by the Minister of Culture of Latvia, Rector of the University of Latvia, President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, rabbis and Jewish community leaders. Also former President of Latvia Mr Guntis Ulmanis, members of the Saeima (the Parliament of Latvia), respresentatives of the diplomatic corps and other prominent guests were present.

Latvian President Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga appreciated the fact that the conference "Jews in a Changing World" has become a regular, well-known forum among researchers and public figures of the world. Dr Vike-Freiberga asserted that this conference helps to shape Latvia's image in the world as it is - a tolerant and democratic European country, where all minorities, Jews included, may freely voice all problems they are concerned about.

Latvia has been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country for ages with Latvians, Germans, Russians, and Jews settling down in its territory. Already back in the 16th-17th century Jews found their own economic and social niche in Latvia and their presence in Latvia's political, culture and religious life has always been notable, stated Dr Vike-Freiberga. Alongside with Russians, Germans and Poles, Jews have been among the most important minorities in Latvia.

Today, the Latvian Jewish community, although not very large in number (some 9,000), is taking active part in country's political life. The Jewish community, Dr Vike-Freiberga stressed, has principally supported Latvia's course of foreign and domestic policies, and has been loyal to the Latvian state, the fact we highly appreciate.

Dr Vike-Freiberga touched upon Latvia's efforts to promote research into the Holocaust, and briefly characterized the contribution by the History Commission of Latvia to the process. The History Commission, which investigates crimes against humanity carried out in the territory of Latvia during the Soviet and Nazi occupations has developed co-operation with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Yad Vashem Centre in Israel and other organisations.  

Latvian Prime Minister Mr Andris Berzins in his speech suggested that being a multi-national and multi-cultural country is Latvia's advantage and strength, Latvia's wealth, not its weakness; all the people living in Latvia have always complemented and enriched each other's culture. Many lessons could be learned from the Jewish history in Latvia, the Prime Minister noted. Being a minority, Jews had been able to preserve their religion, culture, mentality and traditions and to speak the local language, seek education and share their knowledge with others.

The plenary report "The Case of Muslim Jewry (8th-14th Centuries)" by Prof Menahem Ben Sasson, who had recently resigned as Rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was a great success being followed by a lively discussion. During nine conference sessions, participants from 10 countries (including Israel, the U.S., Germany and New Zealand) delivered about 60 reports covering the broadest scope of culture and history issues of the Baltic and European Jewry, including topics on secular and religious Jewish thought and Jewish mysticism, non-Ashkenazic communities, as well as Jewish vision of the current situation in the world after the 11 September events. Latvian researchers' contributions also covered a broad spectrum of themes, most topical of them were reports on the Holocaust research and education. Thus historian Mr Dzintars Erglis (History Institute of Latvia) presented a research into the massacre of Jews in the provincial towns of Latvia, where an in-depth investigation was carried out concerning the situation in the town of Krustpils. Ms Ieva Gundare's (Occupation Museum of Latvia) report introduced with teaching materials on the Holocaust as developed recently in Latvia, as well as the accomplishments and problems in the course of project's implementation in educational system.

Mr Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of National Infrastructures of Israel, participated in the concluding discussion of the conference. His speech was dedicated to the most topical issues of the current situation in the State of Israel and all over the world.

The participants of the conference acknowledged the confrence's constantly growing academic and research level. The conference maintains the right balance between academic expertise and Jewish vision, affiliation with the regional Jewry and the context of Jewish history and culture worldwide. The success of the conference was also ascribed to its chief organiser, the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia.

Among other organisers of the Conference was Memorial Foundation of the Jewish Culture (the U.S.), M.Dubin Foundation of the SHAMIR Association (Latvia), Riga Religious Jewish Community (Latvia), Riga Jewish Community Centre "Alef"(Latvia), The Chais Centre for Jewish Studies in Russian (Israel), Latvian Council of Christians and Jews (Latvia), Latvian Academy of Sciences, Ben-Gurion University (Israel).

The Honorary President of the conference was Mr Nathan Barkan, Chief Rabbi of Riga and Latvia, while Co-Chairmen of the Organising Committee were Prof Herman Branover, the Ben-Gurion University of Beer-Sheva (Israel), and Prof Ruvin Ferber, the University of Latvia. The funding for the conference from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York was most appreciated.

The participants were unanimous that the tradition of the conference has to be continued. Also following a tradition, publishing of the 4th volume comprising the Conference materials is under way (three volumes of previous conference materials are already published).

Programme of the 4th International Conference "Jews in a Changing World", Riga, Latvia, 20-22 November 2001: http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4665

For further information:

Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia
Head of the Board, Prof Ruvin Ferber
19 Rainis Blvd., University of Latvia
Riga, LV-1586, Latvia
Tel: +371 7034421;
Fax: +371 7820113
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

History Commission of Latvia
Chairman: Professor Andris Caune
Address: c/o History Institute of Latvia
1 Akademijas lauk., Riga, LV 1050, Latvia
Tel.: (+371) 7 225 948;
Fax: (+371) 7 225 044
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Adviser to the President of Latvia on the History Commission Issues
Dr. habil. hist. Assoc. Professor Antonijs Zunda
Chancery of the President,
3 Pils lauk., Riga, LV 1900, Latvia
Tel.: (+371) 7 092 109;
Fax: (+371) 7 325 800
http://www.president.lv