It may surprise you to learn that the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry and the Russian Jewish Congress don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on certain issues. Yesterday JTA reported that the latter, who happen to own Poklonnaya Hill Memorial Synagogue—which serves not only as a synagogue but also as a Holocaust memorial—rented out the space to Russia’s PIR bank for their 20th anniversary party last month, which featured a barbeque, alcohol, and “loud music.” The World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry wasn’t pleased; the move was criticized by many Russian Jews, who felt that renting out the space was inappropriate.
The Russian Jewish Congress defended their decision by pointing out that the synagogue has been rented out to host many cultural and often secular events, such as a jazz concert, and that they “plan to continue this practice, acting upon the example of most of the leading museums of the world.”
While the statement makes a good point, there seems to be a glaringly obviously difference between a gala at the Met and a rager at a Holocaust memorial. Though perhaps renting out a synagogue when it is not in use is hardly controversial, that Poklonnaya Hill Memorial Synagogue is also a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust clouds the matter; there are no specific days or hours in the week dedicated to remembrance. Would we let a bank host a company picnic at the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C.? It makes sense that Russian Jews might react after learning that a Holocaust memorial doubles as a party space for corporations—there’s something about an invisible but implicit ‘For Lease” sign that makes it difficult to take a memorial seriously.
One also has to wonder why exactly PIR bank would want to host a celebration at a Holocaust memorial. Maybe they were trying to break the record for most awkward company party ever?
Alexander Aciman is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.