Sitting at the head of an expansive boardroom table at the luxury Setai hotel in Manhattan, Alexander Levin ponders the 300-square-foot room in Odessa, Ukraine, where he was raised.
It is January 23, two days before Levin will address up to 600 guests at the United Nations in a ceremony organized by the Ukrainian and Israeli missions to the U.N.
The event is ostensibly to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Babi Yar, a ravine in suburban Kiev where more than 100,000 men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis during Yom Kippur of 1941.
But Levin has bigger plans for the U.N. ceremony. He wants to use it as an international platform to announce the launch of a new global organization, the World Forum of Russian Jewry, whose main function will be to galvanize the Russian-speaking Jewish Diaspora behind the cause of fighting off a nuclear Iran.
Summoning an image of the corpses of women, children and the elderly “arranged in neat rows” at Babi Yar, Levin will caution attendees, including Holocaust survivors, American Jewish leaders and U.N. Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka, of the threat of a new Holocaust coming from the East.
“We, the Russian-speaking Jews from the far-flung corners of the earth, stand ready to unite against the nuclear program of Iran,” Levin will tell the crowd. “We will not let another Holocaust engulf us.”
At the hotel, Levin is concentrating on smaller matters, doodling on a letterheaded notepad to illustrate the cramped quarters in which he grew up.
He draws a circle to represent the single room he shared with his mother, father and brother. Then he places it inside a larger square with three other circles denoting other rooms, one for each neighboring family that shared a communal kitchen and bathroom.
He has come a long way from that communal apartment to a grand ambition — to harness the collective power of the Russian-speaking Jewish Diaspora to build “a bridge” between Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the United States.
Levin says the West has tried for too long to use power to force apart Russia and Iran. Instead, Western governments should use Russian-speaking Jews who know the Russian mentality to act as go-betweens “at the highest level.”
Vladimir Putin is a pragmatist, Levin says. With the right offer on the table, Russia would vote against Iran on the U.N. Security Council. As for China? “That’s another business country, too,” he told the Forward.
Russian-speaking Jews, Levin insists, are ready to negotiate on the West’s behalf.
Cynics might note that the World Forum of Russian Jewry is the latest in a long line of Jewish organizations, some more succesful than others, to have emerged from the former Soviet Union.
Most recently, Levin’s friend, Ukrainian billionaire Vadim Rabinovitch, launched a European Jewish Parliament. It quickly devolved into a farce last year, when comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and soccer player David Beckham found their way into the parliament’s online nominating process.
But Russian-speaking community leaders say Levin’s group is different.