Russian chief rabbi: Jews are safe here long-term

Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in fomenting unrest in Ukraine, as well as declining oil revenues, have severely stressed Russia’s economy.

September 21, 2015 02:12
3 minute read.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar earlier this year

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar earlier this year. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Russian Jewry is completely safe long-term and does not face any significant emigration, Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, undercutting two seemingly diametrically opposed remarks by senior communal officials.

In April, Alexander Boroda, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, warned of grave danger to Jews if Russian President Vladimir Putin is swept from power.

“The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government, understand the rules of the game and be aware of the limitations,” Boroda told attendees at a Limmud conference in Moscow.

In an interview with the Post in May, however, Boruch Gorin, a senior figure within the federation who frequently speaks on its behalf, said rising Russian immigration to Israel is being driven partly by anxieties over Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

“The political situation of the last years has become much more tight than it was before,” he said.

"People are unsure of their future and do not know if Russia will “be closed as before in Soviet times,” he explained, adding that the pressure applied to opposition groups has been worrying to members of the Jewish community, many of whom are liberals.

Gorin also cited sanctions imposed by the West on Russia as a cause for immigration.

Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in fomenting unrest in Ukraine, as well as declining oil revenues, have severely stressed Russia’s economy.

Despite the increased aliya figures, however, Gorin said he knows of many people who have gone to Israel in order to obtain citizenship but have then returned to Russia and that, anecdotally, he believes that “the big part of this aliya is people of this kind.”

“That is a sign that they are ready to leave forever,” he said.

According to figures released by the Jewish Agency earlier this month, immigration from Russia has risen 23 percent over the past year.

However, Lazar indicated that he believes both Boroda and Gorin’s analyses to be incorrect, stating that he believed that the state of Russian society today is such that “any president who succeeds Mr. Putin hopefully will show the same support for the Jewish community.”

Russia has “matured” since the days of Communism and “the future, I hope and I pray, will be as bright as it is today,” he continued. “I don’t believe that Jewish life depends today on one person in Russia. I think that – thank God – the Jewish community has evolved and succeeded beyond any expectations and hopefully we are here for a long ride.”

Turning to Gorin’s statement regarding aliya, Lazar said he was not convinced.

“I see a lot of people who are interested in finding out [about how] to be able to get an Israeli passport but I see actually the community here as strong as ever. An example of it is this Rosh Hashana. I don’t think that synagogues were ever as full as now. People are coming back to Judaism. They want to be part of it,” he asserted.

“It’s a different atmosphere, I think that Jews feel as comfortable as they ever have been today in Russia.”

Asked about anti-Semitism, especially given a recent gathering of neo-Nazi parties for a convention in St. Petersburg in March, Lazar said he was confident that Moscow is vigilant to prevent manifestations of xenophobia.

There “hasn’t been a case where I have brought up an issue and haven’t seen clear results,” he said. “Of course we cannot say that there are no anti-Semites in Russia. Sadly there are still people here with the old stereotypes and everything, and sadly we see still some expressions of anti-Semitism but the general atmosphere, …the amount of attention that the government is giving, on the other hand, is unprecedented.”

According to the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, anti-Semitic incidents dropped in 2014 despite a severe rise in such occurrences across the continent.

However, during the course of the Ukraine crisis both Kiev and Moscow have “made extensive use of the Jewish issue” with both sides accusing the other of anti-Semitism for propaganda purposes, the center asserted in a report in April, adding that “the growing control on the media in Russia did not prevent it from becoming a platform for anti-Semitic propaganda.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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