Emergency personel stand outside Domodedovo International Airport on February 11, 2018. A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed outside Moscow after taking off from the capital's Domodedovo airport.
(photo credit: MAXIM ZMEYEV/REUTERS)
Despite continuous economic stagnation combined with international sanctions, Jewish life in Russia continues to evolve. While the increasing number of cultural and religious centers throughout Russia has been widely reported during the past few years, little has been said about business activities, that serve as rather impartial indicators.
Over the past five years Russian Jews have witnessed a number of positive changes. Moscow now boasts one of world’s largest Jewish museums, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. More than ever attend newly built synagogues, including the one in Zhukovka, the place with the country’s most expensive land. The district of Maryina Roshcha in Moscow is likewise considered one of the major hot spots of Jewish life. It hosts the headquarters of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR), the largest Jewish organization in the country, the Jewish medical center that is well known for its attractive price to quality ratio, and a chain of popular kosher shops and restaurants.
In effect, many are calling Maryina Roshcha a Jewish city within a city. In the upcoming years the district will add more infrastructure, including the giant Jewish Youth Center, new residential blocks and more. These examples are at odds with persistent speculation about the upcoming wave of Jewish emigration driven by economic woes and latent antisemitism.
Earlier the new law canceling the waiting period for prospective new immigrants to receive an Israeli passport made waves in Russia. According to the unofficial data more than two million Russians have Jewish ancestry that qualifies them for an Israeli passport. Given the international sanctions and deteriorating business environment there have been concerns among the local political elite that the Jews are set to leave. The notion is particularly alarming in light of still-fresh memories of the Jewish emigration of the Nineties right after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
But such concerns are yet to be realized and remain mere speculation. According to Vadim Jorov, head of the Russian-Israeli Consulting Center: “With the overall rise of applications only a handful of them end up moving to Israel.” He added: “Many secure too many assets in Russia and despite seeking to obtain an Israeli passport, few are actually ready to leave the country, unless something extraordinary happens.” He likewise believes Russian Jews have already grown accustomed to living under sanctions and have learned to recognize local opportunities.
Denis Gurevich, chief executive of Solomon.help, one of Russia’s largest business clubs, stated: “Despite the ongoing stagnation, we’ve seen an increase in Jewish businesses launched during the previous year. Many are confident they can earn more in Russia than elsewhere, including those who returned after years of living in Israel.”
Solomon’s website states that the club operates under the FJCR and unites more than 2,000 businessmen across the country. Its official accounts on social networks reveal close ties to the Russian political elite. With the head of FJCR, Alexander Boroda, officially serving as its president, there are speculations that the Kremlin actually nurtures its own interests in boosting Jewish businesses and utilizes such organizations as instruments of its goals.
Despite many Jewish businessmen feeling determined about remaining in Russia, few have real confidence regarding the country’s future. With the economy suffering from prolonged stagnation and wages continuing to drop, few believe that in the long term their children should remain in Russia. While many are likewise grateful for President Vladimir Putin’s support of the Jewish life, there are still uncertainties about daily antisemitism, that occurs behind the curtains and is prevalent throughout provinces in which little or no knowledge exists about Jewish culture and identity.
It is fair to assert that antisemitism in Russia has witnessed a sharp decline over the past years. It likewise is allegedly lower compared to neighboring Ukraine or other East European nations that are more economically and politically stable than Russia. Furthermore, the absolute majority of Russian Jews resides in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and adjacent territories that enjoy strong and rather diversified economies and maintain standards of life that resemble those of developed European nations more than the rest of the country.The author is a Moscow-based political analyst. His articles have been featured in the New York Times, The Hill and elsewhere.