Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich paid for the purchase of a Tel Aviv apartment that was given to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s high school teacher in Tel Aviv, The Washington Post published on Sunday. Up until today, it was assumed that Putin himself paid for the purchase of this apartment.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post from Russia, Rabbi Alexander Barada, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, explained that he was the one who convinced Abramovich to allocate the funds in order to buy the apartment for Mina Yuditskaya Berliner, who became famous as Putin’s teacher in 2005.
According to Ynet, in the late 1960s, Berliner was a German teacher in High School #281 in Saint Petersburg, then Leningrad. Putin was her student between 1967 and 1968. “After graduation, he went his own way and Berliner made aliyah, not imagining that their paths will cross again,” according to Ynet.
“We read in the newspapers that President Putin was in Israel and met his teacher and it was a very exciting meeting.”Rabbi Alexander Barada
“We read in the newspapers that President Putin was in Israel and met his teacher and it was a very exciting meeting,” Barada remembered the 2005 meeting. Berliner said in an interview to Ynet in 2014 that “When I heard he [Putin] was coming to Israel in April 2005, I went to the Russian consulate and said that I just want the chance to look at him. I left my contact information with them and when he came they sent a cab for me.”
She added to Ynet that “I got on a bus with World War II veterans, who were going to meet with him, and we were taken to Jerusalem. When we arrived at his hotel, I was last out of the cab. I was walking into the lobby and suddenly all the lights were on me. All of the reporters turned towards me and all the veterans began to clap.”
Later the two of them had a one-on-one reunion.
How did a Russian rabbi help Roman Abramovich buy a Tel Aviv apartment for Putin's teacher?
Barada explained that as the representatives of the Russian Jewish community “we got to know Berliner, we found her and visited her at her apartment.” The rabbi remembers that Berliner “lived in an Amidar [public housing] apartment on the fourth floor without an elevator and there was a drip coming from the ceiling.”
“Berliner shared with me that she wanted to repair the ceiling but she was 80 years old and a widow; the daughter died and she had no children,” Barada portrayed. “She was really lonely,” he recalled.
When Barada returned to Russia, he told the Post that he “asked our donors who would be willing to help buy her an apartment and Roman Abramovich, who was the head of our donor committee, said he would buy her an apartment in Tel Aviv.”
“This was a completely humanitarian matter,” Barada said of the purchase, amid the claims of Abramovich paying for the apartment as a way to get closer to the Russian president. “I went around the area in Tel Aviv that she wanted to live in and looked at relevant apartments that met her requirements,” Barada said. “Berliner said that she would like a classic apartment in Tel Aviv,” he continued. “I asked Roman and he transferred the money to the account we sent him and paid for the apartment.”
Barada said that the federation decided to continue being in touch with Berliner and made sure that a Tel Avivian rabbi would visit her occasionally and bring her matzah for Passover. “I had a relationship with her,” Barada recalled.
According to Barada, Berliner actually wrote a will and asked for the apartment, a 1.5 bedroom on Pinsker Street in downtown Tel Aviv, to be transferred to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia or to Barada personally.
“I came to visit her and she wanted to write a will and to leave her apartment to our organization or to me,” he said. “We felt uncomfortable doing so and tried to talk her out of it.”
About a year before she passed away in 2018, Barada said that “she called me and said that she wanted to leave me the apartment. I didn't want it because it's not nice on my part because it was a donation.”
When she passed away, it was published in the media that she had asked in her will for the apartment to be transferred to the Russian Embassy, in honor of Putin.
“We found out from the media that she decided at the end to give the apartment to the embassy and were happy about it,” Barada said.
According to Barada, Berliner had thousands of students, but she remembered them all, including Putin. “The school and the children were the main thing in her life,” he explained.
“She was Jewish without any doubt and proud of her Judaism,” Barada said of Berliner. “She said that she loved the fact that the mattress she bought was from the Israeli Aminach company since it means in Hebrew, ‘my nation is resting.’”
According to The Washington Post, the transfer of $245,000 from an Abramovich-controlled company in Cyprus to Berliner on the same day she purchased a small apartment in central Tel Aviv.