Not everyone in Russia’s Jewish community agrees that there is an exodus of Jews who are intending to leave the country. A chief rabbi of one of Russia’s Jewish communities in a city on the periphery, a Chabad shliach (emissary) who spoke with The Jerusalem Post, portrayed an entirely different situation.
“The Jewish leaders in Russia, for the most part, are still here,” the rabbi said Monday. “I do not know any senior leaders who have left the country at the moment from all major Jewish organizations or rabbis.”
Last week, a senior Russian Jewish leader told the Post 60% to 70% of the members of her community have left or intend to leave Russia.
On Monday, the Chabad rabbi contradicted that viewpoint and said most of Russia’s Jews “are not planning to flee the country.”
“I am in daily contact with senior Chabad emissaries, rabbis of cities, from all over Russia,” he said. “I also talk to the Jews in my community night and day.
“Every one of the leaders I spoke to said the same thing: ‘We get calls every day. It used to be six calls a day of people interested in making aliyah. Today, I get called maybe once a day, and those who want to emigrate call the synagogue. We obviously aren’t in charge of aliyah, but we tell them who to speak to.’”
Furthermore, the rabbi said: “The vast majority of those who approached me interested about moving to Israel, over 95% of them, are Russians who are not Jews but who may be entitled to become Israeli citizens according to the Law of Return” – because they have a Jewish grandparent, as opposed to a Jewish mother – “or even situations of people who have a more distant connection, such as a Jewish great-grandfather, and are therefore not eligible to make aliyah.”
“There are people who, until the moment they called us, were not actively connected to a Jewish community,” he said. “They’re just looking for somewhere to go; they are trying to take advantage of the law in Israel.”
“In my community, the vast majority of Jews are not looking to escape anywhere,” the rabbi said. “There may be someone who doesn’t have Israeli citizenship, and then they’ll make aliyah to be listed as Israeli. But to say that most of the Jews are escaping and that they all want to leave Russia – that is simply not true.”
According to the rabbi, large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg have different circumstances than other Russian Jewish communities.
“In the large Jewish communities, there is a lot more of a connection to the West,” he said. “More of them travel to Israel or to other countries around the world; there is more of a phenomenon of those who want to leave Russia from these cities.”
Russia’s “core Jewish population” has an estimated 150,000 Jews, while more than 500,000 Russians are entitled to receive Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return.