After getting stuck in Washington for a Shabbat and spending Shemini Atzeret in New York, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his staff found themselves, on the third occasion in two months, spending some extra time in a foreign locale due to Jewish observance.
This time, it was in Sochi, a Black Sea resort town, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has a vacation home.
Bennett and Putin were supposed to meet for two hours on Friday, and Bennett was due to be back in Israel that afternoon, without spending the night in Russia. Instead, the meeting went on for five hours, and it was clear the prime minister – who is Orthodox – would not make it home to his family in time for Shabbat.
The Chabad of Sochi, under the leadership of Rabbi Sholom Lazar, snapped into action to prepare kosher food for the delegation.
At Friday night dinner, Bennett spoke for 10 minutes about that week’s Torah portion, an official on his delegation said.
He spoke about “Abraham’s tent being open on all four sides, which teachers us the importance of being open, and the willingness to welcome new people.”
Bennett also spoke about the historical connection between Russia and the Jewish people, which made spending Shabbat in Sochi special to him.
Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who accompanied Bennett as a translator, shared stories of his time secretly learning Hebrew in the Soviet Union, when it was illegal to do so, and marveled about being in a delegation with the prime minister, openly observing Shabbat and speaking at dinner in Sochi.
Lazar seemed very excited about the situation, the delegation official recounted, and said he was very happy the meeting with Putin ran over time for two reasons.
First, it gave the Jewish community of Sochi the opportunity to perform the mitzvah – good deed – of preparing Shabbat for the prime minister, and second, because it was a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name.