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Russian Communist Leader Sends New Year’s Greetings

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In a surprising move, the leader of Russia’s Communist Party has sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to the country’s Jewish community.

In his letter read during this week’s services at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, Gennady Zyuganov noted the Jewish contribution to the defeat of Germany during World War II and praised Jewish participation in Russian culture. He also condemned anti-Semitism in Russia which, according to Zyuganov, is a “result of the policy of the ruling regime.”

On several occasions in the past, Zyuganov has made thinly veiled racist and anti-Semitic statements, repeatedly blaming two previous Russian Cabinets as being controlled by ethnically non-Russian politicians.

But some analysts said this week’s reaching out to the Jewish community is a sign that the Communist leader is trying to change his image.

Zyuganov, who placed second in the 1996 presidential elections, is expected to run for the same office in the next round of elections, which are scheduled for 2000.

Jewish leaders noted that besides Zyuganov, the only other top politician in Russia who extended holiday greetings to the Jewish community was President Boris Yeltsin.

Meanwhile, some 11,000 Jews attended services at Moscow synagogues and a concert hall on the first night of Rosh Hashanah in what was believed to be the largest turnout for services in the Russian capital since the fall of communism.

More than 5,000 gathered at the unfinished building of a Jewish community center, according to Moscow police sources. The multimillion-dollar, seven- story building, which will be located next to the Marina Roscha synagogue that was bombed in May, is due to be completed next year.

Jewish leaders said they were also pleased to see about 1,300 young jews attend a holiday service organized by the Moscow Hillel organization and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee at the local Radisson hotel. The event drew the biggest turnout in the four-year history of the Moscow Hillel, which serves Jewish students at dozens of universities and colleges in Russia’s capital.

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