MOSCOW (Jul. 29)
In a surprise show of solidarity with the Jewish community, Moscow’s mayor has participated in a thanksgiving ceremony with a congregation that narrowly escaped a bombing earlier this week.
Yuri Luzhkov, who was the first high-ranking official to condemn Sunday’s attempted bombing of the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue, took part in the Wednesday ceremony at the Lubavitch shul.
“I just came to the shul and his car was there,” said Mendell Goldshmid, a Lubavitch emissary and the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Because Luzhkov decided to attend at the last minute, there were no journalists present. Some Jews believe Luzhkov, who has earned a reputation as a friend of the Jewish community, did not want to antagonize any of his potential supporters by being shown in the media at a Jewish event.
The Moscow mayor is a likely contender in next year’s presidential elections and is also the leader of the Otechestvo, or Fatherland, movement that is expected to compete in parliamentary elections in December. The movement is negotiating a possible alliance with a number of political parties, including some in the Russian nationalist camp.
In the absence of reporters and TV cameras, Luzhkov expressed his sympathy for the Jewish community and to exchange gifts with the synagogue’s rabbi, Yitzhak Kogan.
In his speech, Luzhkov said he is flattered by a rumor, widely disseminated by ultranationalists, that he is Jewish.
Earlier this year, anti-Semitic leaflets that of Luzhkov wearing a yarmulka, taken at a Jewish ceremony a few years ago, were stuffed in mailboxes in and near Moscow. The leaflet claimed that Luzhkov was a Jew who had changed his name from Katz and mentioned that he wanted to improve conditions for Jews in Moscow to discourage Jewish emigration.
On Wednesday, Luzhkov promised to step up security for Moscow synagogues. In the wake of the July 13 stabbing of a Jewish leader inside the Choral Synagogue and the attempted bombing of the Lubavitch shul, the synagogues have turned to private firms for increased protection.
Luzhkov’s expression of sympathy for the Jewish community contrasts with the prolonged silence of other top politicians in Russia on the issue of anti- Semitism.
Russian Jewish leaders are especially critical of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin despite his visit to Washington this week, where he promised U.S. Jewish leaders that he would work to “eradicate” anti-Semitism in Russia.
The Washington meeting went almost unnoticed in the Russian media, and Stepashin has not touched on the issue since he returned to Moscow.