Belarus Jewish Leader Protests After Teacher is Pressured for Purim Party

A Jewish leader in Belarus has sent a letter to Belarusian officials arguing that a local prosecutor illegally forced a Jewish kindergarten teacher to remove Jewish symbols from classrooms. Yakov Basin, the deputy leader of the country’s Jewish community, sent the letter last month, after the prosecutor said Lyudmila Izakson-Bolotovskaya violated the law by holding Jewish religious celebrations inside the school, which is located in a government-owned building in the city of Mogilev.

But a Jewish official in the Belarusian capital of Minsk said it is unlikely that the development in Mogilev had anti-Semitic overtones.

“There have never been any problems between Jewish organizations and authorities in Mogilev,” said Viktoria Brumina, executive director of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Organizations and Communities, an umbrella group. “To the contrary, the city officials always treated the Jewish community extremely well.”

The prosecutor’s action came after Purim celebrations in the kindergarten, featuring a children’s Jewish musical group, were shown on local television news.

Prosecutors argued that Izakson-Bolotovskaya, who also leads the music group, violated the children’s rights, and that television coverage of the event illegally propagated Judaism. The teacher was warned that she might be prosecuted if the actions are repeated.

According to local Jewish leaders, menorahs and Stars of David were removed from the school in the wake of the prosecutor’s warning and at the request of the local education department.

Human rights watchers in the West have described Belarus’ law on religion as one of the most restrictive in the former Soviet Union.

According to the law, only religious organizations can practice religious rituals and celebrations, and limits are placed on children’s religious activities.

Because of the legal restrictions, Jewish institutions in Belarus that are not registered as synagogues have to exercise extra caution when holding Jewish celebrations such as Shabbat.

A Jewish official in Minsk said the city’s main Jewish facility is no exception. The Minsk Jewish Community House is holding its weekly Shabbat celebrations by calling them a “Shabbat model,” rather than just Shabbat.

Earlier this year, city authorities in the capital of Minsk refused permission for the local Chabad congregation to hold its Passover celebration at a municipal-owned Palace for Children and Youth, arguing that a religious event could not be permitted at a venue frequented by children.

A country of 10 million people, Belarus is home to anywhere from 20,000 to 70,000 Jews.

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