Chief rabbi: Russian Jews fear future

MOSCOW (JTA) — Russian Jews fear for the future of their community in the wake of the deportation of two rabbis, a Russian chief rabbi said.

Rabbi Berel Lazar’s comments came on the sidelines of a meeting Wednesday in Tula between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and leaders from Russia’s four official religions.

"In the face of the negative impact of the financial crisis, which has exacerbated material problems, some are starting to look for guilty parties among those they don’t like. This is called xenophobia, but it leads to extremism and fascism," Lazar said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Medvedev met with religious leaders in a largely symbolic meeting at which he asked for their help in preventing extremism by raising moral youth.

"It is necessary to introduce young people to intercultural dialogue and cooperation, to nurture it in a spirit of tolerance," Medvedev said, according to a Kremlin transcript. "Russian patriotism aims to maintain ethnic harmony."

The Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities has taken steps to push back against the expulsion of its rabbis from the country, putting it in rare conflict with the government. 

Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein left Russia after a court in Vladivostok rejected his Feb. 25 appeal that he violated terms of his visa by serving as a religious leader. His visa had been issued for promoting cultural ties, according to Russia’s Interfax agency. Silberstein had been in Russia for 2 1/2 years as a representative of the Federation of Jewish Communities, according to lubavitch.com. The same Web site said he left for New York following the appeal.

On Feb. 11, another federation emissary, Rabbi Zvi Hershcowitz of Stavropol, was expelled over visa issues. 

While more than 60 percent of Chabad’s rabbis are Russian-born, Chabad maintains that its task would be impossible without foreign help.

Lazar for the time linked the financial crisis and the idea that the loss of wealth might place the Jewish community in danger.

"So far we have been able to preserve interreligious peace in the country," he said. "During the crisis, we need to strengthen it."

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