MOSCOW (JTA) — An American rabbi joined Russian Jewish leaders in paying respects to the head of the Russian Orthodox church.
At the request of Russian church officials, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the head of New York’s Park East Synagogue and a religious freedom NGO, attended Patriarch Alexy II’s funeral Tuesday afternoon as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for a national day of mourning. Alexy II died Friday.
In 1991, Schneier invited Alexy II to New York to speak to a group of rabbis, where he reached out and called them brothers while promising to fight anti-Semitism in Russia. The speech was highly controversial among church leaders and followers at the time.
Schneier said Alexy II "served as the ethical pulse of the religious community in the former Soviet Union under a regime that neither welcomed nor tolerated people of faith and the leaders of organized religion," according to a statement.
Russia’s two chief rabbis also sent their condolences via prayers and public appearances. A Monday prayer by Russia’s head Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar was played widely on state television.
Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, the head Orthodox rabbi in Russia, said the death of Alexy had "touched the hearts of all citizens of Russian, no matter their faith or nationality."