KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — During a meeting with Vladimir Putin, a leader of Reform Jews in Crimea said his community’s situation has improved since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine.
Anatoly Gendin, chairman of the Ner Tamid Reform Synagogue in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, thanked the Russian president Monday for what Gendin described as Russian authorities’ attentiveness to the requests of Crimean Jews on restitution and other matters, and the rule of law in the disputed territory.
“After years of fruitless appeals to Ukraine, this year saw the resolution of the issues of returning to us Simferopol’s Talmud-Torah, the former religious school for boys,” Gendin told Putin. The get-together took place in Yalta, at a roundtable meeting between the president and leaders of minority communities. Gendin added that a framework agreement for restitution was reached with Russian authorities, including for a former synagogue in Yevpatoria.
Russia invaded Ukraine last year and annexed the Crimean Peninsula following a referendum of residents that showed majority support for the move. Ukrainian Jewish leaders, including Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Ya’akov Dov Bleich, have condemned the annexation, which prompted the former rabbi of Ner Tamid, Misha Kapustin, to leave in protest to Slovakia.
But many Jews in Crimea itself, including Reform and Orthodox rabbis and community leaders, say they feel safer under the sovereignty of Russia under Putin, who is widely credited for tough action on anti-Semitism and an attentive approach to the needs of local Jews.
Gendin asked Putin to help commemorate a Holocaust-era mass grave that grave robbers have repeatedly vandalized.
“I want to thank you, dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, for the attention and the help that we receive from you and the Russian Federation, to resolve all our questions,” Gendin said.