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Russian Jews blame arson on political feud


KOSTROMA, Russia, Aug. 5 (JTA) — A recent arson attack on the synagogue here is the result of a feud between two local politicians, according to a local Jewish leader.

The 1,500 members of Kostroma’s Jewish community are on good terms with the city’s mayor — indeed, one community member is a deputy mayor of this city, 250 miles northeast of Moscow.

The mayor, meanwhile, is at odds with the region’s governor, who is pro-Communist. The July 29 arson attack is an example of the governor playing the “Jewish card” in the campaign for the upcoming mayoral election, says Andrei Osherov, the leader of Kostroma’s Jews.

It’s not uncommon for Russian Jews to get caught in a power struggle between two politicians, particularly in provincial areas.

But in this case the situation has led to a series of anti-Semitic outbursts. At a recent demonstration by the local branch of the Communist Party protesting the new Land Code — which allows for the privatization of land in Russia — participants carried anti-Semitic posters, including “Kike-oligarchs have thrown the country under the NATO boot of the Kike cabal.”

In addition, openly anti-Semitic inscriptions calling to finish Hitler’s work appeared on walls near the synagogue.

The arson attack — which occurred on the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av — caused no substantial damage, perhaps as a result of Genrietta Golovina, the synagogue librarian.

Golovina went to open a window on the hot afternoon and saw flames climbing up the outside of the building.

Within an hour, firemen had put out the flames on the synagogue, which was built in 1907, closed by the Communists in 1930 and returned to the Jewish community only in the 1990s.

But local Jewish activists say it would be an exaggeration to say that Jews face real danger in this quiet central Russian city. As Osherov puts it, “We have been here and we’ll stay here.”

The community is growing — with a number of Jewish families moving to Kostroma and other central Russian cities from less quiet regions in the former Soviet Union.

For example, Simon Katsoshvili, who helped to put out the fire, came to Kostroma from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

The Kostroma Jews are supported mainly by the two main community-building structures in Russia — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which is running a local Chesed charity center, and the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia.

The two groups recently funded a $50,000 restoration of the synagogue, and together are funding a Jewish community center in the same building. The project is a model of cooperation for the two groups.

Kiril Boyarsky, 27, a law student and a Reform Jewish activist, said he intends to stay in Kostroma.

“Many people are discovering that they are Jews,” he said. ” I think the Jewish community here has a future.”

A Lubavitch rabbi comes from Moscow every fortnight to care for the community, and Osherov says the community is awaiting a full-time rabbi. Lubavitch has a special interest in supporting the local synagogue, a sacred place connected with one of the movement’s former leaders, Rebbe Joseph Isaac Schneerson.

The Communist regime exiled Schneerson to Kostroma in 1927. After Schneerson prayed intensely in the synagogue, however, his exile was lifted on the 12th of Tammuz — which happened to be his birthday.

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