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Synagogue Donor Among Victims of Dual Airplane Crashes in Russia

August 26, 2004
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One of the main funders of a renovation project at a Moscow synagogue was among at least 89 people killed in a plane crash this week in Russia. “Who was he? He was a good Jew,” Yitzhak Kogan of Moscow’s Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue said of Tengiz Yakobashvili of Moscow.

Yakobashvili’s friend and business partner, David Cohen of St. Petersburg, also died in Tuesday night’s crash of a flight bound from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Volgograd.

A second flight, from Moscow to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, crashed a few minutes later.

The cause is still to be determined, but officials were not ruling out a possible terrorist connection — perhaps to separatist Chechen rebels, who have been fighting a prolonged war with Russia.

Both of the confirmed Jewish victims were of Georgian descent, and both reportedly held Israeli citizenship.

Cohen reportedly had lived in Israel for several years. Yakobashvili’s wife and ! children are believed to live currently in the Jewish state.

Cohen was a well-known, active member of the Georgian Jewish community here, Menachem Mendel Pevzner, St. Petersburg’s chief rabbi, told JTA. He was in his early 50s.

The two passenger liners vanished from radar screens at the same time, around 11 p.m. on Tuesday. Several hours later, the remains of the Volgograd-bound plane were discovered near a village in Central Russia’s Tula region.

The remains of the second plane were recovered later near Rostov-on-Don.

A happy coincidence spared the life of Zalman Yoffe, a Chabad rabbi in Volgograd who said he was supposed to be on one of the flights that crashed.

Yoffe had a meeting with a donors in Moscow scheduled for Tuesday, and then was due to return home. He rescheduled his return flight when the meeting was postponed by a day.

“Thank God I was saved, but this doesn’t make the tragedy any smaller, because dozens were killed, including two Jews,! ” he told JTA.

Yoffe said he would take the same flight Wednesday night so he could console victims’ relatives, Jewish or non-Jewish.

“This is our common tragedy,” he said. “We as Jews shouldn’t be indifferent to other people’s tragedies.”

Yoffe said the tragedy was particularly acute because he had known Cohen.

Arieh Edelkopf, a Chabad rabbi in Sochi, said the city’s mayor has asked him to help console victims’ relatives.

“As a rabbi of this city, I have an obligation to do whatever is needed to help those who need help,” he told JTA in a phone interview.

In 2001, Edelkopf helped to perform Jewish rituals over the remains of dozens of Jewish victims of a flight from Tel Aviv bound for Siberia that crashed over the Black Sea near Sochi.

The October 2001 tragedy, which killed 78 people — most of them vacationing Israelis — resulted from a military blunder when the plane was accidentally hit by a surface-to-air missile fired during a Ukrainian military exercise.

Sibir, the carrier that owned the plane that crashed ! three years ago, operated one of the planes that crashed Tuesday.

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