01/17/2022, 10.41
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Russian and Ukrainian Jews hope for Europe

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Russia ranks 7th in the world in terms of the number of Jewish citizens; Ukraine 12th. The Chief Rabbi of Russia extols the role of religions in Russian society. Russian, Ukrainian and Polish Jews want to be protagonists of a new Europe of peace.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - According to a recent survey published by the website Ria.ru, Russia is the 7th largest country in the world in terms of the number of Jewish citizens. There are more than 25 million Jews in the world, according to Jafi, the Jewish Agency for Israel, of which 150,000 are in Russia; in the last century, however, the population of ethnic Jews on Russian soil was much larger. The 1917 revolution, and various anti-Semitic waves during the Soviet period, greatly reduced the community, to which Stalin had also assigned a special status region that still exists, that of Birobidzhan, in the Siberian Far East.

After the State of Israel, which is home to just under 7 million people, the countries with the largest populations are the USA (6 million), 446,000 in France, 393,000 in Canada, 292,000 in Great Britain and 175,000 in Argentina. Ukraine is 12th with 43,000 Jews. In all, there are just over 15 million people who consider themselves Jewish for all intents and purposes, starting from their religious identity, but the number rises if one considers all those who have the right to obtain Jewish citizenship according to the "law of return", the constitutive norm of the Israeli State.

Jews are also a growing population, and in the past year they have increased by more than 100,000. The chief rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar from Milan (see photo), at a congress last year of rabbis from all former Soviet countries in Almaty, Kazakhstan (the city of the recent street battles) said that the task of the spiritual leaders of these nations is to increase the members of the Jewish community by at least one million people in the next five years.

In an interview with Ria Novosti, Lazar also said that the anti-Semitism situation in former Soviet countries is better than in European countries, and that "Kazakhstan is a country where anti-Semitism is practically non-existent, a place of great tolerance and coexistence between representatives of different cultures", from which everyone should take an example.

Visiting the Russian city of Samara, the Chief Rabbi took part in the ceremony for the completion of the restoration of the local Choral Synagogue, built in the early 1900s and then destroyed by the Soviets. Thanking the local authorities, he extolled the role of religions in today's Russia, which "play such an important role in safeguarding moral values that are often despised in the rest of the world".

Another important rabbi working between Russia and Ukraine, Shmuel Kaminetskij, believes that "in reality there are over a million Jews in these two countries", but it is difficult to be recognised as such, because many are not "in line with our traditions; only the Most High can declare a person Jewish". He collected the signatures of more than 120 Jewish communities in Ukraine and sent them to the Verkhovnaja Rada, the Parliament in Kiev, to support the project prepared by several Ukrainian historians for a large memorial complex in Babyj Yar, the site of the terrible tragedy in which the Nazis exterminated about 200,000 people between 1941 and 1943, mostly Jews, even opening a soap factory made from the bodies of the victims.

In Ukraine, many citizens who did not actually have Jewish roots became Jewish, as a form of protest against all political and religious dictatorships of the past and present. In the Soviet years, and even after the end of the totalitarian regime, it was a loophole used to escape to Israel, where the Russian-Ukrainian diaspora is widespread.

Ukrainian politics today accords great honours to the sacrifices of Jews, and also to Ukrainians who helped Jews save themselves at the time of the Second World War, for whom a special Day of Remembrance was established in 2021 on 14 May. Many intellectuals and humanitarian activists in Ukraine today call themselves "Ukrainian Jews" to raise the consciousness not only of local society, but of the whole of Europe. Russian, Ukrainian and Polish Jews, who in large part are the founders of the state of Israel in the last century, today want to be protagonists of a new Europe of peace, despite the new conflicts and war scenarios that threaten the continent.

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