On the eve of Hanukkah, the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia Alexander Boroda assessed the Interfax-Religion the most important events of the outgoing 2020 and spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic affected the lives of Jews.
- A rather unusual year is coming to an end. When it started, superstitious people predicted it would be successful, because it consists of a "beautiful" number, others, on the contrary, were afraid that there would be a lot of misfortunes, since it is a leap year. Eventually, we’ve faced the first pandemic in the world's history and the world economic crisis. What lessons this past year has taught us and what good things will you remember about it?
- According to the Jewish calendar, the year in which the coronavirus pandemic started unfolding has ended. And, indeed, we've seen a somewhat different picture of the developments in the past three months. A process of the population's gradual vaccination has been launched which, of course, will greatly affect the statistics on coronavirus. Because first of all, those who are most at risk of getting sick will be vaccinated. The economic situation has also begun gradually stabilizing and many economic and social programs to support the population are being extended.
The Jewish tradition teaches that each situation should be used to learn something. Of course, such global events make us analyze our life, perhaps overestimate our values, rearrange our priorities. And, of course, we can find some benefits in it. The number of charitable programs has increased, and I'm not just talking about the Jewish community, but in general. Despite some complicated financial factors, people still find enough strength and resources to help each other.
- How has the volume of FJCR charity projects changed due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic?
- In spring we started helping hospitals and purchased the necessary protective materials, 26 hospitals in Moscow and the Moscow Region received assistance in the amount of more than 15 million rubles (about 200,000 USD) in April and May. In September, we held a large-scale campaign aimed primarily at supporting old people and large families - sending out food packages for Rosh Hashanah, more than hundreds of thousands of families received them.
- How does the Jewish community of Moscow and Russia go through the second wave of coronavirus? Are there many cases?
- It's easier than in spring so far. We aren't closing synagogues. The people are better prepared, they know what to do and how, they know that they should wear facemasks indoors, maintain a social distance and so on. But we also try to hold as many events as possible distantly, so that those who are afraid to visit synagogues and use public transport do not feel abandoned.
- Would the theme of the pandemic be reflected in the exhibition of the Jewish Museum?
- I believe that when we describe, with God's help, the life of the Jewish community in the beginning of the decade, there will be a mention of the epidemic. I hope that it will not last so long that someone is referred to as a ‘figure of the coronavirus era’.
- How has the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents changed against the background of the isolation regime and the economic crisis? Are there any statistics on this in Russia and the world?
- If we talk about 'live' incidents, such as assaults or acts of vandalism, their number has actually declined because both the Jews and anti-Semites have had to stay at home to abide by the self-isolation requirements. For example, according to our monitoring, the number of instances of anti-Semitic vandalism recorded in Russia, declined from seven in 2019 to four in the first 11 months of 2020. However, the number of manifestations of anti-Semitism on the Internet has increased dramatically.
- How do you think it is possible to stop the aggravation of the situation with terrorism in Europe? Do you think it would be enough to adopt laws to prohibit insulting the feelings of believers, as was done in Russia, or something else is needed?
- I believe that both in Russia and in Europe, in addition to bans on insulting the feelings of believers, large-scale educational programs are needed to help understand and accept people of a different faith, nationality and skin color (by the way, the Tolerance Center of the Jewish Museum is actively developing such programs), as well as careful work of law enforcement agencies and civil society to combat propaganda of hatred.
- How did Jews react to Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election? Do you expect a certain shift in the vector of the U.S. policy in the Middle East?
- As far as we know, a significant part of American Jews reacted joyfully as adherents of the Democratic Party. The Israelis on the contrary are somewhat worried about a possible deterioration of relations with the United States. In my opinion, there will be a certain shift of the vector in the U.S. Middle East policy, considering that Biden has said he has his own vision of how to operate in that region. However, he is unlikely to overrule Trump's decisions, including the embassy relocation to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords.
- Let's return to the domestic issues. Not long ago, the topics of IVF and surrogate maternity were widely discussed. Many religious figures actively oppose both. What is the attitude of Judaism to these issues?
- The first commandment of Judaism, which God gave to Adam and Eve, is "be fruitful and multiply." Therefore, we welcome the achievements of science that contribute to the fulfillment of this commandment. IVF and surrogacy are among such achievements. The only "but" - they can be used only if there are no other opportunities to give life to a child. However, in the case of surrogate maternity, we consider necessary consultations not only with doctors, but also with special rabbis at every stage - from conception to birth.