Last Monday, Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda met with President Dmitry Medvedev. Berel Lazar told in an interview with Interfax-Religion about the themes addressed at the meeting and possible solutions to the current problems.
- What are your impressions of the meeting?
- During the discussion Dmitry Medvedev showed in-depth knowledge of challenges faced by believers, including our Jewish community, and expressed the commitment of the state to solve them. This only proves that Russia's government bodies at the highest level are aware of the need for spiritual revival in the country and enforcement of believers' rights. The President showed in practice the state's concern about the development of religious communities and maintaining dialogue with them, and its commitment to solve problems in a positive way.
- What questions did you address at the meeting with President?
- In particular, the President was interested in how we meet the challenges resulting from the recession. I mentioned that it was not unusual for Russia during its hard times that people become more aware of the importance of spiritual values, become more concerned about ethic which unites all of us, about their families, homes, and children. The number of people attending services and participating in different community's programs has recently grown.
- Did you discuss the deportation of rabbis from Russia?
- Yes, we did mention this issue. On the one hand, there is an evident incompleteness of the legal framework, and on the other hand, there is an accrued misunderstanding of believers' needs at the local level. At the meeting, we have developed a common reasoning of the way to solve this problem. We hope that the necessary conditions to prevent such situations in future will be in place.
- Did you address the problem of anti-Semitism? What do you think about the efforts of Russian authorities to uproot anti-Semitism?
- I have on several occasions stated that Russia has anti-Semites, rather than anti-Semitism. There is no anti-Semitism as an organized force exercising political power. This results from the authorities' continuous policy, involving the President, to root out anti-Semitism, aggressive nationalism and extremism. Russia is much more intent on pursuing this fight than the countries with the established democracy. Certainly, we discussed the problem of anti-Semitism with the President, and the President is aware of its recent displays. But again, today this problem is not the most urgent one in Russia.