Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger has visited Russia recently. His opinion about the role of Russian-speaking Jews in Israel and also about the problems of culture and adaptation, about the importance of remembering the tragedy of the World War II and its winners, and why Russia could be an example for other countries he's told to Interfax-Religion.
- How do you estimate mutual relations between Russian Jewish diaspora and Israel? Which way these relations will develop in future?
- As you know, these relations are good nowadays, and this fact is proofed by my staying in Russia, by the fact that we can easy come to Russian Jews, to visit synagogues, communities, that we participated in celebration of entering of a roll of Torah to the synagogue with the Chief Rabbi of Russia, that we have assigned a wreath to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin wall. And it's, of course, the future developing of our relations. We are very glad, that Jewish traditions develop in Russia, we are very glad of the every new synagogue which is building here, we are also glad that the rolls of Torah are entering. I'm convinced that Jews will live on the basis of Jewish tradition, and I hope that this basis will be more Jewish in future. Thanks God that the Communist period is being disintegrating form the society's memory; the time when people were afraid of everything has passed.
- A lot of Russian natives and Russian-speaking Jews came to Israel. What is the role and the influence of these people in religious life of Israel? Are these relations positive or there are also some conflict situations?
- First of all not all of the repatriates came to Israel are Jews. Our law on returning allows the person whose at least one grandfather was a Jew to repatriate, even if the grandfather has died already. If this grandfather married to the women who wasn't a Jew, so according our religious law all of the descendants are not Jews. But it's not the main problem, because the main thing is that these people know nothing about the Jewry, they didn't get the Jewish education and accomplishment. These people doesn't understand what is Shabbat and why it's necessary to observe it. They doesn't understand what is circumcision and why it's necessary to do such it to the children, what is the cultural value of this ceremony. They don't belong to this culture at all. And then, naturally, there are problems. We understand problems of these people, but we also want them to understand that they have arrived to the Jewish state.
There is a quite certain Jewish way of life in the Jewish state. And if you want to come to this state you probably should to incur a responsibility. What are the conflicts? Jews don't force anybody to do circumcision, and the Jews are not forced to do it too... Shops are closed on Saturday, besides, if the person wants to merry, or it's time to merry for his children, the Rabbi says: "What can I do if the woman is Jew, and her man is not Jew. I can't marry them. It's forbidden by the religious law". It makes a lot of problems. How to solve these problems? It's difficult to solve it. But we won't refuse from the Jewish character of state which has been created as a state for Jews, and this is our right. Certainly we urge everybody to concern each others faithfully.
As for the role of Russian-speaking Jews in religious life, it's certainly appreciable. If I was asked about it 15 years ago, it would be impossible for me to answer it certainly. But nowadays it's possible to answer, because a lot of time has already passed, and a religious part of the Russian-speaking community became stronger. It was promoted by the numerous courses and our Jewish education work and as you know, there a lot of rabbis among the Russian-speaking Jews nowadays.
- How the main Israel Rabbinate cooperates with other religions in the country and on the international scene in work on ideas strengthening of tolerance and mutual respect between representatives of the different people and religions?
- Sometimes, talking to the Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, we decide that it's better to be a rabbi in Russia than in Israel. There are some problems in Israel in different areas. And the valid relation of Russian people to the representatives of their religious communities, deserves not only respect, but also an imitation, including the Israel.
Rabbi Lazar told me that he had recently returned from America. About forty Jews were travelling in a Russian plane. When Jews pray, they usually come together. You know, when a group of forty people assembles in a plane, they make it difficult for stewards to deliver food and beverages to other passengers, but no one from the Russian staff kept the Jews from praying. Such attitude is really worthy of respect! Few countries in the world respect the Lord's commandments so deeply as Russia today!
- Jewish community in Russia speaks for including lessons of tolerance in school curriculum to tell children about difficult moments in human history, in particular about tragedy of Jewish people during World War II. In what way do Israeli schools cover the topic?
- Israel definitely has a very special attitude to the Catastrophe (Holocaust - IF) as it is one of the most tragic events in history of Jewish people, a horrific, monstrous event in history of the 20th century. There are lessons about the Catastrophe in all systems of school education. There are lots of textbooks for teachers and various ways to work with pupils. Surely, pupils themselves don't remember anything about the Catastrophe. However, we ask them to talk to their grandmas and granddads. Jews have big families and each time there appears an eyewitness of those events or someone who has friends who went through that tragedy or someone who talked to eyewitnesses. Then children come to school and share their knowledge with others. Children live with it and we want them to live with it, as we shouldn't forget this lesson of history.
- Soviet soldiers were the first to liberate Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, and the whole world commemorates it as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2009, Berel Lazar suggested to make January 27 an all-Russian memorial date. What do you think of such an initiative?
- You know, those who saved our people from Nazi death camps deserve eternal respect!
- Why spots of xenophobia and anti-Semitism break out in civilized, as it seems, Europe? We can also point out to evidently revisionist attitude of the Baltic States to events of World War II and recent statements of Uzhgorod Mayor Ratushnyak.
- We can't offer any reasonable explanation for it. We will never understand it. Perhaps, that's just the way they are.
- Therefore, it's difficult to understand who favors from revising results of World War II.
- It's not me who should explain why they want to have history of the catastrophe revised. Let them explain why they want to revise the things everyone knows, proved by abundant evidence.