From the author:
We met with Chief Rabbi of Russia for the interview at the main Russian Synagogue–Moscow Choral Synagogue. Adolf Shayevich creates very calm and peaceful atmosphere around himself; I felt a great wisdom and an inside harmony from the first minutes of our conversation. Maybe these characteristics helped him not only to survive but also to strengthen the Russian Jewish society in the Soviet times when a Jewish identity had to be concealed to avoid being prosecuted. Notwithstanding the fear to be punished for a Jewish identity, the Jews in Russia were united enough to help each other in difficult times. Times have changed since then; now Jews could openly follow the Jewish traditions, but the level of cohesion is almost proportional to the degree the danger hanging over the Jewish people as Adolf Shayevich said.
Although anti semitism is not a big deal in Russia anymore, in the global world still faces with shootings, stabbings, and explosions on the national base. In November 2015, Israeli Jews are being stabbed just for being Jews.
Adolf Solomonovich Shaevich was born 28 October 1937. He studied at Khabarovsk Polytechnic Institute at the Faculty of Mechanics, from which he graduated in 1964, and worked as a mechanic. Then he studied at Yeshiva Kol Yaakov at Moscow Choral Synagogue and began his studies at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest. Since 1980, he was the rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue and in 1983 was elected rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue and Moscow. In this position, he tried to mediate between the authorities and the Jewish community. In his work, he kept to official Soviet ideology. In 1989, Rabbi Shaevich was elected chief rabbi of the Soviet Union, and since 1993 he was elected chief rabbi of Russia.
- What has changed in Russia from the days it was USSR till today from a Jewish point of view. What has become better and worst?
Since then, things have changed radically. Believers were the second-class citizens, now we are truly free to choose the religion. The state comes towards the believers. No one interferes in the religious life. Previously, we were forced to beg literally for all, with great difficulty getting out the necessary religious objects, religious literature, etc. Today, all this is available; we do have the ability to publish legally the prayer books and other religious literature, which we need.
- Did being a Jew cause some troubles in your activity? Do you feel the antisemitism in Russia today?
The state policy of the Soviet period was such that not only religious Jews, but also the Judaism as a religion, should gradually get “out” and, later, by itself disappear, and the Jews had to assimilate. There were not Jewish schools, which would teach
the Yiddish. The only island where there was a little bit Jewish life was the Jewish Autonomous Region. But the Jews lived throughout the country. Only the synagogue was a place where there was, at least, some religious life. A few religious Jews, who have received some religious education before the revolution, were coming to the synagogue. As for anti-Semitism in the Soviet times, we had to deal with this all the time: difficulties in obtaining higher education, the problems in employment, etc. About the present days, we have the only domestic anti- Semitism, which, however, was always and everywhere.
- How do you see the future of Jews in Russia?
Hard question. Everything will depend on what happens in Russia itself. Not to say that is pessimistic. The situation in the world today is so complicated, and how it will affect the future of Russia is not known. In any case, pessimism is not peculiar to the Jews. Even in the hardest times for our people, we dis not lose good spirits. Let us hope that all will be well.
- Do you see a special role of the Russian Jews in the world Jewish community? Perhaps some historical lessons should be memorized?
If we talk about the Russian Jewry today, I do not think that on a global scale it has a leading role. If we take the Jews living in Russia today, together with all our former compatriots, who are spread all over the world – in Israel, in the United States, Europe and so on, then we can confidently say about the special role. Now Russian Jewish organizations and Jewish communities are actively cooperating with Jewish organizations in other countries in life in cultural, religious, educational spheres, etc.
- Do you think the world Jewish community is united nowadays? What is the specifics, if any, in mentality of the Russian Jews?
The Jews’ cohesion is, rather, an anti-Semitic myth. Unfortunately, there is no unity in the world Jewish community. As for the specifics of the Russian Jews’ mentality, it is. After all, despite the anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, many Jews have received higher education and have achieved some, and sometimes considerable, heights in all areas of life: culture, art, science, etc. so many prominent figures are of Jewish origin. At the same time, I want to note that almost all the Jews who used to live and live in Russia, are influenced by Russian culture. The synthesis of Jewish and Russian cultures has given, I think, very positive results.
- Does the Russian Jewish community live mostly on donations from businessmen?
Yes. In the Jewish community, there is no way to make money. I have to seek always the assistance of businessmen.
Before the 1990s it was difficult to find a job in Moscow: employers were reluctant about hiring a Jew, since if the employee were to decide to migrate to Israel, it could cause the problems on employer’s hands. Only after 1991, it was safe to be a Jew in Russia. The government doesn’t help, but, at least, doesn’t interfere. Now everything depends on us.
KEROOR in the early 90-ies arose from the need to coordinate contacts with the authorities and defend the interests of Jewish communities. With the advent of perestroika and the revival of religious life we are often confronted with problems of different nature, for example, when trying to return the Jewish communities of the synagogues, the opening of Jewish schools and more.
Russians haven’t returned to their spiritual roots is the strength of the atheistic traditions of the Soviet time. Not one generation was born and brought up in atheistic traditions. And it’s not because people were bad, the country just went down this path, dropping from the accounts of all the past, including centuries-old traditions of faith.