Eternally persecuted Jewish people have their own special history in our country. There were both tragic incidents and terrible misunderstandings. In the twentieth century, more than a hundred thousand Jews emigrated from Russia; revolution, war, and persecution by the Soviet authorities forced people to leave with their entire families.
The situation changed after the collapse of the USSR, when several Jewish public organizations were created, charitable actions were held, and those who were not indifferent, at one of which, in 2000, the main rabbi of Russia was elected - Berel Lazar.
For 16 years now this person has been representing the interests of the Jewish people in our country and in some other CIS countries. His story is not as simple as a spiritual leader, he has to constantly face moral problems, politicians, he is used to be accused of any sins, but he does not stop listening and quoting.
Lazar Berl Pinhos was born in 1964 in a family of Hasidic Jews. His father was a rabbi in Milan, in this city at that time was the largest community of Jews in Italy. The boy attended a Jewish school and grew up respecting the traditions of his people. After completing his studies, Lazar wanted to continue to further comprehend the foundations of the Jewish religion, but in Milan there were no such educational institutions. And the young man sent to the United States, where in his time his father also received the title of rabbi.
Ten years long, Lazar Berl studied in America. He successfully graduated from a college in New Jersey, and then the oldest Jewish university, a yeshiva in New York. After that, he receives the title of Rabbi, and also becomes a religious judge.
While living in America, Lazar not only learns, but also makes a lot of friends, like-minded people, but here he finds himself a wife, who became the daughter of one of the American rabbis, Hanna Derain. Unlike her husband, she never changed her citizenship. According to Berl Lazar himself, despite the fact that his children were born in Russia, they are still served by America, although the head of the family hopes that his heirs will also love Russia.
Both in words and in practice, the future leader of Russian Jews always follows God's covenants. Berl Lazar, whose family personifies the ideal embodiment of the traditions of the Jewish community, consists of 13 children - eight daughters and five sons.
First visit to Russia
In the west, our country was considered the worst for a comfortable Jewish residence. Moreover, many people have long ago become Russified, did not observe the religious customs of their people, forgot who they were and where they came from. Therefore, some immigrants from America, Israel, and Europe came with a specific mission: to revive lost faith in their compatriots.
Berl Lazar, whose biography is filled with bright events, considered his first visit to Russia to be one of the decisive ones in his further fate. He was still a student when he arrived in Moscow in 1988 on a tourist visa, but not for entertainment purposes. According to some information, Lazar Berl already on this first visit tried to meet with the leaders of the Jewish community in Russia, read lectures on Judaism. Of course, this was held in deep secrecy, the rabbi even had to memorize all the addresses and telephone numbers so that in case of detention by the NKVD officers there would be no evidence. Thus, meetings with like-minded people were more like attacks of scouts.
On this first visit, the future chief rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar, understood that his heart belonged to this country, despite the fact that he was far from a democratic attitude to the representatives of his people.
In the United States, he received the title of rabbi, married and, enlisting the blessing of the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, returns to Moscow to revive the Jewish religion in our country.
In 1990, Lazar Berl became a rabbi at the synagogue in Maryina Roshcha. He liked this place even on his first visit; relative freedom of communication reigned here compared to the capital itself. He begins to conduct propaganda among his parishioners, agitating them to remain in Russia, and not to leave for other countries.
As an intelligent man, Lazar understood that it was impossible to revive the Jewish religion without the support of the authorities. His meeting in 1991 with President Boris Yeltsin yielded certain results, because the newly elected governor promised to adopt appropriate laws that facilitate the life of the Jews.
In subsequent years, Lazar continues to make influential friends, his name is often associated with Boris Berezovsky and Arkady Abramovich. Although he notes that he was familiar with businessmen only superficially.
Active religious and social activities distinguishes Berl Lazar among the rest, so in 1993 he was elected representative of the union of rabbis of the CIS countries. The organization’s activities were not limited to resolving religious issues, and together with their leader, they founded the Or-Avner Chabad-Lyubavich charity foundation.
A special feature of the Jewish people is the help to all compatriots, whether it is a disastrous situation in the family or a desire to realize the idea of their own business. The charitable foundation, which was founded by Lazar Berl, brought this tradition in Russia too.
At the end of the 90s, the Congress of the Jewish religious organization was held annually, Lazar initially participated in the otor, but later refused to attend these events because of disagreement with the participation in the reformist congress. Berl Lazar himself continued to be a Hasid, wrote books specifically on this subject, read lectures.
First steps to unite Russian Jews
In 1998, it became necessary to officially register religious communities at the legislative level. Almost all Jewish families from different cities of the country united in FEOR (Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia). According to observers, Berezovsky and Abramovich were behind this organization, who saw in such an association not so much a settlement of the religious issue as a good way to invest their finances.
Despite some, sometimes even scandalous disagreements with some heads of Jewish communities, it is FEOR that becomes the central organization. According to some reports, communications with the country's most influential businessmen and well-known politicians helped her to become such. At the first congress, a leader was unanimously elected - Berel Lazar became them.
However, not all immediately recognized the leading position of Lazar. In parallel with FEOR, other similar organizations existed on the territory of Russia. They criticized the activities of the new leader, for example, categorically disagreed with his ideology of the inheritance of nationality in the female line, when a person could be considered a Jew only by his mother. To which Berl Lazar answered with quotations from the Torah, which confirmed this law, existing for several thousand years. But there is a reason for such a misunderstanding of the foundations of Judaism in our country. Over the decades of isolation of Russian Jews from Israel, some of the foundations of religion have been lost and forgotten. As Berl Lazar notes, children who were not born of a Jewish mother could not be considered Jews.
In general, this person always remained firm in matters of rules, therefore, he probably succeeded so successfully at the same time as the leader and fulfilling the duties of a religious judge. This is his duty - to solve the most various problems of ordinary people, - Lazar called not the simplest task, but also noted that the married couples who came to him wishing to divorce, almost eighty percent of the time, change their mind after talking with him.
Chief Rabbi of Russia
Until 2000, there was still no official representative of the Jewish confession in our country. The need for this was felt more and more. Having become the chairman of FEOR, Berl Lazar already understood and saw his next role and the ways to achieve it. He was able to enlist the support of a majority vote of Jewish communities, met with the future president of the Russian Federation, with whom he discussed the future plan for the development of the religion of Judaism in the country.
For his part, he tried to become as close as possible to the Russians, having mastered the language to perfection and, eventually, becoming a citizen of the Russian Federation, however, while retaining the United States passport.
All this work led to the fact that in June 2000 in Moscow at the congress of the communities was elected the chief rabbi of the Russian Federation. They became Berl Lazar, and the decision was taken by all delegates unanimously.
Immediately after the announcement of the results appeared dissent. In particular, Adolf Shayevich, who still considers himself the real leader of the Jewish communities, spoke out categorically against Lazar, explaining that more than half of the voters did not have Russian citizenship at all.
The Chief Rabbi did not respond to all these attacks, but immediately began work directly.
Activity as a spiritual leader
One month after being elected, Berl Lazar makes a number of trips around Russia. So, having been in Nizhny Novgorod, he agrees with the governor on the construction of a community center, a whole complex, including sports sections, including a swimming pool, as well as all sorts of entertainment zones.
The scale of the new leader’s ideas became apparent already in September, when the Moscow Community Center was opened in Maryina Roshcha. At the celebration were the first persons of the state, and especially the guest of honor - Vladimir Putin. Many immediately saw this as an official endorsement by the power of electing the chief rabbi.
In the period from 2000 to 2001. Ben Lazar managed to visit dozens of regions of the country. He met with the President of the Republic of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev, the governor of Vladivostok, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, established contact with the leadership and promoted the development of Jewish communities throughout the country.
Rabbi and big politics
It seemed strange to many that the future chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, was not present at the inauguration of President Vladimir Putin. Citizenship, and therefore the opportunity to participate in this kind of event, he received only a few weeks later, which is the main reason.
The chief rabbi will meet with the president of the country more than once, both in official settings and for a personal conversation. And in 2001, Lazar became a member of the Presidential Council for Relations with Religious Organizations of the country. In general, Berl Lazar and Putin could always find a common language, Vladimir Vladimirovich did not want to lose touch with a representative of a group of influential businessmen of the country and the world.
The result of the favor of the ruling party to the activities of Jewish Hasidim in Russia are the awards of the chief rabbi, which the president himself handed him. In 2014, Berl Lazar received the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, IV degree. This high award was preceded by other confessions - the Order of Friendship, the Minin and Pozharsky Prize, and Peter the Great Award; Lazar’s struggle for the patriotic education of young people in Russia was repeatedly noted.
He never stopped making proposals to simplify the life of the Jews. So, he achieved the abolition of examinations in schools and other educational institutions on Saturdays for children from Jewish families. His appeal to the US government was even louder, which he requested to revise and repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, restricting entry to the United States of America for some citizens of the USSR, and later Russia.
Berl Lazar and now an active participant in various political events, so at the EU summit he called on the head of the European Commission to join forces in the fight against nationalist ideas in the world.
The chief rabbi of the country is used to giving interviews, responding to comments, during his travels in Russia he always gathers a crowd. Do not do without scandals. During speeches at rabbis' congresses from different countries, he repeatedly asserted that the Jewish community in Russia was flourishing, people of the Jewish faith no longer flee the country, nothing threatened the Jews. What caused surprise and discontent among journalists, what is Berl Lazar playing in? His quotes about the absence of anti-Semitism seem, at least, unreliable, especially after the explosion in 2002 on the Kiev highway, the plundering of a Jewish cemetery or the beating of Rabbi David Ushevayev.
Simple observers began to notice that such excessive patriotism, admiration for the government, as well as the ongoing policy of improving life for only the elect, that is, the Jews, worsen relations between our two nations and provoke the emergence of even more anti-Semitic organizations.
But still he tries to include the main thoughts, future plans and possible advice in his lectures. Lazar always spoke rather harshly towards the representatives of sexual minorities, did not recognize their desire to stand out and express themselves and their inclinations to the whole world, and was glad that in Russia both the government and the people are also clearly against this phenomenon in society.
Sometimes the chief rabbi of Russia behaves like a true politician, telling people what they want to hear. Perhaps, only in literary creativity, he spoke with a greater degree of sincerity. In 2013, a limited edition book in Israel was not published for everyone, which was written by Berl Lazar. “Jewish Russia”, the name of this work, is still the subject of controversy and harsh criticism. What thoughts in it really belong to Lazar, and what really is fiction is not so easy to determine.
Chief Rabbi of Russia
The name of this person for more than 15 years at the hearing in Russia. Berl Lazar, whose biography and his merits are the result of perseverance in upholding his views, truly deserve respect. The fact that he came to Russia in the 90s of the twentieth century, although he could choose any economically developed country, speaks of his courage, as well as his foresight, too.
No matter what attitude the Russians have towards representatives of the chosen people, there are qualities of this nation that help them achieve success. They are always united, sincerely believe in themselves, that's why there are so many businessmen, politicians and intellectuals among the Jews.
So, Berl Lazar stayed in Russia to revive the religious feelings of his countrymen. And he succeeded.
Today, the chief rabbi of the Russian Federation directly participated in the construction and opening of dozens of gardens, schools, a sports complex for Jews, and the rabbis and synagogues in more than three hundred cities of Russia and the CIS work under his spiritual guidance.