MOSCOW - The visa permit of Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt arrived a few days ago. Until then he cynically defined himself as "a Prisoner of Zion." For the past two months he has been in almost solitary confinement in his residence in Jerusalem, unable to return to Russia. Since 1989 he has been considered the chief rabbi of Moscow. However, the government of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin will not allow him to return to his flock.
On September 26, Rabbi Goldschmidt, who is 42, arrived at Domodevo Airport, outside Moscow. "To my surprise I was detained when I alighted from the plane and asked to wait. After I waited for about half an hour, the head of the (security) shift arrived and told me that my visa had been canceled and that I could choose between a flight to Switzerland [Goldschmidt holds Swiss citizenship] or deportation by plane to the country from which I had arrived, namely Israel. I chose Israel. I was not given any reasons."
The incident at the airport reflects what has been going on for the past months within the Jewish community in Russia: power struggles between oligarchs over control of the organizations that represent the country's Jews and for the favors of the government. In the background, senior officials of the Putin government are stirring up things. In addition, attempts are being made to involve the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency, Jewish organizations elsewhere and Western governments in the intrigue.
"What is happening in the Jewish community is something we have never seen before. There is a paradoxical situation: The Jews in Russia have power, money and influence, such as they never had before; yet at the same time the situation of the Jewish community is at an all-time low," Goldschmidt says.
Who expelled Goldschmidt? Pinchas Goldschmidt is a relatively minor player in this story, along with the chief rabbis of Russia, Berel Lazar and Adolf Shayevich. The central characters are the oligarchs Vladimir Slutsker, Vyacheslav Kantor, Mikhail Friedman, Lev Leviev and Arcadi Gaydamak. Other individuals and groups are active behind the scenes: Roman Abramovich, who is thought to be the richest person in Russia; the Russian Federal Security Service FSB); Nativ, the Israel-based organization that is responsible for issuing immigration visas to Israel for immigrants from Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union; the Israeli embassy in Moscow; the European Jewish Congress; and the American relief organization, the Joint Distribution Committee.
It was only a few days after Goldschmidt's deportation to Israel that the Russian authorities provided a semi-official explanation for the incident. They claimed that his visa had expired. Sources in the Putin government relate that Goldschmidt had two visas, "one a tourist visa and the other a business visa for a European company that has not existed for a long time. Does it sound logical that a person who claims to be a chief rabbi should be in the country on a tourist visa and a business visa - and for 15 years or so?"
The rabbi's confidants have an explanation. They say that Goldschmidt arrived in the Soviet Union at the invitation of an academic organization - the department for the study of cultures in the Academy of Sciences, founded by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. He then stayed on in Russia and represented Jewish groups that had not received the official status of a religious organization from the country's Ministry of the Interior. He had no choice but to use a tourist and business visa. The organization with which Rabbi Goldschmidt is identified is the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities in Russia, known for its Russian acronym Keror. Its new patron is Arcadi Gaydamak.
Even if the official claim of the Russian authorities about the validity of Goldschmidt's visa is correct, Russia is rife with rumors and conspiracy theories. A simple explanation, even if it contains a grain of truth, is received skeptically. In regard to the case at hand, many questions have to be asked. Why did the authorities allow the rabbi to use his tourist and business visas for 15 years? Why did they decide at this time to take action against a spiritual leader of the Jewish community, who also wields influence in the Israeli establishment and among Jewish organizations worldwide? Are his rivals banding together against him vis-a-vis the authorities? Who is behind the refusal to allow him to return? And why have they now suddenly issued him a visa to return?
Two witnesses Swiss-born Pinchas Goldschmidt is married to an American citizen and served as the rabbi of Upper Nazareth until being invited to Moscow in 1989. Urgent efforts were made to formalize his status and get him back to Moscow. Among those who were active in this regard are Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Nativ, the Swiss government, the U.S. administration and the European Union, to whom Goldschmidt has appealed to intercede on his behalf. Because of the sensitive situation in which he finds himself, he declines to be interviewed and only offers a few brief comments. One of them is, "It is no secret: Everyone knows who brought about my expulsion." But he will absolutely not elaborate.
However, Vladimir Slutsker knows who Goldschmidt is referring to. "Yes," he says, "I heard the rumors to the effect that I was the one who caused Goldschmidt's deportation and those rumors do not make me happy." Who circulated them?
Slutsker: "Goldschmidt himself. I sent him a message that he is a rabbi and therefore, according to the Torah and the precepts, he must come up with two witnesses that I was the one who brought about his expulsion. If he will be unable to prove that, he will be a gossip-monger and a spreader of rumors, and he must cease to be a rabbi and leave his post. I myself have two witnesses who heard him make the accusation, and so I am considering the possibility of bringing him before a rabbinical court."
The conversation with Slutsker took place over a month ago in his luxurious office, which is located in a modern new glass building in the center of Moscow. Even though he was ousted some weeks ago from his position as president of the Russian Jewish Congress (REK), he was in buoyant spirits. Like all the Russian oligarchs, he is surrounded by bodyguards, chauffeurs and young energetic female assistants dressed in tailored suits. Hanging above him on the wall is a photograph of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. "Don't get me wrong," Slutsker emphasizes. "I do not care about money and I am not greedy, because I am a kabbalist [Jewish mystic] and therefore I have added the name Moshe Shlomo. I am not a Chabad member like Leviev, but I recognize the spiritual authority of the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
'Two Jews in the republic' Slutsker was born in Moscow in 1956 and attended the Institute for Transportation Engineering in Moscow, obtaining a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 1985. During the perestroika period he opened a private business and established a trading company in Switzerland that dealt with the Soviet Union, buying raw materials and selling equipment for the automotive industry. In 1992 he expanded his activities, trading in oil and metals, and selling technology and machinery for the food-processing and construction industries. He also owned a bank and a financial investment company. He is estimated to be worth $300 million. In the past four years he has also been a senator in the Federation Council, the upper House of the Russian parliament (the members of the lower House, known as the Duma, are elected, whereas the senators are appointed).
Slutsker represents the Chuvashia Autonomous Republic in the Volga region, home to peoples of Finno-Ugric and Turkic descent. They speak a language similar to Turkish. "I am apparently one of the only two Jews in the whole republic," he says and bursts into laughter; in fact, almost every other sentence he utters is punctuated with rolling laughter. His position as a senator accords him political clout that opens doors and helps him forge connections and accumulate influence in the Kremlin. "I am a secular politician and a religious Jew," he says, though people who know him are hard-put to say wherein his religiosity resides. And not only because he is bare-headed.
Slutsker explains that he has always been drawn to public activity, especially "spiritual religious activity," and therefore he has donated generously from his own pocket to Jewish institutions and organizations in Russia. Under the influence of "my good friend" Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, he says, he established a yeshiva and a kabbala center called Tree of Life, which according to Slutsker has 200 students. "A year and a half ago I was approached with a request to save the Russian Jewish Congress, which was in a state of collapse and barely functioning," he continues, "I saw this as a challenge and threw myself into the work."
American model Slutsker was elected president of the group in November 2004. He found "an organization that existed on paper, a virtual organization. I wanted to create something central and strong, like the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in the United States." That did not happen: Slutsker quickly became embroiled with other oligarchs, including Vyacheslav Kantor and particularly Mikhail Friedman, who owns the Alpha Bank and TNK - an oil company that is a partner with British Petroleum. Friedman is thought to be one of Russia?s wealthiest individuals.
Slutsker: "I knew that becoming entangled with Friedman was not just some small thing. He has tremendous influence and is colossally rich. But I had to stick to my principles."
However, Slutsker's major and most talked-about dispute is with Rabbi Goldschmidt. At stake is control of a property - the headquarters of the Russian Jewish Congress, located in a building that was transferred to the ownership of the Jewish Community in Moscow, which is headed by Goldschmidt. As a religious organization, the community has a tax-exempt status. "After some time," Slutsker notes, "Rabbi Goldschmidt asked us to pay him rent as though the offices actually belong to him. Naturally, I and the congress refused to pay."
Goldschmidt's confidants say that the request was not for rent, but payments to cover the costs of ongoing maintenance of the structure, such as electricity.
Be that as it may, on September 15, 2005, Slutsker, to his "great surprise," received a fax from a rabbinical court, the Jerusalem Court for Civil Law and Ancestral Law, in which he was notified that he and the congress were being summoned to din Torah, a lawsuit in which judgment is given according to the strict letter of traditional Jewish law. The plaintiff was the "Jewish Community of Moscow." "I did not even bother to answer them," Slutsker says. "I do not recognize the authority of a court in Jerusalem to address a commercial dispute in Moscow. What connection do they have with me?"
Ten days later, in one of those strange coincidences, Goldschmidt was deported from Russia. "There is absolutely no connection," Slutsker states. "Almost a year ago Rabbi Goldschmidt told me that he had problems with security people in Russia and asked me to help. He refused to tell me what his problems were, but explained that he was under pressure. I explained to him that he would not be able to retain the status of chief rabbi of Moscow and head of a Jewish organization after 15 years of entering the country on a tourist visa or as a businessman representing a foreign firm. He came to me again in June of this year and told me that the security authorities had asked him to cooperate and that he was under heavy pressure. Afterward I discovered that he had gone to the American embassy, even though he is not an American citizen, and told them that pressure was being put on him. I don't know why he did that."
To cooperate - in what sense? To be an agent or an informer of the FSB? "It is clear to everyone what is meant by 'cooperation.' Therefore, I will add nothing more about that. I will only tell you that I asked him, 'Did you tell them no, that you would not cooperate?' He replied, 'I did not reply to them.' Still, I tried to help him, and then to my great surprise he was expelled."
Slutsker's involvement in this affair is one of the reasons why, about a month ago, the members of the board of the Russian Jewish Congress decided they had had enough of him. When it became clear to him that he would not be reelected, he resigned.
Oligarch-philanthropist Slutsker was replaced by Vyacheslav Moshe Kantor. At 52, Kantor, too, is a combination of oligarch, philanthropist and typical public activist. His wealth is estimated at $1 billion. He is the principal donor to the Kantor Center for the History, Culture and Life of Eurasian Jews at Tel Aviv University, and in return was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. He has also contributed to museums and synagogues in Russia and Geneva, and paid out of his pocket for the ceremonies held at Krakow to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Until recently he was vice president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, headed by Alexander Mashkevich, another Russian oligarch, - but the two also had a falling out. Kantor is also chairman of the board of governors of the European Jewish Congress.
Laden with representative titles, he, like many oligarchs, likes to travel the world in his private plane and hobnob with fat cats, businessmen and other Jewish leaders. He holds a Ph.D. from the Moscow Aviation University. Toward the end of the perestroika period he became a businessman and today owns a fertilizer company called Akron, which has dealings in Russia, China, the republics of the former Soviet Union and Western Europe. His critics say he served as a tool in the hands of the FSB and the General Prosecution in Russia in the incrimination of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who owned the huge Yukos conglomerate.
Until about two years ago, Khodorkovsky (who is Jewish on his father's side, but does not consider himself Jewish or close to Israel) was thought to be the richest man in Russia. When President Putin and his aides decided to topple him and his colleagues in Yukos, because of their support for the opposition parties and their criticism of the president, they found an ally in Kantor: He is involved in a business dispute with a Yukos subsidiary.
Against this background Kantor drew up memoranda, which reached the prosecution, detailing the essence of the dispute, which had to do with coordinating the prices of certain chemical products. The FSB and the prosecution made use of the memoranda to fire the opening salvo in a war that ended with Khodorkovsky being sent to a Siberian prison for eight years. His associate, Leonid Nevzlin, found asylum in Israel. Yukos was dissolved and transferred to other magnates, who are close to Putin. "The facts you mention are totally inaccurate and mistaken," Kantor wrote in his response to Haaretz, "but I have no intention of discussing the subject when the person you are talking about [Khodorkovsky] is in distress."
Kantor believes he will succeed where Slutsker failed. He promises "to restore the organization's strength and powers" - and, of course, to heighten the cooperation between the community he ostensibly represents and the authorities.
The No. 1 Jew The Russian Jewish Congress (REK) was founded in 1994 by Vladimir Gusinsky, who was a theater director in the Soviet period and became a highly influential oligarch during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. Gusinsky owned a company called Most, which at its peak controlled television and radio stations, banks, investment firms and construction companies. Gusinsky tried to emulate the American model. It was thus not by chance that the name he chose for his organization evoked that of the influential Canadian-American tycoon, Edgar Bronfman, the World Jewish Congress.
As president of the WJC, Bronfman was considered by the international media to be the representative of the Jewish people, and thus was able to form ties which he could not have done solely as the owner of a liquor concern. Bronfman was received for private audiences by the pope, held negotiations in the name of the "Jewish people" with Swiss banks and flew to meetings with world leaders. Gusinsky understood the vast importance and the public and personal benefit that could accrue to him as head of the Jewish community of Russia. His idea was to establish an umbrella organization for all the movements, institutions and factions related to the Jewish world in Russia - religious and secular alike.
Indeed, Gusinsky's novel and creative move succeeded beyond anyone's predictions. Among those who joined his organization were Chabad, the Jewish Community of Moscow under Rabbi Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Russia Adolf Shayevich and oligarchs such as Friedman. REK was recognized by the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee, the ORT vocational schools network and the other Jewish organizations around the world. For a time Gusinsky became the No. 1 Jew in Russia.
Soon, though, it became apparent that everything revolved around business and politics. The oligarchs Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky (who declared that he does not consider himself a Jew) and Roman Abramovich began to compete for influence in the Kremlin. The period was the late 1990s, in the waning days of the government of Boris Yeltsin, who was old, tired and drinking heavily. "The Family" - the name given to all the relatives, aides, confidants and hangers-on surrounding Yeltsin, many of whom got rich at the expense of the public coffers - was divided into a number of factions. Abramovich tried to sponsor a few candidates for prime minister as a counterweight to the influence wielded by Gusinsky and Berezovsky on the government.
The group of oligarchs split and the fragmentation affected Gusinsky's Jewish organization as well. Abramovich and others realized that Gusinsky was exploiting not only his businesses and ties, but also REK to further his standing at their expense. His opponents therefore decided to diminish the organization's prestige and sought an appropriate Jewish alternative. They found it in the persons of Lev Leviev and Berel Lazar.
"My first meeting with Lev Leviev was in 1992," Berel Lazar relates in his Moscow office, which is located in the modern building that is the center of activity of the organization he represents, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FEOR). The building, a community and cultural center that also contains a synagogue, is located in the Marina Roscha neighborhood and is named after it. Originally there was a wooden structure here, built in 1926, which held the only synagogue built in the Soviet Union after the Revolution.
Lazar: "Someone told me about a businessman in Israel and gave me his phone number. I called him and invited him to a circumcision ceremony." This was the beginning of a partnership that made Lev Leviev the most influential, most active and most connected person in the Jewish community of Russia, and made Lazar the country's chief rabbi.
Attacks on Gusinsky Lazar's baby face belies his 41 years. His parents immigrated to the United States from Europe and became Chabad followers. Lazar was born in 1964 in Italy, where his parents were sent on a mission by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Like them, he also became a Chabad emissary, arriving in the Soviet Union in 1987. Afterward he returned to the United States for a brief period, married and then returned to Moscow to act as the rabbi of the Chabad community there. The acquaintanceship with Leviev, who is also a Chabad follower, became a springboard on Lazar's way to success and recognition.
It was thanks to Leviev's contributions that the FEOR was established in 1997. Leviev began to donate from his private fortune - he is thought to give away 10 percent of his revenues from his diamond business - to institutions that are run by Lazar and Chabad in Russia. "For a few years I worked in full cooperation with Gusinsky and REK," Lazar emphasizes, "until Gusinsky started to run a political campaign."
Gusinsky ran candidates of his own for the presidency against Putin. Abramovich backed Putin. "I said openly," Lazar maintains, "that what Gusinsky was doing was not desirable and would hurt the Jewish community. But I was in the minority. And the fact is that after a time the FSB launched a campaign against him that included a physical assault on him.
Gusinsky claimed he was being harassed because of his Jewishness, and described the acts as anti-Semitic and called on the Jews of Russia to support him. Many Jews felt uncomfortable because the impression was that they were against the government. They felt that Gusinsky had made them hostages against the authorities. This was the background for a large conference of the representatives of 87 communities, to which Rabbi Shayevich was also invited. However, he did not come to the conference and it was decided that a different chief rabbi would be appointed. It is true that Rabbi Shayevich complained about the vote and argued that it was illegal.
But there is also a different version of the course of events, one that is less innocent than Rabbi Lazar's account. This version maintains that Abramovich, who had business ties with Leviev, recruited the Israeli diamond merchant for a struggle on behalf of Putin and against Gusinsky. In return, Leviev received the support of Putin, who in 2000 was elected president of Russia. That support made it possible for Lazar to receive Russian citizenship in record time and to be recognized in practice as the chief rabbi of Russian Jewry. Shayevich was shunted to the sidelines.
The Jewish "federation" of Lazar and Leviev became the darling of the government. This was clearly manifested when President Putin took part in a resplendent ceremony to dedicate the FEOR center in the Marina Roscha neighborhood in 2001.
A plaque at the entrance to the building lists the donors. They include Leviev, his partner Gaydamak, Slutsker and other oligarchs. But at the top of the list is Abramovich. He donated $5 million for the construction of the building. Lazar and FEOR left REK. In 2002 Gusinsky was forced to leave Russia and then to sell his assets there. The authorities launched an investigation against him for tax violations. He based himself in Israel and Europe and invested in the Israeli daily Maariv and in the local Russian press; during the past year he has spent most of his time in the United States. He was replaced as REK president by Leonid Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky's associate. However, a year later, when it became apparent that the Putin government supported FEOR, Nevzlin realized that his place at the head of an organization identified with Gusinsky, who is loathed by the government, was liable to be detrimental to him and to affect Yukos as well. Nevzlin resigned and the deterioration of REK has continued apace ever since.
FEOR flourishes In contrast, FEOR has flourished in the past five years. The success of Lazar and Leviev can be attributed to the fact that Putin used them in his struggle against Gusinsky and received a Jewish "umbrella" from them in return. But another reason for the close ties between the Putin government and FEOR lies in the promises made by Leviev and Lazar that they would make their connections available to Putin and assist the Kremlin to open doors in the corridors of power in Washington. Most importantly, they let Putin and his aides understand that their influence and lobbying would bring about the abolition of a 1974 Congressional amendment to the Trade Reform Act sponsored by Senator Henry Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik, both Democrats. Putin is deeply distressed by this legislation, which stipulates that countries, such as the former Soviet Union, which restrict freedom of movement and prevent the free emigration of their citizens will not receive special trade benefits from the United States. Even though the Jews of the former Soviet Union, and then Russia, were allowed to leave, the amendment has not been repealed.
Even Lazar and Leviev's rivals admit that their organization is the largest and strongest in Russia. Lazar declines to reveal FEOR's budget, but informed sources say it has a turnover of $35 million a year. About a third of the money, or slightly less, comes directly from Leviev?s pocket, the rest from donations in Russia and elsewhere. FEOR also has a very active and successful friends organization in the United States. At a cost of $70 million, the organization is currently building a vast complex adjacent to the Marina Roscha site, where the central bus station of Moscow once stood. Some of the structures are earmarked for preservation and are considered architectural landmarks. The land, worth an estimated $10 million, was donated by the Moscow municipality. The complex will include schools, a swimming pool, sports halls and a museum of the history of the Jewish people.
However, FEOR's success cannot be attributed solely to connections and money. It is also due to the devotion of its activists, most of them young Chabad people who are always ready, steadfastly and enthusiastically, to embark on a mission at the behest of their rabbis to the Russian hinterland, no matter how awful the physical conditions. After all, what prevents the Reform movement, for example, from dispatching young representatives on similar missions? Rabbi Lazar talks of an organization that has 200 communities across Russia and which provides both spiritual support (sacred articles, religious services, rabbis) and material backing (food, education, health, financial aid) to hundreds of thousands of Jews. "In Moscow alone," he says in an interview, "130,000 Jews have ties with us."
There are some who are skeptical of these figures. Two years ago, when Tzipi Livni, then Israel?s immigrant absorption minister, asked FEOR for a list of these Jews, her request was rejected with the slightly peculiar explanation that this would be a violation of privacy.
Putin?s court Jew Success has a price. Some harsh allegations have been leveled at Lazar. The first is that he has become a kind of court Jew of Vladimir Putin. He has passionately defended the Russian government on quite a few occasions and rebuffed criticism that was voiced about anti-Semitism in Russia. "I do not know what a court Jew is," he says. "There are some people whose only purpose is to speak in condemnation of the government. I try to be objective. The situation in Russia has improved under Putin. People get pensions. The standard of living is rising. There are also negative phenomena, which deserve to be criticized. There is corruption at all levels, though that has been characteristic of Russia in the past 80 years. The reform is in bad shape and there are also many other ills."
What about anti-Semitism? Lazar: "There is definitely anti-Semitism and manifestations of nationalism. But the government is trying to fight the anti-Semitism. The government is returning assets of Jews. Putin sends me Rosh Hashanah greetings. Jews are getting respect and one can be a Jew and walk the streets as a Jew without fear."
Some say that your organization plays down the connection with Zionism and Israel.
"That is not true. We are very proud of the connection with Israel and do not hide it. Just last year we organized visits for 4,000 young people in Israel. But we say that we also have to respect the Jews who are not thinking about immigrating to Israel. The Jewish community in Russia is not only a pipeline for immigration to Israel. There are people who have got used to the notion that Russia is a source of immigration. But the situation is changing. There are Jews in Russia who are not thinking about immigrating to Israel. We have to look after them, too. Our approach is that Jews should feel like Jews and that they have to decide themselves where they want to live and not that someone should decide for them. We believe that there is Israel, but that one also has to be a Jew." What do you say about the view that FEOR is a religious organization? Why is the gym in Marina Roscha open alternately for separate activities for men and women?
"We are not a missionary organization. People who enter our gates are secular; we have no interest in imposing our opinion on them. People walk around in the building without skullcaps. Most of the students in our schools are secular. But we also definitely educate toward Judaism and Yiddishkeit."
Despite everything, the past few months have seen something of a decline in the status of FEOR. One reason is that Roman Abramovich has lowered his public profile (he recently sold parts of his giant company Sibneft Oil and diminished his business activity in Russia), and that Leviev's influence in the Kremlin is also not what it used to be. The officials with whom he cooperated have fallen out of favor and lost their power. In addition, FEOR and Leviev face another danger - in the person of Arcadi Gaydamak.
"Politics and business" There is a great deal of bustle in the Great Synagogue in Moscow. The impressive historic building with its distinctive dome is undergoing a face-lift ahead of the events that will be held in another 10 months, marking the centenary of its establishment. The rabbi of the synagogue is Adolf Shayevich. The conversation with him takes place in his modest office. Shayevich is not a Kremlin favorite; Lazar enjoys a far stronger status.
"What happened," he explains, "has nothing to with religion and everything to do with politics and business. The president invites him to receptions and does not invite me. I am not offended."
This is the place to note that Russian law does not recognize the concept of chief rabbi. "In fact," admits Prof. Mikhail Chlenov, one of Russia?s foremost Jewish intellectuals, "every organization can appoint itself a rabbi and grant him an imposing title." He adds, laughing, "You, too, could be a chief rabbi here." In other words, Rabbis Shayevich and Lazar, who both claim to be chief rabbi of Russia, or Rabbi Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, are appointees of Jewish organizations and not of the Russian government. Russia maintains a separation between religion and state that is enshrined in law.
There is no shortage of chief rabbis in Russia, nor of Jewish organizations. Chlenov, who teaches linguistics at the University of Moscow and is dean of the Maimonides Academy in the city, is not only a commentator - he is also an activist and heads a Jewish organization called the Va'ad (a Hebrew word meaning "committee"). That is not all: In 2003 he established the National-Cultural Autonomy organization and a year before that, he was one of the founders of the Kazakhstan-based Euro-Asian Jewish Congress together with the Jewish oligarch Alexander Mashkevich.
Shayevich is 68. He was born in the Soviet Union, worked as an engineer in Khabarovsk, in southeast Russia, and after studying for seven years at a Budapest yeshiva was appointed chief rabbi of Russia's Jews during the Soviet regime. Obviously, he would do the will of the regime. He held the title until 1998, when Lazar adopted the identical title. "They," Shayevich says, referring to Leviev, Abramovich and Lazar, "set up an organization that was aimed against Gusinsky. Because of that they received everything from the Russian government, including citizenship and the title of chief rabbi for Rabbi Lazar. All the doors were opened to them."
And what is your status? Shayevich: "I am no longer connected to the government and, thank God, the government does not bother us. We are free today to do as we wish." Now that you have a patron in the person of Gaydamak, is there a chance that your organization will get stronger?
"Yes. I very much hope that our situation will improve. Arcadi has been our president for the past half a year. He helps us and donates generously. That makes it possible for us to expand. We already have 80 communities in Russia. We send them rabbis, sacred articles and kosher food and help them renovate or build synagogues."
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