Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Policeman Tells Jewish Visitor to ‘Pray in the Toilet’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – A Russian policeman at the Sochi airport told a religious Jew who was waiting for a train to the city center that he could not pray in a public space but could do so in a toilet. Later, a second policeman said that the Jew might in fact pray in public but only for 20 minutes, according to Matvey Ganapolsky, a host at Ekho Moskvy.

            Ganapolsky’s report about day-to-day anti-Semitism in Russia which he took from Yeshaya Shavit’s blog and entitled “The Adventures of a Jew in Russia” appeared first on the host’s webpage, then on Ekho Moskvy’s portal and now has appeared on some Russian news sites, including Newsru.com (newsru.com/religy/29oct2013/shafit.html).

            Shavit, whom Ganapolsky describes as “a deeply religious Jew,” decided to pray.  That provoked the following exchange between him and a Sochi policeman:

            “What are you planning to do here?” the policeman asked. Shavit replied that he was planning to pray. “Why here?” “Why not?” the exchange continued.  “Go somewhere else,” the policeman said.  “I am not going anywhere. I am waiting for a train to Sochi and I want to pray.” “You can’t pray here, this is a public place. In a public place, you can’t pray.”

            “Why can’t I pray in a public place?” Shavit asked.  “Where is that written?” “Go to the church opposite” then, the policeman said “You can go there.”  But Shavit replied, “I can’t go there. I am a Jew. Jews must not go to church.”  Then where should Jews go? asked the policeman.  “To a synagogue.” But “here there is no synagoguge.”

            Nonetheless, the policeman said, “you can’t pray here. This is a public place.  Go to the toilet and pray there.”  Shavit responded that he had no intention of taking his religious things into the toilet and asked whether the policeman didn’t feel that he was “scoffing at religious things” by his comments.

            The policeman replied: “I don’t believe in God. He doesn’t exist. You can’t pray in a public place. I will not let you do so here.”  Shavit asked the policeman to identify himself, which he did, and then the policeman took Shavit’s passport. After a time, another policeman with a dog approached and told him that Shavit could pray for “20 minutes.”

            “What is this?” Shavit asked in his note to Ganapolsky. “A manifestation of anti-Semitism or a heightened level of security at the airport in connection with the arrival or departure of Putin or some other highly placed person” or just the actions of some policemen who see this as showing initiative?

            Shavit later added that when he was returning by air to New York, he experienced yet another manifestation of anti-Jewish attitudes among Russians. An Orthodox Russian wearing a large cross, Shavit said, called two rabbis “demons.”  But another Russian said that one should be “tolerant” toward them.

            In reporting these exchanges, Ganapolsky suggests that such treatment of Jews in Russia can hardly be considered “normal.” But what raises the stakes is that this occurred in Sochi, site of the Olympics in February 2014 and a place which Russian President Vladimir Putin has just declared will be welcoming to all (en.rsport.ru/olympics/20131028/697407864.html).

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