Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities Calls for Return of Synagogues Soviets Seized

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – Following the path the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s Muslim groups have already entered, Russia’s Jewish community is demanding that the Russian authorities restore to them synagogues that the Soviet state seized from them, a call that is already provoking a negative reaction by some Russians.

            Citing the Russian law on the restoration of religious property to its rightful owners, Aleksandr Boroda, the president of FEOR, says that his community “unqualifiedly supports” the provisions of that legislation and wants to see Russian officials, especially at the regional level, respond to its call “more actively” (apn-spb.ru/opinions/article25633.htm).

            At present, he continues, “historic synagogue buildings in Kaluga and Rybninsk” have been returned and “negotiations are taking place in a number of other cities.”  Unfortunately, he suggests, this is “a quite complicated and slow process,” despite the clear intention of the Russian law on this point.

            The return of synagogues to the Jewish community may be even more important than the return of churches to the Russian Orthodox or mosques to the Muslims, he suggests, because “before 1917, Jewish communities were subjected to various limitations and simply couldn’t physically ‘acquire’ significant property.”

            That has provoked an angry response by the Russian nationalist APN-St. Petersburg portal which declares that “Boroda doesn’t know the history of his own people. In 1917,” it says, in just the five largest cities of the Russian Empire on the territory of present-day Belarus, there were 231 synagogues. In Minsk alone, the 67,000 Jews could pray in 83 synagogues.”

            “The Jewish diaspora of present-day Russia,” the portal continues, “numbers fewer than 200,000, of whom more than 50,000 live in Moscow where there are five synagogues” open. “But in contrast to 1917,” APN-St. Petersburg says, “the overwhelming majority of them are non-believers, Christians or agnostics.”

            “For the rest,” the site says, “there are quite enough” to satisfy demand.  Clearly, the Jews of Russia are simply following the “infectious” demands of the Russian Orthodox Church for restitution even though the ROC has far more justified claims given how many more Orthodox Christians there are in the country.

            The APN-St. Petersburg report is likely to be the openly salvo of a new attack on any religious group other than the ROC which seeks restitution, but the fact that FEOR is seeking the return of Jewish property means that this segment of the war of monuments is likely to heat up still further in the coming months.

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