Moscow’s Chief Rabbi flees ‘after pressure from Kremlin to support Ukraine war’

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Moscow’s Chief Rabbi flees ‘after pressure from Kremlin to support Ukraine war’

Pinchas Goldschmidt's daughter-in-law tweets revelation after his own implicit criticism of conflict, which he said has driven out most of Jews

Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt

Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt was pressured by the Kremlin to publicly support the invasion of Ukraine – but refused to do so, his daughter-in-law has revealed.

And now he has fled Russia amid fear for Jews in his homeland.

Journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, the wife of Manhattan’s Benjamin Goldschmidt and daughter-in-law to the Russian minister, revealed yesterday how and why the rabbi and his wife Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt escaped to Israel.

Goldschmidt senior had already this week, at the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in Munich, of which he is president, revealed most Jews had fled Ukraine because of the war.

But the New York Times and Vogue reporter said on Twitter: “Can finally share that my in-laws, Moscow Chief Rabbi @PinchasRabbi
& Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt, have been put under pressure by authorities to publicly support the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine — and refused.

“They flew to Hungary two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They are now in exile from the community they loved, built & raised their children in, over 33 years — though he was re-elected today by the МЕРО community.

“They first traveled to Eastern Europe, fundraising for refugees through @europerabbis, and then Jerusalem, where his father was hospitalised at the time.

“The pain & fear in our family the last few months is beyond words. The sounds of the Moscow Choral Synagogue ring in our ears…I’ll never forget our engagement there in ‘14, & taking our children there, Shavuos ‘18… Grateful our parents are safe; worried sick over many others…”

Rabbi Goldschmidt had said in Munich that most Jewish Ukrainians have now fled their homeland.

He thus became the first Russian senior religious leader to criticise the fallout from the “special military operation”.

The 58-year-old told The Times on Sunday he could not go further in publicly condemning the invasion because he had a responsibility to ensure the “survival” of the 500,000-strong Jewish community in Russia.

Goldschmidt has now been advised by friends against returning.

The invasion has devastated the Jewish community in Ukraine, after 33 years of rebuilding since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Most of the estimated 40,000 to 400,000 Jews in Ukraine, before the outbreak of war, have joined the exodus to other parts of Europe, Goldschmidt said.

Tens of thousands are believed to have left the country, sometimes en masse.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Goldschmidt said at a meeting of the Conference of European Rabbis in Munich.

“Our colleagues who built up Jewish communities in Ukraine for the last 30 years gave their lives [to the project] and they left very comfortable places like the US and Israel.

“And from one day to the next, all their work building synagogues, building schools, building all of this, they had to leave it with a little suitcase.”

Russian airstrikes and artillery have left the 19th century synagogue building in Mariupol in ruins. It had survived the Nazi occupation in the Second World War.

The Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine, was damaged by a Russian missile that landed nearby during the siege of the city. The building housing the local branch of student project Hillel is said to have been destroyed and a missile hit Kyiv’s television tower next to the Babyn Yar memorial, which commemorates tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews massacred by the SS in 1941.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, said: “This is why it is very important that millions of Jews around the world do not remain silent right now. Nazism is born in silence.”

Asked why he and his organisation would not follow the UN general assembly in condemning the invasion, Goldschmidt said: “There’s a very sizeable Jewish community in Russia and it is our responsibility to ensure the survival of the Jewish community in Russia.”

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