Europe’s foremost orthodox rabbi – a Russian – has said most Jewish Ukrainians have fled their homeland amid President Putin’s invasion.
Moscow’s Chief Rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the main grouping of Europe’s Orthodox rabbis, has this week become the first Russian senior religious leader to criticise the fallout from the “special military operation”.
The 58-year-old told The Times 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.
But the chief rabbi, who left Moscow shortly before the invasion to look after his ill father, 90, in Israel, has been advised by friends against returning to Russia for now.
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 40,000-400,000 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 United States 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 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.
Another 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.
President Zelensky, who is Jewish, said: “Don’t you see why this is happening? 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, he 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.”
The conference is supporting more than 1,200 members of the Tikva community who fled the Ukrainian port city of Odesa for Neptun in southeast Romania. It is also assisting at least another thousand Ukrainian Jewish refugees in Moldova and 1,500 in Poland.
Goldschmidt said the 1,500-strong Orthodox community in Vienna had taken in 1,300 displaced Jews from Ukraine.
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