Russian President Intervenes On Behalf Of Jewish Students


by Zalman Nelson - Moscow, Russia

May 21, 2009

(lubavitch.com) In a meeting Monday between Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Jewish students were granted permission to postpone upcoming state exams conflictingly scheduled for the first day of the Shavuot holiday.

On most Jewish holidays, like the Sabbath, observant Jews do not write or travel. The students would have been unable to attend the exams without violating religious laws.

Principals in the Ohr Avner – Chabad school system, which educates more than 15,000 students across the FSU, received the test schedule from the Education Ministry two months ago and mobilized for action after realizing the conflict. Requests for a postponement, however, were denied by the ministry due to the test’s critical importance.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC) was alerted of the impasse and Chief Rabbi Lazar requested a meeting with Russia’s President Medvedev, seeking his intervention. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Lazar received an invitation to meet the president.

In his meeting at the President’s residence in Barvikha, outside of Moscow, Rabbi Lazar presented the scheduling conflict, the religious requirements of Jewish students and the urgent need for a postponement.

Hearing about Shavuout as the holiday that commemorates the revelation at Sinai, Medvedev’s interest was piqued. “He asked many questions before addressing the problem,” Rabbi Lazar told lubavitch.com.

“President Medvedev immediately sent a message to the Minister of Education to allow Ohr Avner students and all Jewish students in public schools to postpone the test a few days until after the holiday.”

The discussion, said Rabbi Lazar, turned into a warm conversation that touched on wide range of issues and concerns, among them the spiritual life of Russia’s citizens, the recent deportation of two Chabad rabbis, and challenges of the recession.

“The President showed that he had in-depth knowledge of challenges faced by believers, including our Jewish community, and he expressed the commitment of the state to solve them,” Lazar said.

The Chief Rabbi also seemed gratified that Medvedev demonstrated, “by his actions, the state's concern about the development of religious communities and his interest in maintaining a dialogue with them, and its commitment to solve problems in a positive way.”

Asked by the President how the Jewish community was handling the recession, Rabbi Lazar told him that when times are difficult, people often turn their focus to spiritual matters, and noted that the number of people  attending services and participating in programs had grown since the onset of the recession.

“I mentioned that during hard times in Russia, people become more aware of the importance of spiritual values, become more concerned about ethics that unite us, about family life and their children," said Rabbi Lazar.

Lazar discussed anti-Semitism in Russia with Medvedev, and said that while the President is aware of recent anti-semitic outbursts in the country, Russia’s problem is with anti-Semites, not anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism as an organized force exercising political power doesn’t exist in Russia.” He credited the President’s policies and efforts to root out anti-Semitism and extremism.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of ways to improve communication and increase cooperation going forward in order to help Jews and strengthen Judaism throughout Russia.

The FJC oversees the Ohr Avner – Chabad network which operates 54 kindergartens, 72 elementary day schools, 12 high schools and five universities, located in 65 cities across the former Soviet Union.

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