Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex personality and there are various complaints heard about him, such as his iron rule, his repression of political opposition and his support of Syria.
However, it is clear that Putin treats the Jewish community fairly and even positively and doesn’t condone anti-Semitism in a traditionally anti-Semitic country. Jewish communities throughout the country have seen an unprecedented renaissance of Jewish religious life under Putin, including the return of dozens of shuls and buildings that were confiscated from Jewish communities in the past, the establishment of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow with the encouragement of Putin, and more recently, the building of a Jewish youth center in the Far Eastern Russian city of Birobidzhan
Although conflicts arise between Russia and Israel, they don’t seem to be motivated by anti-Semitism. Even his expulsion of some Chabad rabbis from the country was explained by some as a broad crackdown on foreign clergy which included the Jewish rabbis as collateral damage.
Is there a secret to Putin’s generally positive relationship with Jews? A recent Arutz Sheva report quoted a publication called Dwash Shabbat, a type of “Parsha sheet” published by Tiveria Jews who are close to Mekubal HaRav Dov Kook, which sheds some light on Putin’s relationship with Jews. The report said that the information in Dwash Shabbat was told to them by Russian Chief Rabbi, Rav Berel Lazar.
Apparently, Putin grew up in a very poor family to the point that he didn’t have enough food to eat when he was a child. Although many neighbors in their building were aware of the lack of food in the Putin household, the only ones who helped young Putin was a frum Jewish family, who provided food for him and also invited him to their Shabbos and Yom Tov seudos. The Jewish family also bought clothing for him and other necessities he was lacking.
Also, in 2018, it was reported that Putin inherited an apartment in downtown Tel Aviv. It turned out that Putin had brought an apartment for his former high school teacher Mina Yuditskaya Berliner who had made aliyah in 1973. When Putin visited Israel in 2005, she met with him and he stayed in touch with her afterward and shortly later bought her an apartment. When she died in 2018 at age 96, Berliner left the apartment to Putin via the Russian Embassy.
It seems apparent that Putin has fond memories of his relationship with Jews from his growing-up years in St. Petersburg.