“The Jewish community in Russia as we knew it at the beginning of 2022 will never be the same,” one of the leaders of the Russian Jewish community recently told The Jerusalem Post. “It is so fragile, it’s literally crumbling apart.”
According to the report, this leader is literally afraid for his life, speaking to the Post reporter from a secret apartment in central Israel. Although there was no one else in the room, he continued his comments in a whisper: “In the past two months, Putin has closed access to all independent press outlets. He’s tried to turn Russia into North Korea.”
“All of the young professionals have left Russia, there’s a huge migration of hi-tech employees to other countries in enormous numbers. If you go to Dubai you will hear more Russian than in Russia.”
Another prominent member of the Russian Jewish community told the Post that about two-thirds of the members of her community have left or intend to leave Russia.
Speaking from an unnamed country in western Europe, she said: “Those in the community who are rich – at least 95% of them – have already left Russia in the past few years since the 2014 war. Among the young Jews, more than 80% have already left. There was an exodus of people in the hi-tech field. I’ve left Russia because many figures in our community suggested that it wasn’t safe for me to stay there any longer.”
She added that she left Russia because in the future she wants to be remembered as someone who was on the right side of history. “Our children and grandchildren will ask: ‘What did you do during the Russian-Ukrainian war? Secondly, there was pressure and there is pressure from the authorities for the leaders of all Jewish communities and institutions to speak out in favor of the war and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. We were not prepared to do that.”
Another leading figure in the Russian Jewish community said that the conditions in Putin’s Russia have been slowly deteriorating since 2014. “It’s not that all of a sudden Russia changed,” he said. “In 2014, Putin decided to rebuild an empire at the expense of relations with the whole world. Since Russia is isolated, 95% of Russian businessmen have already left.”
All the heads of Jewish Russian communities quoted in the report agree that Russia is reverting back to the days of the USSR. “It’s not a big deal to close the gates of the country,” one said. “There are no flights to the West and Europe anymore, so you just need to cancel a few flights and that’s it.”
Alex, a senior leader in Russia’s religious Jewish community, explained why he fled the country, even though he hadn’t planned to do so originally. “Members of our community told me it was dangerous for me to stay,” Alex said. “I didn’t want to leave because I have a huge responsibility toward my congregants. But I left after people who I trust told me I needed to leave.”
A member of the Jewish community in Moscow spoke about the difficult financial situation many Jews are now facing: “There are lots of Jewish families that are in a terrible financial situation. Lots of people from our community were representatives of foreign companies or banks. They woke up one morning and realized that they had nothing.”
According to a representative of a Russian Jewish tzedaka fund, the number of families needing assistance has jumped from about 800 before the war to at least 3,200 today.
One Jewish leader concluded by saying that regardless of the war in Ukraine, the Russian Jewish community will never be the same.
“I’ve invested more than 30 years of my life in our Jewish community and schools in Russia, but I can only see myself returning if there is a different president,” he said. “No matter what happens with this war, the Russian Jewish community won’t be the same community it was. It’s literally falling apart. Our community may partially survive, but it will be significantly smaller.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)