Berel Lazar, who has close ties with Putin, seen in audience at Kremlin event
Berel Lazar sits in audience during Crimea induction ceremony. (Jewish News One)
Yesterday, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, hosted a ceremony at the Kremlin, which formally began the process of incorporating Crimea into Russia and prompted Ukraine’s withdrawal from the region today. In news footage from the event, the tone of which was triumphant, Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, a 49-year-old Chabad Lubavitch emissary, clapped along with the rest of the crowd as Putin spoke.
His presence wasn’t unusual: Lazar is a highly public figure, and is known for having developed close ties with Putin in the years he has spent working in Russia. In the past two decades, Lazar has spearheaded a remarkable revival of Jewish life in a city, and a country, that had almost none left by the time the Soviet Union collapsed, more than two decades ago: Dozens of synagogues and community centers have opened, and there are thousands of children enrolled at Jewish schools and kindergartens. Not all of these facilities are under the umbrella of Chabad, but the vast majority are; under Lazar’s leadership, Chabad now has representatives in neary 50 cities across Russia, and runs dozens of schools that enroll thousands of young Jewish children. (more…)