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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 21, 2014 9 By Cnaan Liphshiz and Talia Lavin (JTA)--When even Russian policemen had to pass security checks to enter the Sochi Winter Olympics, Rabbi Berel Lazar was waved in without ever showing his ID. Lazar, a Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi of Russia, was in- vited to the opening ceremony of the games last month by President Vladimir Putin's office. But since the event was on Shabbat, Lazar initially de- clined the invitation, explain- ing he was prevented from carrying documents, among other religious restrictions. So Putin ordered his staff to prepare an alternative en- trance and security-free route just for the rabbi, according to one of Lazar's top associates, Rabbi Boruch Gorin. "It is unusual, but the se- curity detail acted like kosher supervisors so Rabbi Lazar could attend," Gorin said. To him, the Sochi anec- dote illustrates Putin's posi- tive attitude toward Russian Jewry--an attitude Gorin says is sincere, unprecedented in Russian history and hugely beneficial for Jewish life in the country. Others, however, see more cynical motives behind Pu- tin's embrace of Russian Jewry. "Putin has been facing international criticism for a long time now over human rights issues," said Roman Bronfman, a former Israeli Knesset member who was born in the Soviet Union. "He needs a shield, and that's the Jews. His warm relations with Russia's so-called official Jews are instrumental." In recent weeks, Putin has positioned himself as a de- fender of Jews as part of his ef- fort to discredit the revolution that ousted his ally, former Ukraine President Viktor Ya- nukovych. During a March 4 news conference, Putin called the anti-Yanukovych protest- ers "reactionary, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces," While right-wing Ukrai- nian factions--including some that have embraced anti-Semitic rhetoric in the : past--played a prominent role in the opposition movement, Ukrainian Jewish leaders have sharply disputed Putin's characterization and con- demned Russian incursions into Crimea. Some individual Jews, however, have told JTA that they agree with Putin's analysis and welcomed the intervention by Russia. Few would dispute that Pu- tin has been friendly to Jewish institutional life in Russia-- especially to organizations and leaders that belong to the Chabad Hasidic movement. Gorin, a Chabad rabbi and chairman of Moscow's $50 million Jewish ~useum and Tolerance Center, cred- its Putin personally for pro- viding state funding for the institution, which opened in 2012. Putin also donated a month's wages to the mu- seum. "Putin has facilitated the opening of synagogues and Jewish community centers across Russia, at the Jewish community's request. This has had a profound effect on Jewish life, especially outside Moscow," Corin said. "He instituted annual meetings with Jewish community lead- ers and attends community events. His friendshipwith the Jewish community has given it much prestige and set the tone for local leaders." Putin's relationship with the Jewish community is consistent with his larger strategy for governing Russia. His brand of Russian nation- alism extends beyond just ethnic Russians to include the country's many minorities. Putin has carefully cultivated relationships with Russia's many subgroups and regions as a means of projecting his government's authority. Mikhail Chlenov, secretary general of the Euro-Asian Jew- ish Congress, says Putin's pro- Jewish tendencies are part of the reason that anti-Semitic incidents are relatively rare in Russia. In 2013, the Russian Jewish Congress documented only 10 anti-Jewish attacks and acts of vandalism, com- pared to dozens in France. Under Putin, harsh laws have led to a crackdown on ultranationalist groups that once had flourished in Rus- sia. At the same time, anti- extremism legislation has been used as well to prosecute political protesters, includ- ing the punk rock collective Pussy Riotl Some Russian Jews recoil at Putin's authoritarian tenden- cies. Freedom of expression has been severely restricted and politically motivated pros- ecutions remain widespread under Putin, according to Amnesty International's 2013 report on Russia. "Putin may be good for Jews, but he's bad for Rus- sia," said Michael Edelstein, a lecturer at Moscow State Uni- versity and a journalist for the L'chaim Jewish newspaper. Putin traces his earliest connection to Judaism back to his early childhood in Leningrad, now St. Peters- burg, when he befriended a Jewish family that lived in his apartment block. In his 2000 autobiography, Putin wrote that the unnamed family loved him and that he used to seek its company. "They were observant Jews who did not work on Sat- urdays and the man would study the Bible and Talmud all day long," Putin wrote. "Once I even asked him what he was muttering. He ex- plained to me whatthis book was and I was immediately interested." is this " sues? It's Big It's Colorful It's The EWISH .9 Advertising Deadline: April 2, 2014 For Further Information Call 407-834-8787 Another influential Jewish figure for Putin was his wres- tling coach, Anatoly Rakhlin, who sparked the young Putin's interest in sports and got him off the rough streets of Lenin- grad, where Putin would get into fights while his parents worked. At Rakhlin's funeral last year, Putin, reportedly overcome by emotion, ditched his security detail and went on a short, solitary walk. Bronfman calls Putin's childhood accounts"a smoke- screen" and likens them to the Russian leader's friendly gestures toward Israel, which he last visited in 2012. Putin, who already led Russia to sign a visa waiver program with Israel in 2008, said during his visit to Israel that he "would not let a million Russians live under threat," referring sympathetically to the regional dangers facing Is- rael and its Russian-speaking immigrant population. But at the same time Russia has criticized European sanctions on Iran, a major Russian trad- ing partner, and negotiated the sale of the advanced S-300 air defense system to Syria. "It's all pragmatic with Pu- tin," Bronfman said. "He says he regards the million Russian speakers living in Israel as a bridge connecting Russia to Israel, but when it comes to Russian interests in Syria or Iran, this friendship counts for very little." In Israel, Putin received a guided tour of the Western Wall from Lazar, who joined Putin's entourage--vividly illustrating the president's close ties to the Russian branch of the Chabad move- ment. Zvi Gitelman, a professor of Judaic studies at the Univer- sity of Michigan who studies the relationship between ethnicity and politics in the former Soviet Union, said the relationship between Putin and the Chabad organization in Russia is one of mutual convenience. Shortly after taking of- rice, the Putin government clashed with several promi- nent Jewish business moguls, By Ann Funk For the past three weeks my partner Alan Finfer and I have been attending excellently presented, informational classes hosted by the Jewish Federation's Community Re- lations Committee. Barbara Weinreich, as a representative of the Federation, introduced the presenter, Dr. Terri Susan Fine, who teaches in the po- litical science department at UCF. The classes were open to the public, informal and often interactive. The three topics were: Class I: Jewish Women in American State Politics. Dr. Fine discussed a project funded by Brandeis Univer- sity where she conducted an in-depth study in a des- ignated time frame to make a comparison of certain attributions Jewish women in state legislatures offered. Findings included several representatives over that time Mark Neyman/GPO/FLASH90 Vladimir Putin with Israeli President Shimon Peres during Peres" official visit to Moscow in 2012. including Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, both of whom went into self-imposed exile. "When he went after these oligarchs, Putin sensed that this could be interpreted as anti:Semitism," Gitelman said. "He immediately, pub- licly, demonstratively and dra- matically embraced Chabad." Chabad, meanwhile, has expanded throughout Russia. "Chabad, with the help of Putin, is now the dominant religious expression of Juda- ism in a mostly nonreligious population," Gitelman said. Putin has not been shy about using his good relations with Chabad to his advantage. Last year, he moved a col- lection of books known as the Schneerson Library into Gorin's Jewish museum in an attempt to defuse a battle with the global Chabad movement. Chabad's New York-based leaders had demanded the library's return, which had belonged to one of its previ- ous grand rabbis, but Russia has refused to surrender it. The compromise was rejected by the Hasidic movement's headquarters but defended by its Russian branch. "Putin's suggestion came as a surprise to us, and not avery pleasant one," Gorin recalled. "We ve'ry much wanted to stay out of the dispute." But, he added, "when the president of Russia makes a suggestion, it is usually accepted." Other Jewish groups, how- ever, have had less cozy relations with the Putin government. In 2005, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, was suddenly denied entry into Russia for several weeks before he was allowed back into the country, where he has resided since 1989. No official explanation was given, but itwas rumored that his banning was part of a power struggle that saw Chabad-affiliated rabbis emerge on top. Goldschmidt declined to comment on his brief exile, saying"Google has the whole story." The preferential treatment of Chabad by Putin's govern- ment"is creating a monolithic Jewish institutional life and preventing grass-roots devel- opment, which is the real key for Jewish rejuvenation," said Michael Oshtrakh, a leader of the Jewish community of Yekaterinburg. had achieved higher levels of education. Class II: Comparison of the Declarations of Independence of the U.S. and Israel. Dr. Fine distributed copies of both countries' Declarations. It was discovered that no one in class ever had the opportunity to read the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel. Dr. Fine gave the his- tory of how each developed, and then had each member of the class selectand defend their reasons why each coun- try should be recognized as an independent nation. Class III: How elections are held comparing U.S. to Israel. There is no voter registration requirement in Israel--just proof of citizenship, and proof you have reached 18 years of age. Their legislature (the Knesset) presently has 120 members and 12 parties rep- resented. In Israel, you vote for the party and the party selects the representatives. In the U.S., members of Congress are voted for individually. Elections are held in even numbered years. Seats in Congress (all 435 of them) are up for election every 2 years. One third of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for election every 2 years. In Israel elections are held every 4 years unless the Knesset is dissolved and there is a need for a vote of confidence. Dr. Fine ended the last session with "let's do things that unite us not divide us." Whenever we see Dr. Fine is giving a lecture we always try to attend. The information she provides is enlightening. Her information is current, but also based on historical content.Whatwe have learned from these three classes are the differences of a democratic government and a parlia- mentary system. Dr. Fine's methods of presentation, we feel, are always worthwhile and enjoyable.