Moscow’s Chief Rabbi exiled in Israel amid 'pressure' to support Ukraine invasion

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt was reportedly approached by the Kremlin and the FSB and put under 'pressure' to support the invasion of Ukraine


Moscow’s Chief Rabbi fled Russia in early March, his daughter-in-law revealed on Tuesday, after being put under “pressure by authorities” to support the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt said that her parents-in-law, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt and his wife, Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt, fled first to Eastern Europe following the invasion, where they fundraised for refugees fleeing Russia’s war, and then they eventually arrived in Israel, where Rabbi Goldschmidt’s father was hospitalised at the time.

Although no longer in Russia, Goldschmidt, 58, feels he cannot speak out against the “special operation” in Ukraine due to security risks, and travels with three bodyguards for his own protection, Le Figaro reports.

In 1989 as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Goldschmidt trod the opposite path of many Jews fleeing the region and left his birthplace of Zurich for Moscow with the goal of rejuvenating Jewish life in post-Soviet Russia.

He became the Chief Rabbi of Moscow in 1993 and President of the Conference of European Rabbis in 2011, and he received Russian citizenship from then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, but 12 years later, things turned sour.

Le Figaro reports that Goldschmidt was approached by the Kremlin and the FSB (Russian security service) when the invasion of Ukraine began in late February, and was put under pressure to support what Russia was calling a “special operation” in Ukraine.

He refused to do so.

Instead, Goldschmidt reportedly ensured that his family was safe and fled Russia using the fact that his father was unwell in hospital in Jerusalem at the time to avoid the suspicions of the authorities.

His daughter-in-law said that the couple is “now in exile from the community they loved, built and raised their children in, over 33 years.”

Before departing Moscow, he chose his closest colleague David Youshouvaev to replace him in his role, who the Russian authorities have unsuccessfully (for now) tried to replace with a Kremlin loyalist, Le Figaro reports.

In contrast, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, has stayed in Moscow and has maintained a cautious neutrality. He did speak out in early March, releasing a statement online condemning the violence in Ukraine and making a public offer to act as a mediator between the two countries, but did not directly condemn the invasion or his friend, President Putin.

Lazar’s nickname is “Putin’s rabbi”, and has an unspoken agreement with the Russian president that the Jewish community will be protected in exchange for political support, Le Figaro claims.

Goldschmidt’s daughter-in-law said: “The pain and fear in our family the last few months is beyond words. The sounds of the Moscow Choral Synagogue ring in our ears…I’ll never forget our engagement there in ‘14, and taking our children there, Shavuos ‘18…

“Grateful our parents are safe; worried sick over many others...”

Goldschmidt revealed at the Conference of European Jews this week that most community members had fled Ukraine had fled due to the war, describing it as a “catastrophe”. 

He said: “Our colleagues who built up Jewish communities in Ukraine for the last 30 years gave their lives [to the project] and they left very comfortable places like the US and Israel.

“And from one day to the next, all their work building synagogues, building schools, building all of this, they had to leave it with a little suitcase.”

Russia has destroyed at least two Holocaust memorials since the start of the war. In early March, Russian forces bombed Babyn Yar - a memorial to one of the largest massacres of the Holocaust in their intensifying assault on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

At the end of March, the memorial at Drobitsky Yar on the outskirts of the northeast city of Kharkiv, where at 11,000 Jews were shot and buried in a mass grave in 1942, was hit by artillery.

Ukraine's President Zelensky, who is Jewish, has called Russia's invasion "pure Nazism", adding: “However long the war will be, all those from Putin, to those who pulled the trigger and financed them, will end up in jail.

“This will be a litmus test for the international order and rule of law. We will get justice.”

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