Putin’s Jews

Mina Yuditskaya Berliner, a retired teacher of German, could be forgiven for feeling surprised when one of her former students invited her for tea after almost half a century. Berliner, now 94, hadn’t seen him since she made aliyah to Israel from the USSR in 1973. But in 2005, the former student came to Israel to visit—an official visit, no less, the first ever made by a Soviet or Russian leader.

Vladimir Putin had progressed from a 15-year-old schoolboy who played hooky to go to wrestling practice to become president of his country. But he had not forgotten his Jewish teacher from High School #281 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). During the visit, Berliner, a widow, mentioned that she lived in a run-down apartment in Tel Aviv’s Florentine district.  By the time Putin departed Israel, she was in possession of a new apartment in the heart of pricey downtown Tel Aviv, courtesy of her former student.

I heard this story often when I visited Moscow this fall. It was one of many anecdotes people told me to illustrate the Russian president’s benevolence toward individual Jews and toward the Jewish community as a whole during his first term as prime minister (1999 to 2000), two consecutive terms as president (2000 to 2008), a second term as prime minister (2008 to 2012) and his current term as president (2012 to 2018). Other anecdotes featured Putin weeping at last year’s funeral of his Jewish wrestling coach, Anatoly Rakhlin, whom he has called a father figure, and his affection for the family of poor religious Jews who lived in his Leningrad apartment block and took care of him in the humble years of his youth. In his 2000 autobiography, First Person, the Russian leader mentions this family, describing them as “observant Jews who did not work on Saturdays and the man would study the Bible and Talmud all day long. Once I even asked him what he was muttering. He explained to me what this book was and I was immediately interested.”

And of course, Muscovites reminded me repeatedly of Putin’s lifelong Jewish friends, more than a few of them now billionaire “oligarchs.” Arkadi and Boris Rotenberg, brothers worth about $2 billion each, were Putin’s judo sparring partners in their youth, when all three were streetwise toughs training under Coach Rakhlin. (The brothers made their fortunes by sticking close to their judo buddy: construction connected to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics alone gave them 20 contracts worth $5.5 billion.)

I was also regaled with tales of Putin‘s Jewish circle today, which encompasses prominent community leaders such as Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar, who is commonly referred to as “Putin’s rabbi.” The long list also includes oligarch Moshe Kantor (personal net worth $2.3 billion), whose Acron Group is a world leader in fertilizers, and diamond mogul Lev Leviev (personal net worth $1.5 billion). Both hold powerful positions in the international Jewish community. Kantor has twice been reelected president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC), an umbrella organization of European Jewry, and Leviev is chairman of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of the Confederation of Independent States (CIS)—a Russia-dominated loose conglomeration of Jewish communities in most of the former Soviet republics. Oil and aluminum czar Roman Abramovich (worth $9.1 billion and known for his ownership of the Chelsea soccer team and a 533-foot “superyacht”) along with industrial tycoon Victor Vekselberg (worth $13.6 billion) are trusted confidants. Abramovich has served as governor of Chukotka, a province in the Russian Far East, and is very active in Jewish organizations. Vekselberg collects Fabergé eggs, the fabulous tsarist-era Russian heirlooms worth millions each and scattered around the world since the Russian Revolution. His attempts to return them to their homeland have endeared him to Putin.

In fact, with the partial exception of his immediate predecessor, the hapless Boris Yeltsin, Putin is the only leader in modern Russian history who seems to have no apparent problem with Jews being Jews and Russians simultaneously. While Yeltsin publicly condemned anti-Semitism, he also supported known anti-Semites such as Boris Mironov, his press minister. And even though the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, made the historic decision to allow Jews to emigrate, ending decades of oppression, he refused to speak out against anti-Semitism and allowed only very limited expressions of Jewish identity.

Gorbachev’s policies were, in turn, a huge improvement over the tyranny of his Soviet predecessors. Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, denounced anti-Semitism, but he just as strongly opposed Zionism, seeing both as expressions of politically reactionary bourgeois nationalism. Before him, the tsars had uniformly oppressed the Jews, whom they inherited in large numbers after the Russian empire annexed a vast swath of Poland in the 18th century. Earlier, an edict of Ivan the Terrible had in the 16th century banned Jews from entering Muscovy.

Given all that baggage, a Russian president who is friendly to Jews—even a fierce Russian nationalist and authoritarian—is an extremely welcome development. “Putin himself is visibly not anti-Semitic,” says Anton Nossik, an Internet start-up pioneer who returned to Russia from Israel in 1997. “Not only has he surrounded himself with Jews, but he donated a month of his presidential salary to the Jewish Museum in Moscow, and his name is prominently marked on the list of funders on the Museum wall. This is as clear a signal of official policy as can be.” However, Nossik, who owns a leading Russian online media company and runs a blog critical of the government, adds: “But if someone is Jewish and gets in Putin’s way, he will be crushed without second thoughts.” Nossik is one of the few Jews living in Russia I spoke with who was willing to have his name published, a striking change from early post-Soviet years, when pundits tripped over each other to report the latest insider political comment and Kremlin gossip.

But Masha Gessen, author of the 2013 biography, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, vehemently disagrees with the notion that Putin’s much-lauded loyalty to Jews means that the Russian president is completely impervious to anti-Semitism. “Putin has all the Soviet anti-Semitic reflexes,” she says. Gessen left Russia in 2013 because of fears that Russian authorities might, under a new law, take away her children because she is openly gay. “He recognizes Jews by their noses. When we met, he stressed my education—a sure Soviet-era identifier of Jewishness. In the classic way, he is fond of ‘his own’ Jews: the Rotenberg brothers, Rakhlin. Yet neither his sympathies nor his reflexes limit his choice of policies.”

Putin’s meteoric rise from poverty to the apex of Russian power has been chronicled repeatedly. Child of a factory worker and a navy conscript, he grew up in one of Leningrad’s toughest neighborhoods. He joined the KGB in 1975, but Nossik says he did not absorb the anti-Semitic elements of the security agency’s culture. “KGB repression was directed at Jewish activities, religion and learning, which were not sanctioned by the state, but not at Jews just for being Jews,” he says. “A KGB department was in charge of controlling and limiting the employment of Jews in Soviet institutions. But Putin did not work there; he was in foreign intelligence, which itself was markedly Jewish.”

When the USSR began to crumble in 1989, Putin was a mid-level agent stationed in East Germany. He returned home and threw himself into the maelstrom of post-Soviet Russian politics in St. Petersburg, and later in Moscow. Over the next decade, he held various positions, among them director of the FSB (the renamed KGB) and leader of various agencies that oversaw the transfer of Soviet assets to the new Russian state. In 2000, he was handpicked by Yeltsin to succeed him as president. Alexy Levinson, a sociologist with the Levada Center in Moscow, believes that it was the post-collapse period, not his KGB years, that ultimately defined Putin’s official attitude toward Jews. “At that time, not only was anti-Semitism unacceptable, but even identifying Jews as Jews was,” he says. “And Putin stressed his close personal relationship to Jews, such as his judo trainer, though he was under no obligation to do so.”

Unlike Masha Gessen, Nossik believes that Putin is genuinely immune to anti-Semitic stereotypes. “Boris Nemtsov once told me the following story,” says Nossik, referring to the former deputy prime minister under Yeltsin who went on to become a vocal opponent of Putin and was gunned down last February outside the Kremlin. During Putin’s first state visit in 2007 to Belarus, he was shocked by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka’s anti-Semitic comments. Upon his return to Moscow, Putin went to see Nemtsov and said: “Can you imagine the idiot? He kept telling me my government is full of Jews, and that I should get rid of them! He even said you are Jewish, and that I should get rid of you, too.” Nemtsov told Nossik that this was the first time Putin had ever mentioned Jews to him in their many years of working together.

Nemtsov’s murder, one of a string of assassinations of Putin’s critics and opponents, remains unsolved. Some suspect Putin, but many observers believe Nemtsov was not nearly a big enough menace to merit a bullet from the Kremlin boss. Yet Jewish or not, people with the clout to be a threat have learned the hard way the price of opposing Putin.

Boris Berezovsky was the éminence grise at Boris Yeltsin’s presidential court and the person who suggested to Yeltsin that he choose Putin as his successor.  But Berezovsky, who owned Russia’s most-watched television channel, ran afoul of the new president with his coverage of Putin’s mishandling of the accidental sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2000, which killed all 118 on board. It was his ORT TV that aired the new president’s belated meeting with the victims’ families, in which he appeared insensitive to their pain. Putin did not take kindly to this, and soon after, in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, said: “Generally, I don’t think that the state and the oligarchs are irreconcilable enemies. Rather, I think that the state is holding a big club in its hands, which it will use only once, to deliver a crushing blow on the head. We haven’t yet resorted to that club. We just picked it up—and that was enough to attract public attention. But if we get really angry, we will not hesitate to use it.”

Berezovsky, who was abroad at the time, decided not to return and face the club. He became a bitter foe of his ex-protégé, funding an ultimately futile campaign to remove him from power. By the time of his death in 2013, ruled a suicide, he was a defeated man. After his passing, Putin revealed he had received two letters from the oligarch, begging for forgiveness and for permission to return. Putin did agree to allow his adversary to be buried in Russia—though Berezovsky was ultimately laid to rest in the United Kingdom.

Perhaps the best-known deposed Jewish oligarch is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of Yukos Oil, who was worth an estimated $15 billion in 2004. When he fell into disfavor, he refused to flee or seek forgiveness, ultimately spending eight years in jail for opposing the Russian president. He is now in exile outside Zurich, with only a fraction of his fortune left. His deputy at Yukos, Leonid Nevzlin, was estimated to be worth $2 billion when he left Russia for Israel in 2003.

Then there was media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky. The once-powerful oligarch (worth $1 billion-plus in 2000), owner of the then-independent NTV channel, was the first Jewish oligarch to experience President Putin’s wrath. Putin was displeased with NTV’s coverage of Russia’s war with Chechnya, the breakaway Muslim republic in the Caucasus that won its autonomy in a war in the mid-1990s.  This rupture had major ramifications within the Russian Jewish community because Gusinsky was the founder of the Russian Jewish Congress (REK), a non-Orthodox umbrella organization established in 1996 to bring together Jewish groups in Russia and to promote Jewish culture, education and welfare.

Putin wanted a Jewish organization that was loyal to him and did a masterful end-run around Gusinsky, who, according to a Jewish insider who did not want to be named, had “set up the Russian Jewish Congress for his own protection, to be able to claim anti-Semitism if he was attacked by the authorities.” In order to deprive him of this protection, the insider says, Putin set up an alternative Kremlin-affiliated Jewish structure called the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities. “This worked,” he says.  In quick succession in 1999, Putin’s buddy Leviev established the new organization, which was chaired by Putin pal Abramovich. Gusinsky was arrested in 2000, stripped of most of his assets and forced into exile in the United Kingdom, where he now lives quietly.

Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar, an American citizen and a native of Milan, Italy with no political ambitions, was quickly granted Russian citizenship and appointed chief rabbi of the new federation. “It seems to me that Putin made pragmatic calculations,” says Zvi Gitelman, a University of Michigan professor of political science and Jewish studies and a leading observer of Jewish life in Russia. “When he purged the oligarchs, it turned out that so many were Jewish that he exposed himself to being suspected of anti-Semitism, like some of his predecessors. Therefore, he found the perfect cover or fig leaf for his actions: Embrace the most ‘visibly Jewish’ Jews, those with beards, side-curls and a long tradition of cooperating with whoever was in power, and make them the ‘court Jews.’”

Berel Lazar, who declined to be interviewed for this story, first visited Moscow as a rabbinical student in 1987. Himself a child of Chabad emissaries—known as shlichim—he returned to the USSR in 1990 as one of 15 Chabad shlichim after receiving his rabbinical certification. At that time, hundreds of thousands of Jews were moving in the other direction in search of the safety and prosperity of Israel and the West. The liberalization that made their emigration possible also made possible the re-establishment of Jewish communal life, including the arrival of many foreign Jews. They came to fill the chasm left by three generations of forced Soviet assimilation and official atheism, but most found the task too hard. Lazar, who became rabbi of the synagogue in the Marina Roscha neighborhood in northern Moscow, was one of those who stayed and set to work, bringing Judaism—specifically the Chabad brand—to Russia.

It is not known exactly when Putin and Lazar first met, but Putin, who is said to be impressed by Lazar’s strict religious observance, has showered Lazar with his appreciation. First and foremost among these privileges was his blessing of Lazar as chief rabbi of the Federation. This was not as simple as it may sound, since Gusinsky’s Russian Jewish Congress already had a chief rabbi—the Siberian-born Adolf Shayevich, the spiritual leader of the Russian capital’s prestigious Moscow Choral Synagogue. Shayevich refused to step down and has alleged that Leviev offered him $240,000 to resign. To this day, there are two chief rabbis of Russia and a deep enmity between the two men. Earlier this year, Shayevich called Lazar “an agent of the Kremlin” on Russian TV. 

But Putin has found plenty of ways to express his preference for Lazar. He invited Lazar, not Shayevich, to his first State of the Nation speech in June 2000; the following year, he removed Shayevich from the government’s religious affairs council and appointed Lazar in his place. Lazar reciprocated by assuring the public that Putin’s actions against the likes of Gusinsky and Berezovsky had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and that Russia at large was free of that scourge. In the face of growing Russian anti-Semitism in the middle of the first decade of the century, Lazar has toned down the latter point. He condemned a 2005 open letter signed by 500 nationalists, including members of the Russian Parliament, that called on Putin to ban all Jewish organizations. He also spoke out against violent attacks on Jews, including one on a Chabad rabbi in Moscow.

Lazar has consistently followed Putin’s lead. “Challenging the government is not the Jewish way,” Lazar has said. As a result of the Putin-Lazar bond, Chabad has become the dominant Jewish force in Russia, with synagogues, schools, festivals, extensive programming and representatives in nearly 50 cities across the country. It is reported to have a $60 million annual budget, much of it supplied by Putin’s Jewish allies, eclipsing all other Jewish denominations. In 2012, Lazar received what can only be considered the jewel in the crown: Putin gave him supervision of Moscow’s $50 million Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, which was largely funded by  Jewish oligarchs Abramovich and Vekselberg. The Lazar-Putin relationship is so tight that during the 2014 Olympics, Putin gave the 50-year-old rabbi special dispensation to enter the stadium on Shabbat without passing through the electronic gate. Again, Lazar returned the favor: A month later, he attended the victory speech Putin gave at the Kremlin after the occupation of Crimea. He was the only Jewish leader present.

Even the secularly oriented Russian Jewish Congress, which has an annual budget of $12 million and 37 local chapters, rarely strays far from Kremlin policy. Investor Mikhail Fridman (net worth $15.6 billion), founder of Alfa Group—one of Russia’s largest privately held investment groups—and another of Putin’s Jewish oligarchs, sits on its board. The group is particularly proud of its flagship Memorial Synagogue, erected in 1998 in a huge park on Moscow’s Poklonnaya Gora, which is dedicated to the Soviet victory in World War II and to those who perished in it. The park is a reminder of the breakup of the Soviet Union into independent nations, an event that remains a gaping hole in the Russian psyche, especially Putin’s. The synagogue’s presence in Poklonnaya Gora is both a testament to the Jewish contribution to the war and an expression of allegiance to the Russian state. “Of course we support the political authorities that exist,” Russian Jewish Congress president Yuri Kanner tells me. “This is halacha.” He adds: “The most important thing is that the authorities do not hinder our efforts to rebuild Jewish life.”

Author Masha Gessen says that with respect to religion—all religions—Putin is simply continuing the policies adopted under Stalin. “Religion is to be a subordinate part of the state,” she says. “Conflict, if there is any, is between independent clergy and their religious institution, but not between that institution and the state. And in the case of the war of the rabbis, from Putin’s perspective, both Shayevich and Lazar are subordinate to the state. Their personal rivalry might be intense, but it’s politically insignificant.”

The price of Putin’s favor can be high, and the president’s strong feelings about the Chabad library and archives of Rabbi Yossef Yitzhak Schneerson, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, have placed Lazar in an uncomfortable position vis-à-vis the international Chabad movement. The library is a contentious subject within the Hasidic sect, which fled Russia in the years following the 1917 Revolution and eventually established a new spiritual capital at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn under the auspices of the sixth rebbe’s son-in-law, the seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The story begins in 1927, when Yossef Yitzhak Schneerson was deported from the Soviet Union to Latvia and forced to leave behind his 12,000-volume library. A separate collection of some 25,000 Chabad documents was seized in Latvia during World War II by the German army and later fell into the hands of the victorious Soviet Army. Ever since then, Chabad has been trying to reclaim these historical troves and move them to Brooklyn. A Soviet court initially recognized its claims in 1991 just before the Soviet Union’s demise rendered this decision moot. Having exhausted all recourse in Russia, Chabad turned to the U.S. legal system in 2004, suing Russia and winning in 2010. But Moscow considered the suit “absolutely unlawful and provocative” and refused to abide by its ruling. Moscow even forbade national museums to lend works of art to American institutions out of concern they might be seized. 

Putin has steadfastly refused Chabad’s efforts—illegally, says a U.S. court, which in September fined the Russian Federation $43.7 million for ignoring the 2010 federal court order to return the collection of Jewish religious texts to Chabad. Then, in January 2013, the foreign ministry of Russia issued a statement saying that it considers the collections “a national treasure of the Russian people.”

A year later, Putin had the collection moved to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow. “He wanted to solve a problem,” Lazar has said, “though it may have caused a problem for me.” He added: “The president didn’t ask us, he just told us [to accept the books]. Saying no to the Russian president, in general, is not something done in Russia.”

In the museum, the library is housed behind a huge photographic panel depicting the killing fields of Babi Yar and next to a T-34 tank, designed by Jewish engineer Isaac Zaltsman, which had been crucial to the Soviet victory. The implication is that the Russian state is staking a claim to the moral heritage of the victory over the murderers of the Jews and therefore to the material heritage the murdered left behind—a claim that has the implicit endorsement of Lazar.

There is an additional upside for Lazar’s tacit support of Putin’s handling of the library, says the Jewish insider I spoke with. “Praise for Putin in return for his support for Jewish causes is a trade-off that has worked handsomely for Lazar,” he says. “What he has here is his own 770 [a reference to Chabad headquarters]. In the situation in which the Rebbe [Menachem Schneerson] has no heir apparent, this is no small achievement. Now that the Rebbe is dead, Lazar can be a power player. The Rebbe’s father-in-law’s library is a fair price to pay for that.”

Zvi Gitelman elaborates. “Without the Rebbe, Chabadniks have no ‘general party line.’ Which means no one can rule with authority over where the library should be. And this means, in turn, that the man anointed by Putin might emerge as a possible leader—with the library strengthening his claim to the mantle. This, however, is more of a concern to Chabad, and to the Orthodox world in general, than to Russian Jews themselves, as they are overwhelmingly secular.”

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Nowhere is the symbiotic relationship between Putin and his Jews more evident than in the events surrounding the annexation of the Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been part of Ukraine since 1954. The rocky relationship between Russia and Ukraine developed into a true crisis in March of 2014 when the Ukrainian people ousted pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych and Putin shocked the world with his brazen takeover, threatening the region’s stability and leading to a wider war in eastern Ukraine.

In July, the Russian Jewish community leapt into action, organizing an international press tour via chartered plane from Moscow to draw attention to alleged anti-Semitism in Ukraine, thus casting Putin in the role of protector of the Jews. The group descended on Sevastopol in Crimea to attend a Holocaust commemoration dedicated to the memory of Jews and other Crimeans killed in early July 1942 after the city fell in a siege. Lazar took center stage, and photographs captured him putting tefillin on 102-year-old David Barulya, a World War II veteran and Crimean Holocaust survivor. Putin spoke at the event, thanking the rabbis for their efforts to combat fascism.

The word fascism is a key tool in the Russian battle against Ukraine today. Ukraine has a long history of anti-Semitism, culminating in the country’s slaughter of Jews during the Nazi occupation. Putin himself maintains that the Ukrainian government is heir to anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi nationalists. The most prominent of these was World War II leader Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian partisan whom many consider responsible for the mass murder of Jewish partisans loyal to him. To Russians, who perceive their own history as less anti-Semitic than Ukraine’s, Bandera represents Ukrainian anti-Semitism. This belief is reinforced by Russian propaganda. The oxymoron “Zhido-Banderovtsy” or “Jew-Banderites,” a clear allusion to the anti-Semitic slur of “Jew-Communists,” gets a lot of mileage in Russia these days.

Although he rarely mentioned anti-Semitism in Ukraine before the Crimea takeover, Putin now regularly talks about anti-Semites and anti-minority activists in Ukraine as a justification for Russian involvement in the neighboring nation. Not surprisingly, Ukrainian Jews largely support their government and condemn Russian aggression. This has caused a nasty split between Russian and Ukrainian Jews, who once considered themselves one community. Yevgeny Satanowski, a former Russian Jewish Congress president, said in an interview with Moscow’s Govorit Moskva radio station this March that he would gladly hang two of his Ukrainian Jewish colleagues: Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch and former provincial governor in Ukraine under the current president and Josef Zissels, a dissident and prisoner of the Gulag under the Soviets and the leader of Ukrainian Jewry.

“Not all Ukrainian Jews enthusiastically support their government, though of course most do,” says Zissels. “In Russia the situation is also not unequivocal. While some people in the community leadership support Putin whatever he does, the majority remain silent. I call this the Stockholm syndrome: They have become hostages of the authoritarian system in Russia and cannot speak out. The difference between our two communities today is the same as the difference between our two countries. Ukraine is a democracy, Russia is not.”

Throughout the Crimea crisis and the war in eastern Ukraine, Berel Lazar has repeatedly endorsed Putin’s policies, both domestic and foreign. “I have no personal opinion about Rabbi Berel Lazar and his political choices,” says Levinson, the sociologist. “But those who, even if they are critical of him, end up saying that what he does is good, are similar to those who say the same thing about Putin. And yes, Russian Jews support Putin, but this is because they are a full part of Russian society, which supports him. There is nothing specifically Jewish about it.”

All the wars and splits notwithstanding, it is evident that—as both Putin’s supporters and detractors informed me—it has never been easier or safer to be Jewish in Russia than under his rule. In Moscow’s Marina Roshcha neighborhood, young Orthodox families throng to the kosher gourmet store, which recently opened conveniently near the small local synagogue and almost next door to the huge Chabad complex made up of a school, JCC and Jewish museum.

Though rapidly becoming something of a local Upper West Side, Marina Roshcha is only one of the capital’s 21 Jewish communities and synagogues listed in the latest issue of Moscow-Jerusalem, a free Jewish monthly. In September of this year, its glossy cover showed a pensive bearded gentleman with kippah and tzitzit, the director of a Jewish center, seated next to a red Soviet-style banner, the kind that used to proclaim the glory of the Communist Party. In the same white lettering, the banner says: “Glory to G-d!”

Glory indeed. Between glittering new synagogues and young Jews flocking services, images of Putin in a kippah attending Jewish events on state TV and the success stories of Jewish oligarchs, there is an unmistakable air of achievement among Russian Jewry today. And it is not just Chabad. Mikhail Simanovsky, who is in his late 20s, runs the Moscow Hillel from a small office in the back of a cluttered courtyard in the capital’s downtown. Hillel, he says, is thriving. Like other Jewish institutions, it suffered as a result of the crash of 2008, when funding became scarce and 11 of Russia’s 15 Hillel chapters had to close down. But just a few days before we met, four new centers opened. In Moscow, an average of 70 people come to Erev Shabbat dinner at the Hillel, but the first one this year, after the college summer break, attracted 120.

Simanovsky says the outlook for Jews is bright. “True, there is some social anti-Semitism, but there is also a growing opposite trend—Jewish is cool. People tell us we are lucky to be Jewish. This Moscow Day, we had a Hillel stand among the stands of many different organizations, and only one person of the hundreds that came to see it was unpleasant—and she was an old, obviously deranged woman.”

Gitelman has a different view of these developments. “Jewish life may be ‘booming,’ certainly in contrast to the Soviet period,” he says, “but, in my view, religious life is not. There is no ‘Jewish community’ in Russia,” he says, citing the extensive research he did for his 2012 book, Jewish Identities in Post-Communist Russia and Ukraine: An Uncertain Ethnicity. “No one speaks for all Jews, or even a majority. Chabad’s monopoly on religious institutions outside Moscow means that, on one hand, the vast majority of Jews do not associate themselves with the movement, and, on the other, the opportunities for Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism to establish themselves are limited. But since Russians cannot accept Judaism in any form, how can they express Jewishness?”

Anti-Semitism remains part of the cultural repertoire but generally doesn’t stir up much interest, says Levinson, who is part of an ongoing Russian Jewish Congress-commissioned study of contemporary Russian anti-Semitism. “The level of negative feelings about Jews is low, lower, for example, than about people from Central Asia,” he says. But there is plenty to contradict this assessment: anti-Semitic literature, for instance, is widely available. In a typical example, the 2014 Blue Star Against Red Star: How the Zionists Became the Gravediggers of Communism, author Vladimir Bolshakov credits Zionism, under turncoat Golda Meir, with ultimately destroying the Soviet Union. State TV warned last year that Jews are behind the Ukrainian revolution and are “preparing a second Holocaust with their own hands, just as they did the first one.”

Other disturbing sentiments survive in the Russian collective psyche. “Some focus groups showed a deep emotion, now latent, but which could be activated someday,” says Levinson. “It was connected with the image of Jews ‘always looking for a better life for themselves.’ They now like it in Russia, but if the situation changes for the worse, they will leave, they will switch loyalties, while we, true Russians, will stay regardless.” This in part is a reaction to the post-1989 Jewish exodus. Levinson says this latent emotion can easily morph into  the “incurable” Jewish traitor stereotype, along the lines of the common phrase “Zhydy prodayut Rassiyu [the Jews are betraying Russia].” Levinson adds another twist. “Jews are seen in general as liberals, and liberals as Jewish. Of course, for those who oppose the liberals, Jews are seen as zapadniki [pro-Western], fifth columnists, traitors.”

Nossik says that, in fact, many Russian Jews are giving up on their country. “Russian Jews are worried about a possible worsening of the political climate and are leaving in droves,” he says. Gessen agrees. “Russian Jews are tripping over one another to get Israeli passports,” she says. Among the Jews who have decided to leave is Veronica, a middle-aged petite woman who, with her non-Jewish husband, Andrei, is moving to Warsaw. (After much debate, they decided they were not comfortable with having their last names published.) Around the kitchen table of their recently completed dacha in the forest near Moscow, which they will be leaving behind, they explained their reasons.

They have both spent most of their professional lives in media and international organizations. Even after Andrei was briefly arrested for participating in a work-related protest, they resisted leaving. “It was simply getting too dangerous and too difficult,” says Veronica. “But we still hoped the overall situation would improve.” The last straw came when Veronica’s organization shut the doors of its Moscow office this year. The decision stemmed from a new law that requires organizations that receive funding from abroad and engage in political activities to register as “foreign agents.” In Russian, that term carries the connotation of treason and evokes memories of the Communist period when “traitors” could be put to death or jailed for many years, their families discriminated against and ostracized. And since the law defines “influencing public opinion” as a political activity, anyone could fall under its jurisdiction. Rather than stigmatize its own activists by asking them to register, Veronica’s organization ceased operations.

There are other reasons, too. “We were increasingly concerned by political changes made over the past 20 years, and totally devastated by the invasion of Ukraine,” says Veronica, who was also shaken by the death of Boris Nemtsov. Is she overreacting, given the good times many Russian Jews are experiencing? “Many Jews do not support Putin,” she protests. “Especially those who are assimilated, less religious, less involved with the community. Opposition demonstrations were full of Jewish faces; Berel Lazar is not the entire Jewish people!”

I also spoke with Veronica’s mother, Olga, who is in her 60s and is active in the secular Jewish community. She has a better opinion of the Chabad chief rabbi. “Rabbi Lazar praises Putin because he has Jewish smarts,” she says. “He has found a compromise: to hide his own emotions in order to further Jewish interests. You have to be very careful if you want to do business with Putin. And people are still genetically afraid. If you want to survive here, you need to learn mimicry. Just like in the Soviet times.”

A pivotal question is what will follow in the wake of the 63-year-old Putin’s reign. “There are two possible scenarios,” says Nossik. “There is the gray scenario of continuation or the brown scenario of nationalism. In the second case, anti-Semitic rhetoric might be used, but not necessarily followed by action. Even in the gray scenario the authorities might go down this road—but in either case, the social base is simply not there for an anti-Semitic regime.” Others I speak with do not share Nossik’s relative optimism. “The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government, understand the rules of the game and be aware of the limitations,” warned Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Chabad-controlled Federation, at the Jewish education conference Limmud in Moscow in April of this year. He and others believe that the only alternative to Putin is an explicitly nationalist regime, which will result in violence against the Jews.

The Russian leader’s regime seems stable today and has impressed both the Russian public and international observers with its stunning political turnabouts, from the cowing of the oligarchs to the wars in Ukraine and now Syria. Yet there could be new, unexpected turns. The Russian economy is feeling the double impact of the sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine war and the fall of oil prices, and incomes are down. The soldiers returning in caskets from Ukraine (even though, officially, they were never there in the first place) and now from Syria do not improve matters. This is a country intimidated, but not silenced—and with still-fresh memories of the massive anti-regime protests of just a few years ago. If Putin cannot give the people prosperity and victory, or at least one of the two, he still may have to give them something.

In Russia, traditionally, the leaders would, under such circumstances, give the people the Jews. And if not, the people would themselves hold the Jews responsible and accuse the regime of covering for them. Putin might truly not be anti-Semitic. But Russia is not a dictatorship the way it was in Soviet times. The will of one man does not decide all. Nor would his will be sufficient to stem a popular revolt.

“We may yet live to regret the good times under Putin,” says Olga, as her daughter prepares to leave the country. She is staying in Russia. She has lived longer than Olga and seen worse. But she does not, she tells me, expect to see better.

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Fewer marriages and fewer children means fewer Jews doing Jewish

(JTA) — On Jan. 16, 1949, Toby Fassman married Max Cohen (Steven M. Cohen’s parents, now both of blessed memory). At 24, Toby was among the last of her circle of friends in Brooklyn to marry, and several jokingly remarked that Max had rescued her from lifelong singlehood.

Today, if a 24-year-old Jewish woman were heading for the huppah, most would presume that she’s either Orthodox or reckless. Indeed, of 25- to 54-year-old American Jews who are not haredi, fully half are unmarried. While marriage rates peak around age 40 at 71 percent, they drop again to just 57 percent among those 10 years older. Of those 45-54, 13 percent have never been married and another 21 percent are divorced or separated.

These patterns of marriage — and non-marriage — are just a few of the startling findings we reveal in a new report published by the Jewish People Policy Institute in which we analyze data from the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans survey.

Of course, the rise of singlehood, late marriage and non-marriage is not at all unique to American Jews, but is endemic to American society in recent years. As the Pew Research Center reports, “The share of Americans who are married is at its lowest point since at least 1920.”

But for Jews and Jewish life, the postponement of marriage or lifelong singlehood hold disturbing consequences for Jewish community. While intermarriage has long been understood as inhibiting Jewish engagement and connection, the same is almost as true of non-marriage.

Take, for example, synagogue membership among non-haredi Jews aged 25-54: It reaches a healthy 65 percent among the in-married, but only a paltry 22 percent among the non-married and an even tinier number, 13 percent, among the intermarried. While almost all in-married Jews attend Passover seders (93 percent), that’s true of just over half the intermarried or non-married (53 percent and 59 percent, respectively). And not only do the in-married act more Jewish, they feel more Jewish. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say that being Jewish is very important to them, as compared with just 40 percent of the singles and 25 percent among the intermarried.

All over the Jewish world outside of Orthodoxy, we see shrinking numbers and older participants and fewer young Jews involved in organized or institutional activities. That’s true of Reform temples, Conservative shuls, membership organizations and federation campaigns. And all the wonderful alternative innovations – independent minyans, Chabad Houses, Base Hillels, Moishe Houses, social justice initiatives, Israel advocacy left and right – are simply not anywhere near compensating for the losses in legacy institutions.

To understand why non-Orthodox Jewish activity at home and community is in such decline, we need only look at diminished numbers of young adult and middle-aged Jews who live with a spouse, and specifically a Jewish husband or wife.

Child-rearing strongly shapes stronger connections with things Jewish, even beyond marrying someone Jewish (by birth or conversion), in dramatic contrast with being single or married to a non-Jew. Those raising a child in the Jewish religion vastly surpass childless adults in Jewish engagement, and the childless in turn surpass those raising non-Jewish children.

Take, for example, synagogue membership: 65 percent among those raising Jewish-by-religion children, 25 percent for those with no children at home, and 0 percent for those raising non-Jewish children. We see the same pattern for seder attendance: 96 percent, 56 percent, 28 percent. And so it goes for one indicator of Jewish engagement after another.

In displaying a close connection between family status and religious involvement, Jews are not at all unique or even distinctive. Religious engagement has long been linked to life cycle. Americans — including Jews — increasingly join religious institutions and practice home-based rituals shortly after they have children. Sylvia Barack Fishman’s research found that intermarried Jews and spouses are often surprised at the strength of their feelings about religious identification after — but not before — their children are born. The baby boom of the postwar years occasioned a building boom of churches and synagogues. For Jews (and others), what is new is the extended years of singlehood and religious detachment, posing unprecedented challenges to Jewish families, communities and institutions.

So, recognizing that children – specifically Jewish children – are so vital to Jewish engagement, we can ask: How many Jews in the parenting years (25-54) outside of the haredi world are raising Jewish children? The startling answer is less than a third, and even less (21 percent) if we’re talking only about children whose religion is Jewish. Fully 60 percent of this 30-year cohort has no children at home and 8 percent are raising non-Jewish children.

What will it take for Jewish engagement at home, in the community, in institutions and elsewhere to thrive? Probably the most critical answer: Jews will need to start marrying, marry younger, marry Jewish spouses and raise Jewish children. Over the past few decades, among those Jews outside of Orthodoxy, the relevant trend lines have moved in the opposite directions: less marriage, later marriage, intermarriage and fewer Jewish children – probably about 1.4 for non-Orthodox Jews, far below the 2.1 needed for population replacement.

There are strategies that reverse these negative trend lines. It turns out that Jews who are more connected to other Jews through their adolescent and young adult years are more likely to marry, to marry younger, to marry Jews and to have Jewish children. Camps, youth groups, Israel travel, campus activities and young adult communities all build Jewish social networks – more Jews in relationships with more Jews.

These interventions of course contribute to Jewish cultural capacity and religio-ethnic commitment. But as important, if not more important these days, is that they build friendships that lead to marriage or romantic connections. Only by increasing the opportunities for Jews to marry, and to marry Jews, will we be able to significantly bend the trend lines. Creating more Jewish marriages and filling more Jewish baby carriages inevitably leads to seeing more Jews in the pews, as well as other places where Jewish engagement gets acted out.

We may not be able to move the average age at marriage below 24. But perhaps by providing opportunities we can increase the sheer number who marry and who marry at a younger age, when they stand a better chance of becoming engaged Jewish parents.

(Steven M. Cohen is research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ Stanford University. Sylvia Barack Fishman is the Joseph and Esther Foster Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and also co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.)

Take No Jewish Prisoners

I have been working on this song/poem for the last 2 weeks when I found out that the subhuman Jews on Facebook banned me for merely sharing a link exposing the evils of feminism; it is my 8th such 30 day ban in the past 13 months and it has led me to openly call for the extermination of all Jews, whether they proclaim themselves to be “good” or “evil”, they must simply die for being Jewish.  For where were these same Jews when I was facing injustice and censorship to tell their own brothers and sisters to cease with the needless meddling in my free speech human rights.  I will tell you where these subhuman Jews were; they were off swindling more non Jews/goyim to fight their evils wars and battles to further subvert the human races.  Well all that ends from this moment forward as this poem will inspire others to take their weapons and start killing Jews wherever they find them!

 

 

Take No Jewish Prisoners

You got one kike, infiltrate them
Kill them right, exterminate them
The guns will, decimate them
Kill their pride, degenerate them

The Jewish people, reprobate them
Aids will, devastate them
Diseases will, decapitate them
Take no Jewish prisoners, terminate them

I go to war, to give Jews hell
The wars will be non stop like in Germany
A beginning to this end
We know what must be done to them
Peace will be their deaths to me
Let them retreat for they are damned
Their cemetery will be a playground for the demented
A safe haven for those who walk this realm

For they are devoid of heart and soul
All is fair in hate and war
Take the Jewish life!
But don’t touch the kike’s hair
For your body is more sacred
No countries must be spared
And to their sons and daughters behold
Their deathbed!

The Jews had it all and all that they could be
Now they will be nothing for the world to see
How odd that they long to be like you and me
It’s a sad yet funny thing
No tears shall streak from my hateful stare
We must abandon them like they wreckage they are
No one cares what will happen to them
No one will dare to speak up for them
Never ask a kike what they can do to your country
Ask how your country can kill them instead
Take no Jewish prisoners, take none of their shit!

Some of James Comey’s (White Freemason) best friends are Jewish

James Comey

(JTA) — We now know that James Comey, the FBI director President Donald Trump fired last month, thinks the president is a liar. (It’s mutual, by the way.)

Comey was asked in a Senate testimony Thursday why he wrote memos immediately after each conversation he had with Trump, particularly about the FBI’s investigation into ties between the president’s campaign and Russia. He said: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document.”

We also know that in order to make the case that Trump is dishonest  — he surely anticipated making that case in some forum, although perhaps not as dramatically as he did before the Senate — he twice confided in friends who happened to be a) legal scholars and b) Jewish.

Comey, a longtime Washington insider, has proved expert at shaping the narrative surrounding the controversy, and never more so than when it comes to the investigation into ties between Trump’s first national security adviser, James Flynn, and the Russians. (Trump has said Comey’s handling of the investigation is one reason he fired Comey.)

It’s not just Comey’s dramatic opening statement, released Wednesday, that described awkward moments, such as when Trump appeared to be pressuring him to drop the investigation. The release drowned out what might have been a good news moment for Trump — nominating as Comey’s successor Christopher Wray, a former top Justice Department official respected across party lines.

Comey had left a careful paper trail, taking notes immediately following his meetings with Trump — and conveying concerns to his friends.

Trump’s private lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, was furious and called for an investigation in a press conference after Comey’s testimony was completed. “Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos of those privileged communications,” he said, although Trump said previously that he would not claim executive privilege when it comes to keeping his communications with Comey private.

Last month, a dramatic New York Times story that first revealed the lengths Comey took to keep Trump at a distance included on-the-record comment from Benjamin Wittes, the Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Wittes described a lunch he had with the former FBI director around the time Comey was most intensely feeling Trump’s pressure. Wittes says he did not speak to the Times at Comey’s behest, but Wittes’ description of the March 27 lunch made it clear that Comey had concerns about Trump in real time, and not just in the wake of his firing.

“He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration,” Wittes told the Times, referring to Comey’s efforts to get Trump and his aides to stop making inappropriate requests.

Wittes, who is also the editor of the influential Lawfare blog, has said he and Comey are meet-now-and-then-for-lunch friends, but not close friends. He is married to Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior Middle East scholar at Brookings. (In 2010, Wittes, discussing airport security, bemusedly recalled how his bad Jewish day school Hebrew got him an exemption from a security line at Ben Gurion airport.)

Comey revealed in his testimony Thursday that, in an another instance, he leaked information to a friend — post-firing — in order to push back against Trump’s intimations that Comey could be embarrassed should the content of their conversations be revealed. (Trump had tweeted that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of the conversations; on Thursday, Comey drew laughter when he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”) Comey delivered his friend his private notes of the meetings, taken immediately after one of his interactions. He explained why:

“My judgment was, I need to get [this memo] out into the public square,” he said. “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.”

Asked who the friend was, he said: “A close friend who is a professor at Columbia law school.”

Twitter soon identified the friend as Daniel Richman. The Washington Post called Richman, who confirmed it, but would not add anything more.

JUST IN: Columbia U professor Dan Richman confirms to @washingtonpost he was the friend Comey asked to share info about his mtg w/ Trump.

Wittes has not said how he and Comey became friends, nor has Richman, although both men were federal prosecutors in New York around the same time.

What we do know is that Comey, an Irish Catholic born in New York and raised in New Jersey, was close to Jewish organizations throughout his FBI career, and said he is enormously affected by the lessons of the Holocaust.

The week he was fired, his final speech as FBI director was to the Anti-Defamation League.

“I believe the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history. And I mean significant in two different ways,” he said in that speech. “It is, of course, significant because it was the most horrific display of inhumanity — one that simply defies words and challenges meaning. How could such a thing happen? How is it consistent with the concept of a loving God?”

Then, he added how the Holocaust informed his deeply held beliefs about preventing the abuse of power.

“I also believe the Holocaust was the most significant event in history, not just because it was a display of inhumanity, but because it was also the most horrific display of our humanity — our true capacity for evil and for moral surrender,” he said. “And that second significance is the reason we require every new FBI special agent and intelligence analyst in training to visit the Holocaust Museum. We want them to learn about abuse of power on a breathtaking scale.”

Two other Jewish scholars, meanwhile, were duking it out at Twitter over whether what Comey was describing amounted to Trump obstructing justice.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard University constitutional law expert, has argued that Trump’s right as an executive to fire Comey (and other officials) meant that the firing could not be construed as obstruction:

You cannot have obstruction of justice when the president exercises his constitutional authority to fire the director of the FBI. https://twitter.com/AC360/status/872615089001684993 

Norm Eisen, who had been ethics lawyer in the Obama administration, disagreed, saying that if Trump acted with “corrupt intent,” he could be liable:

Wrong @alandersh. Cong. has put limits on Pres. exercise of firing authority & criminal law is 1. Can’t act w/corrupt intent @JeffreyToobin https://twitter.com/AlanDersh/status/872641115664547840 

Trump’s son, Donald Jr., was excited that Dershowitz was ostensibly defending his Dad (although Dershowitz has also consistently said he believes Trump has been unwise).

Trump Jr., who has had his own brushes with the alt-right, likely is referring to Dershowitz’s reputation as a Jewish Democrat when he calls the scholar “not exactly the alt right.”

Here’s a First: Hezbollah Paper Says Putin is Jewish

From Albawaba:

Russian president Vladimir Putin is considered many things: a war criminal and a dictator, on one hand; a strong leader and the savior of the West on the other. Jewishness is not something he is oft accused of, but Lebanon’s As-Safir ran an article by Sami Kleib Tuesday entitled “Putin’s Jewishness, does it benefit the Arabs and Syria?”

The article alleges that Russia under Putin enjoys close strategic relations with the Jewish state. “No Russian or Soviet president has offered more to Israel than Putin,” the article read in its opening paragraph. To this end, Kleib cites frequent visits to Moscow by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and military sales between the two countries.

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But Kleib goes even farther in his attempt to prove Putin’s supposed Jewishness. “Some novels on Putin say he lived in a Jewish neighborhood when he was young,” wrote Kleib. Other outlets have reported on the Jews in Putin’s life too.

On whether Putin’s good relations with Jews in Russia, Eastern Europe and Israel will benefit the Arabs, Kleib suggests Russia play a larger role in mediating between Israel and “the resistance,” referring to Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and others who oppose Israel’s existence.

As-Safir is generally considered a supporter of the March 8 Alliance in Lebanon, which includes Hezbollah.

Surprisingly, there are actually a number of conspiracy websites that claim that Putin is Jewish. Here’s one great piece of “proof”:

Putin traces his earliest connection to Judaism back to his early childhood in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, 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 Saturdays and the man would study the Bible and Talmud all day long,” Putin wrote. “Once I even asked him what he was muttering. He explained to me what this book was and I was immediately interested.” Can anyone believe that Jews let goyim read their holy books?

Just look at Putin’s face and ears closely; he is no more a Christian than Benjamin Netanyahu.

The As Safir article seems to be copying its information from one of the conspiracy sites.

Jewish middle school student suspended for alleged anti-Semitic incident

(JTA) — An eighth grade student was suspended from a Colorado middle school for an alleged anti-Semitic incident, even though both the student and the victim are Jewish.

A student at Oberon Middle School in Jefferson County, Colorado, tied another student to a soccer goal post and told him to “burn, Jew, burn.”

The school district learned about the incident through an anonymous school survey that asked students about their experiences during the past school year. After investigating the incident, the district suspended the student they believed to be responsible, according to the CBS Denver affiliate CBS 4.

“You don’t use ethnic slurs, racism isn’t okay in our schools. Any time this happens we are going to take action,” Jefferson County Public Schools spokesperson Diana Wilson told CBS 4.

The channel reported that it had discovered that the boys were friends and both Jewish.

The suspension comes after several allegations of anti-Semitism at the same middle school. One student told the district school board that she has to “constantly deal with anti-Semitism.” She also complained in a public forum about the incidents to Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, according to the report.

A student also complained that fellow students drew a swastika on his arm, and a teacher has complained about anti-Semitic incidents.

At another district middle school, students were suspended after making anti-Semitic remarks and drawings.

Jewish, Catholic headstones damaged in main Rome cemetery

ROME — Unidentified individuals damaged dozens of gravestones and memorials in both the Catholic and Jewish sections of one of Rome’s main cemeteries.

According to the Italian media, the damage was discovered Friday morning during an inspection before the Verano cemetery opened.

The culprits smashed or toppled crosses as well as Stars of David and damaged headstones, tombs, vases and memorial plaques. Newspaper reports said surveillance cameras had filmed what appeared to be several youths entering the cemetery during the night and then running through it smashing tombs.

In a statement, the Rome Jewish Community said it was too soon to determine if anti-Semitism had played a role in the incident.

“We are awaiting developments in the investigation by [law enforcement] to ascertain the causes and responsibility for this act,” it said.

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Italy: Photos, Jewish cemetery in Rome vandalized and tombstone smashed, no arrests

Elsewhere in Europe, a synagogue’s window was smashed Wednesday in North London. A group of youths was seen fleeing the scene, according to a report by the Campaign Against Antisemitism watchdog.

Separately, a monument commemorating the Holocaust in Chernivtsi in Southwestern Ukraine was defaced with neo-Nazi slogans. The incident took place on Thursday night. The monument was erected last year.

On a wall adjacent to the monument, the culprits, who have not been identified, painted swastikas, the neo-Nazi greeting “sieg” and the digits 14/88, which are code for White Power slogans.

Last week, several gravestones were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Cherkasy in central Ukraine. The vandals spray-painted swastikas on at least 10 headstones.

Celebrating Berlin’s first-ever Jewish food week

BERLIN (JTA) — It was standing-room only at Fine Bagels, a bakery tucked inside the Shakespeare and Sons bookstore in the former East Berlin. Bookshelves lined the walls, cafe tables were arranged end to end, and, smack in the middle of the space, sat a large bowl of grated potatoes.

Tonight would be all about Polish-Jewish food, and the crowd was ready.

The event, which attracted some 70 participants, was one of several in the surprise success story of Nosh Berlin Jewish Food Week, billed as the “first-ever Jewish food week” in Germany’s capital. It began on March 17 and runs until the 25th.

Nosh Berlin was cobbled together on a shoestring budget by German journalist Liv Fleischhacker and American Jewish entrepreneur Laurel Kratochvil, who co-own Fine Bagels.

“My nana gave me $1,000 to organize this,” said Kratochvil, who came to Berlin six years ago from Prague, where she’d been living since 2007.

Her nana, or grandmother, is Helen Fine of New England, whose recipes (many inherited from her own mother) form the backbone of the bagelry’s menu.

Kratochvil told JTA she thought she’d organize a couple of workshops and a Shabbat dinner. “But it’s become something much bigger,” she said.

Illustrative image of a classic everything bagel and smoked salmon. (Courtesy Russ and Daughters)

Nosh Berlin developed into a multifaceted, week-long adventure in Jewish, or Jewish-style, cuisine, taking place in restaurants around the city. There have been food-related film screenings, lectures, Shabbat dinners and more.

While Nosh Berlin likely is the city’s first such week-long Jewish food festival, Berlin has other popular Jewish food-centric events, like the annual “Kosher-Fest” market, an extravaganza of kosher cuisine hosted by Yehuda Teichtal, a rabbi in Berlin’s Jewish community and head of the Chabad Jewish Educational Center Berlin.

At the moment, Berlin has a handful of kosher eateries, including one inside the Chabad center, as well as Bleiberg’s, a dairy restaurant on Nürnberger Strasse.

The growing number of Israelis living in Berlin -- reflected by the recent opening of the Sababa hummus restaurant -- is leading to debates over how much public assistance is appropriate to accept. (Photo credit: Assaf Uni)

Additionally, there are several Israeli and Russian-style eateries scattered across the city, and New-York style bagel cafes, including Barcomi’s, Salomon’s and Fine Bagels. In a city of 4 million — with an unofficial Jewish population of some 30,000 — these restaurants count on tourists and on the general popularity of Jewish or Israeli food.

Nosh Berlin is another testament to the popularity of such cuisine. Among the highlights of the week: Food from Iran, Morocco, Italy and — yes — Poland.
On Monday evening, Anna Gulinska of the Jewish Community Center Krakow — who is not Jewish herself but may as well be, for all the Yiddish she expertly throws around — gave a lively talk about the similarities between traditional Polish and Jewish foods.

“You can argue about what came first, the Jewish or the Polish cuisine, and at this point you’ll never know,” she joked, pointing out the similarities between ushka and kreplach [dumplings], malishniki and blintzes, hauka and challah.

A Rosh Hashanah Crown Challah from Carol Ungar's 'Jewish Soul Food' (Courtesy )

The Sabbath oven, which Jews would leave on from Friday night through Saturday night, is the “shabbashnik” in Polish to this day, she added.

Kasia Leonardi, who is chef at Krakow’s nine-year-old JCC, demonstrated the preparation of hamantaschen and potato latkes while samples were passed around the crowd. Leonardi is one many Jews in Poland who discovered their roots later in life.

The discussion — which included tastings, of course — concluded to a round of applause. Attendees prepared to head out into the evening, readying themselves for tomorrow’s demonstration: Creative Passover Cooking from Texan foodie Amy Kritzer of the blog WhatJewWannaEat.

But first, a pit stop. Many headed to the counter to pick up some freshly boiled and baked bagels to take home.

Is Eric Trump’s wife Lara Jewish?

(JTA) — Is Lara Trump, the pregnant wife of Eric Trump, Jewish?

The answer, it turns out, is no.

Though media outlets (including JTA) widely reported that she is Jewish, she is in fact not a Jew, a White House Press Office representative confirmed to JTA on Tuesday. The representative declined to give her name.

Following a Monday announcement by the couple that they were expecting a baby boy, it seems Jewish media outlets went into a bit of a baby frenzy.

The false impression that Lara Trump (nee Yunaska), a former personal trainer and producer for CBS’s “Inside Edition,” is Jewish seems to trace back to a 2014 Page Six article in the New York Post that said the couple wed under “a crystal-embellished chuppa” (with Jewish brother-in-law Jared Kushner officiating). It’s not clear whether the canopy was, in fact, inspired by Jewish custom, but following the publication of that article, Jewish media outlets (along with some anti-Semitic ones) referred to her as Jewish.

Ethnicelebs.com, a website that traces the ancestry of celebrities, debunked the claim in July — reporting Lara instead to be of Slovak, English, German, remote Swiss-German and Dutch heritage — but that didn’t put the rumor to rest.

At JTA, we should have checked before running with the unsubstantiated information.

Lara and Eric’s baby will still be surrounded by plenty of Jewish influences. He will have three Jewish cousins: the children of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, and her husband, Jared. Plus, another Trump daughter, Tiffany, is dating Ross Mechanic, who is Jewish.