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Top Russian Rabbi Says NGO Crackdown Worries Jews

A senior Russian rabbi condemned the government’s listing of a Jewish welfare group as a foreign agent, calling it part of a policy which is making Jews insecure of their future in Russia.

Boruch Gorin, a Chabad rabbi who acts as a senior aide to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and as editor-in-chief of the highbrow “L’chaim” Jewish weekly in Moscow, leveled this criticism during an interview last week with JTA over the Russian justice ministry’s flagging this month of the Hesed-Tshuva group, which is based in the city of Ryazan located 120 miles south of Moscow.

Hesed-Tshuva is part of the Hesed welfare network, which is funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC. Gorin said the justice ministry defined Hesed-Tshuva as “involved in politics” because it shared some articles by L’Chaim on the Ukrainian-Russian conflict on its website, among other reasons.

While the move “does not target Jews specifically,” Gorin said, “it targets all civil society groups by scaring off donors, basically creating a reality where only government-sponsored entities can operate freely.” This, he said, “is scary to Russian Jews, who have memories of when their community organs were flagged as fifth columns by the authorities.”

Gorin is a vocal critic of the 2012 legislation that defines any nongovernmental organization receiving foreign funding as a foreign agent. He is also a high-placed member of the Russian branch of the Chabad network, which, under the auspices of President Vladimir Putin, has risen to become the most influential and powerful Jewish group in Russia and in other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Gorin concurred with the analysis of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who told JTA that rising nationalism under Putin is responsible for an increase in the number of Russian Jews who take up Israeli residence and nationality.

In the first six months of 2015, a total of 2,958 Russian Jews – mostly from affluent cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg – made aliyah, compared to 1,944 in the corresponding period last year.

But Gorin said this “does not mean an increase in aliyah,” the Hebrew word for immigration by Jews to Israel. “A lot of these newcomers are taking up Israeli nationality without necessarily relocating their lives,” Gorin said.

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