By Paul Goble
Rabbi Aryeh Edelkopf, an Israeli citizen who has served as the chief rabbi of Sochi for 16 years, says on his Facebook account that Russian officials, without offering any further explanation, want to deport him and his family as “threats to the security of the Russian Federation and its citizens” (facebook.com/ari.edelkopf/posts/1495696367108505).
Borukh Gorin of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said there was no basis for such charges because in his 16 years in Sochi, Edelkopf had pursued only one goal – giving Sochi Jews the opportunity to “’life a full Jewish life’” (ixtc.org/2017/02/vlasti-obyavili-ravvina-goroda-sochi-ugrozoy-bezopasnosti-rf/).
Gorin added that such decisions by the Russian authorities “disorient the Jewish community and generate serious fears about the future of the Jewish community in the country.”
Unfortunately, as the New Chronicle of Current Events pointed out, this effort to deport a rabbi from Russia is far from the first in recent years. In 2003, Rabbi Elyashiv Kaplun and Rabbi Haim Friedman were deported from Rostov; in 2009, Rabbi Israel Zilberstein was deported from his post in Primorsky kray and Zvi Hershkvits, the rabbi of Stavropol kray, was deported as well.
In 2013, the human rights portal continues, Rabbi Aleksandr Feigen, rector of the Moscow-based International Jewish Institute of Economics, Finance and Law was deported. And in 2014, Russian officials deported Zeev Wagner from Tula and tried by failed to deport Rabbi Osher Krichevsky from Omsk.
This drumbeat of expulsions undercuts Moscow’s claims to have overcome the long and ugly tradition of official anti-Semitism, but it is possible because as a result of Soviet anti-Semitic policies, Russian Jewish congregations have been forced to recruit rabbis from abroad who retain their foreign citizenship and thus are always at risk of expulsion.
Rabbi Edelkopf, the current target, was born in Jerusalem in 1978. He studied in Israel and the United States and serves as Lubavicher rabbi in Brazil, South Africa, Peru and Hong Kong. He first visited Sochi in 1996, and in 2001, he was named chief rabbi of that city’s Jewish congregation. He also served Jewish groups in neighboring areas who lack rabbis of their own.