Vladimir Putin's mother was Jewish

by Ulrich Heyden

A couple of boys in black suits and wide-brimmed hats romp up the stairs. In front of the door to the synagogue on the first floor they suddenly become quiet, as if by an invisible hand. They wash their hands in a basin. Then they enter the prayer room. It's Friday, five in the afternoon. The new synagogue in the Jewish Center in Moscow is slowly filling up. There are retirees, employed people and boys of school age. The hall, decorated with dark wood, shines in calm light, a place of reflection in a wild city. After an hour and a half, the parishioners go to the kiddush on the first floor. The tables are festively set, there are Russian salads and challe.
When the next Shabbat is over, Russia will appoint a new president. "I choose Mr. Medvedev," says Alana, a young woman with blond curls. “We're all for him. He is very personable. His mother is Jewish. 'How did she know? "It's on the Internet."
The Russian newspapers do not report that Medvedev has Jewish roots. However, the reports do not seem to be entirely out of thin air. The Israeli daily Haaretz also wrote about the rumors, but mentioned that the leaders of the Jewish community in Russia did not want to comment on the subject. They are afraid of damaging Medvedev's image. A Jew in the highest office of the state - Russian nationalists could exploit that for their propaganda, and the latent anti-Semitism could flare up again.
Alana laughs embarrassed. It's not an easy subject. What are the qualities of Medvedev? "He is in close contact with Putin and is his successor." You can see what Putin has achieved. The economy is now making headway.
The Moscow Jewish Center, not far from Prospect Mira, is a modern six-story building with a synagogue, classrooms and a sports hall. It was built near an old wooden synagogue that burned down in 1993. The construction of the center was financed by sponsors. You can read their names on large copper plaques at the entrance. The largest plaque bears the name of Roman Abramowitsch, the billionaire and governor of the Far Eastern region of Chukotka.
A short young man with black hair says he returned to Russia from Canada a few months ago. He lived there with his parents for twelve years, says the 24-year-old. Now he wants to live in Moscow and earn money. In Canada he worked as a real estate agent. He actually comes from the Russian republic of Dagestan and belongs to the mountain Jews. He likes Moscow, it is "a very lively and interesting city". You can relax in Canada, but it's boring. He also feels like a stranger there.
The young returnees is not afraid that he will be attacked by skinheads in Moscow. “I believe in fate. I can be run over by a car in Canada too. ”He only wants to go to the presidential election if his relatives vote. "If so, I will vote for Medvedev."
Grigori, a bank clerk who recently returned from Canada, would also vote for Medvedev. But he no longer has a Russian passport and can therefore not vote. For Jews, the situation has improved under Putin, says Grigori. But: "Of course, Khodorkovsky is terrible."
At a table in front of the large bookcase in the synagogue, 60-year-old Aleksandr is sitting with a six-year-old. He teaches the little ones the alefbet. At first he only finds coarse words about the presidential election. "I agree with those who say that there is no point in going to the polls because the result is predetermined." Nevertheless, he is "very sympathetic to the candidate Medvedev." But the question is, where does it come from?
Two elderly women are waiting in the synagogue gallery. One of them, stocky and wearing a green woolen hat, is called Raissa. She says very seriously: “We vote, but our children don't. We still have discipline, we've been through everything. ”Then she turns away, because an older man in a fur hat comes out of the sports hall. There he is still lifting dumbbells, he proudly proclaims. The 79-year-old doesn't want to read his name in the newspaper. How does he live? "Alone. Both of my wives died. ”He couldn't make ends meet with his monthly pension of 5,000 rubles (138 euros), but his brother in the USA helped him.
For the Jews in Russia, life has become easier, says the old athlete. From summer there should be visa-free travel to Israel. "Anyone who is a member of the Jewish Center" - the old man proudly shows his white plastic card - "receives a five percent discount from Transaero (a Russian airline)."
The 79-year-old doesn't want to vote. "That is not the right choice." Politicians like Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Kasyanov had not been admitted. The old gentleman does not give the impression that he is a staunch liberal. His idol is the Russian-Jewish pop singer Iosif Kobson. It belongs to the Moscow establishment. The old man finds Roman Abramowitsch "too rich" and "not everything is clear" with Khodorkovsky. Still, he says, one has to recognize that Abramovich is one of the main sponsors of the Jewish Center.
For Reuven Kuravski, religion teacher at a Moscow Jewish school, only one of the candidates comes into question: "Dmitri Medvedev, because I believe that he will continue the course that is important for our Jewish Center." Kuravski does not know about the other candidates what to expect. The pious man with a black hat and long beard, who is definitely a potential target for right-wing violent criminals in Russia, hopes that the government will do more to protect Jews. A friend was once beaten up in his presence, he says. The perpetrators are now behind bars. Nevertheless, he says: "The Russian people behave normally towards the Jews." Everything depends on what is said in the government corridors and on television. "If they say there that we should all live together as friends, that will also be the case on the streets."

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