Pinchas Goldschmidt was Chief Rabbi in Moscow and is President of the European Rabbinical Conference (CER). Because he did not support the war, he had to leave the country. He is the highest religious leader that the Kremlin has forced to flee.

FOCUS online: Mr. Chief Rabbi, you have had to leave the country after 33 years as head of the Jewish community in Moscow. What happened?

Pinchas Goldschmidt: I was pressured to support the war as a religious leader. I should make a statement to that effect. I didn’t do that.

Instead, my wife and I each packed a suitcase and left, first to Istanbul, then to Warsaw and Budapest. Right now I’m in Malta, where the European Rabbinical Conference is holding an event with the Maltese government on the possibilities of new technologies and we are honoring young start-ups with our CER Prize, which help humanity with their solutions.

That’s a lot of changes in a short time. . .

Goldschmidt: The year not only changed my life, it changed the world. Every European must understand how important the European project is. All small countries cannot survive when major powers set their sights on them. You have to work together. The EU is founded on the idea of ​​economic cooperation.

But terrorism is binding Europe together. The victims of Charlie Hebdo, the attack in Copenhagen, in Paris, now the attack on Ukraine – this means that Europe has to work more closely together.

Is the Moscow Jewish community a political community?

Goldschmidt: There are two currents, one is Chabad, to which I don’t belong, which always openly supports Putin. She stands by him now.

Our current is different. It was depoliticized for decades. But now I think that’s not enough. We must take a stand.

Why now?

Goldschmidt: If only for moral reasons. One cannot remain silent about such a terrible war, one must condemn it. You can’t be neutral there, not even in an authoritarian system that has meanwhile become totalitarian.

The difference is that a totalitarian regime requires everyone to participate. For me that was and is not feasible.

That was not always so?

Goldschmidt: No. With Boris Yeltsin as President, a renaissance of Jewish life in Russia began. Yeltsin had numerous Jewish advisers in his close circle.

That all changed under Putin. I would argue that the last 30 years have been the best decades that Jews in Russia have ever known. But with the war the mood changed completely.

The direction Russia is taking is that of the old Soviet Union in Stalin’s time. Next, Putin is likely to close the borders because otherwise too many men would evade combat duty. A new Iron Curtain threatens the Russians.

Can you still discuss something like this in Moscow?

Goldschmidt: You can discuss anything there, but only in the toilet.

As a rabbi, you are also a role model. If you go, does that mean for the Jews in Russia: Is it also possible?

Goldschmidt: The rabbi is often the last to leave. It’s like a captain leaving his ship. But the rabbi also has the task of showing the way, let us think of Moses, for example.

It’s an old Jewish tradition. We used to always sign documents in Hebrew with a greeting. Then it said: “the city in which we are currently camped”.

And many Jews followed your call to leave Russia?

Goldschmidt: I estimate that about a third of the 300,000 Jews in the community have since left the country. Half has gone to Israel, the other half is spread across many countries, former Soviet republics, Europe and even the United Arab Emirates.

Jews fleeing – that’s something that history seems to repeat over and over again. Are you a Rabbi in Exile?

Goldschmidt: Yes.

Building up the church in Moscow was your life’s work. And now?

Goldschmidt: The physical structures are not the most important thing. It depends on the people. And they stay. Everywhere in the world. Wherever I go, I meet these people again. I am now concentrating on my work as President of the European Rabbinical Conference.

The FOCUS Online Guide shows you how to invest your money profitably and avoid expensive traps.

In your absence, the Jewish community in Moscow asked you to remain chief rabbi.

Goldschmidt: Yes, but I couldn’t do that. As long as there is no political change, there is no point in returning to Russia.

Are you afraid of becoming a victim of an attack? The arm of the Russian secret service also reaches abroad.

Goldschmidt: There are now millions of Russians outside of their country who criticize the Putin government. You can’t meet that many.

What are you doing specifically?

Goldschmidt: I take care of the Jewish refugees from Russia and Ukraine. I was standing at a border station in Hungary, and there was a ray of light on the horizon for me to see that Jewish refugees were also expressly welcomed there.

As a first step, we set up a foundation for these refugees. With funds from the Julia and Juri Milner Foundation, it supports the Jewish communities where the refugees arrive. You get food and a roof over your head. For example, we organize kosher meat and support community life in exile.

The second step is to facilitate integration. Many also need mental health care. And very practically, our organization, the European Rabbinical Conference, just organized 133 generators for the Ukraine today because the power went out there after the attacks.

What’s next in Russia?

Goldschmidt: When the war started, they thought in the Kremlin it would last a week. Now nobody is talking about the Russian victory. Now everyone is talking about the Ukrainian victory or at least about peace negotiations. I hope the war is over as soon as possible.

The FOCUS Online Guide shows you how to invest your money profitably and avoid expensive traps.

The article “”You can discuss anything in Moscow, but only in the toilet”” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.