President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you and all Russian Jews on Hanukkah and wish all the very best to you, your families, your faith, and all Jews throughout Russia. I wish you all the very best in the New Year. I am sure, and we all hope, that it will be a happy and prosperous year.
I know you do much to develop relations with other faiths and you are in constant contact on these matters. You do a lot of work within the faith too. The result is very positive development, with new synagogues and religious and cultural centres opening. I am very grateful to you for this work and I hope we will continue our cooperation.
Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar: Thank you.
Let me start by expressing our condolences over the tragedy in the Black Sea. I say this on my own behalf and on behalf of our people. This is truly a great sorrow for us. We sense how this grief unites people. It is at moments like this that we realise just how important it is to come together. When we are under pressure or traversing difficulties, we nonetheless hope and believe that God will help. With God’s help, all problems can be solved.
Thank you for your assessment of our work. I want to thank you for the attention you give these matters, which we think are indeed very important – issues such as the rights of believers, reviving the traditional religion, and relations between the different faiths.
In this respect, our community tries to do what it can. We opened the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, with your help too. You perhaps heard that the museum recently received a UNESCO prize. The work that we have done over these last years has received recognition, thanks be to God. Most important is that they see in us an instrument for going the right way about teaching a tolerant attitude to and relations with religious faiths and ethnic communities in Europe and throughout the world. Mr Boroda has done much work in this area. We are very grateful to him for taking on this important work.
I would like to discuss with you how useful we can be here in Russia, whether we can do more, perhaps by opening tolerance centres in other cities too.
An idea that we discussed with the Patriarch, and which would be very good, would be to hold an international interfaith forum, because Russia’s experience in interfaith relations is really quite unique.
The congress of European rabbis took place in Moscow recently. The rabbis saw what is happening here, saw the relations, the atmosphere, saw how at ease Jewish people feel here. They said, “Sadly, it is no longer this way in Europe, and we do not even know what to expect tomorrow.” We need to show them our experience, I think, including the fact that we really do live together in peace, friendship and mutual understanding. It is very important that the whole world sees this. Probably, we can show them how to develop further.
This is our biggest task – to live in such a way that all peoples around us will live in peace and friendship. After all, the prime task of any religion is to love and respect others. I think that Russia today is a country that genuinely values religious communities’ work and where there is clear understanding of the contribution this work makes and the results it produces. We are very grateful to you for this.