Suspect identified in anti-Semitic graffiti attack on Jewish center in Russia

Mayor of Lyubavichi, cradle of Chabad movement, says man who daubed swastika and wrote ‘Jews out of Russia’ isn’t local

An aerial view of the town of Lyubavichi in the Smolensk Oblast region, Russia on July 18, 2011. (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Vimpel/Wikipedia)
An aerial view of the town of Lyubavichi in the Smolensk Oblast region, Russia on July 18, 2011. (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Vimpel/Wikipedia)

Russian authorities identified a suspect in the anti-Semitic graffiti attack on a Jewish center in the Russian village of Lyubavichi, the cradle of the Chabad Hasidic movement.

The suspect was a man from Murmansk, a city located hundreds of miles north of Lyubavichi, according to Yuri Ivashkin, the mayor of the village in western Russia.

“We knew immediately this was not the work of a local,” Ivashkin told JTA. “Police are still working on identifying an accomplice.”

The inscriptions, reading “Jews out of Russia, our land” and featuring the Baltic variant of the swastika, were spray-painted on the wall of the Hatzer Raboteinu Nesieinu Belubavitch earlier this month.

Ivashkin’s statement followed the dedication of a perimeter fence around one of the Jewish cemeteries in and around Lyubavichi.

Attendees traveled Sunday from Moscow to the village of 200 people to celebrate the completion there of a preservation project headed by the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, or ESJF. The nonprofit organization has completed similar projects in 102 cemeteries across Eastern Europe with funding from the German government.

“Initiatives like these are vital because of neglect, economic and agricultural development, and vandalism,” said Rabbi Isaac Schapira, the founder and chairman of the ESJF board. The project in Lyubavichi was his organization’s first in Russia since its founding in 2015.

Joseph Popack, a Jewish-American donor, funded the new fencing at a cost of $100,000.

Located near Smolensk and the border with Belarus, Lyubavichi became a major Jewish hub following the settling there in 1813 of Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, a leader of the Chabad movement of Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The movement, perhaps best known for its outreach to non-Hasidic Jews, also refers to itself as Chabad-Lubavitch in reference to how the town’s name is pronounced in Yiddish.

Chabad established an information center and museum in Lyubavichi. Ivashkin says it attracts 500 visitors monthly to the impoverished village, which is made up of many dilapidated houses.

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