Life as a Russian soldier has always been harsh. Many succumb to drug addictions and worse; and, if during World War II, 142,000 Jews lost their lives fighting against the Germans, today, there are less than 40,000 Jewish soldiers in total.
Together with local authorities, the Federation of Jewish Communities is doing its utmost to make life for these young men more tolerable, to provide them with a sense of belonging and the knowledge that they have an extended family, which has not forgotten them.
One of the FJC’s greatest challenges is fighting anti-Semitism within the ranks. In 2007, the first Jewish chaplain was appointed and granted the rank of Colonel. Working alongside the Russian Army’s General Staff and its education department, seminars on the basics of Judaism are organized for soldiers – both Jewish and non-Jewish. Whereas in the past, some of these Jewish soldiers were scared to admit they were Jewish, now, they readily attend holiday services and accept kosher food packages and religious paraphernalia, complements of the Federation. Like their Christian counterparts, they receive pastoral counseling; and the FJC also obtains exemptions for Jewish holidays and religious customs (such as not shaving during the Days of the Omer).
As a result, the moral of this small but brave group has been soundly boosted, their performance and standing significantly enhanced; and the harshness of army life is made appreciably more endurable.