Bulletin: On Hunting Pokemon in Moscow’s Religious Institutions

Tablet: “Hunting Pokemons in Moscow’s religious institutions? Consider the Jewish Community Center. After the arrest of a colleague for playing the popular augmented reality game in the Orthodox Church, a Russian TV reporter wanted to see how rabbis would react. Just as you’d expect: With a heavy-shouldered shrug. Though “it would be good to turn off the phone on Shabbat,” one representative softly proposed.” [http://izrus.co.il/diasporaIL/article/2016-09-06/32713.html]

Boris: Oh, Jews of Russia. As always, you feel so compelled not to antagonize your mercurial hosts, so grateful are you to have virtual creatures hunted instead of real ones — instead of yourselves! — that you daren’t object to it transpiring even on sacred ground. But that’s wrong. This was a community center, not the affiliated synagogue, and a Chabad one at that, and who knows whether Pokemaniacs would have found it as easy to infiltrate the Moscow Choral Synagogue, which is Orthodox. Even as a new axiom of Jewish well-being recommends itself — the more Jewishly secure the institution, the less likely one is to find non-Jewish pokemon-hunters marauding its grounds — one marvels at the transformed fortunes of Jewish life in Russia since the Soviet period: Dozens of kosher eateries, a new $20 million Chabad center in one of Moscow’s wealthiest suburbs, access to the Kremlin that John Kerry would envy, and far less of the anti-Israel froth that one finds so easily on the American left. The price is everyone’s price in the old Soviet Union: Political fealty. But was it any different under the Ottomans? Is the Jewish relationship with American evangelicals more sincere?

Not many Americans of a certain age, certainly not those who wore out notebooks writing letters to Soviet pen pals and agitated for the release of people like me, are eager to accept that “they” do anything but “slaughter Jews over there.” It’s true that anti-Semitism may have merely gone out of vogue rather than out of Russia’s spiritual bloodstream — Russia’s Muslims are the new internal enemies — and perhaps it has simply transformed into the dubious philo-semitism that venerates “Jewish business acumen” in an era of free markets. All the same, it’s surreal for this Soviet emigre, whose family fled daily anti-Semitic abuse, to realize that, less than 30 years later, Vladimir Putin, a man feared and reviled by most of the civilized world, a man who has bombed children to prop a psychopath dictator, is a man who, by all accounts, has no problem with Jews or Israel. Even if the latter affiliation is partly one of convenience, of mutual opposition to Islamist extremism, it doesn’t emerge from the right wing, as it does in Europe, which opposes a lot more than Islamist extremists. It’s a strange day when, from the Russian-Jewish perspective, Vladimir Putin occupies a not-so-irrational middle.

“Over 3,500 years, the Jews have suffered every imaginable insult,” one of the Jewish Muscovites interviewed at the Jewish Community Center said. “How can something insult us?” He was talking about gearheads roaming the JCC’s halls, but he may as well have meant this morally muddled alliance. Until Silicon Valley deploys its resources to the benefit of something less juvenile and mercenary than Pokemon Go and invents a new reality augmented not by the presence of virtual creatures, but the absence of anti-Semitism, this may be the best some Jews can do.

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