Because of his efforts on behalf of the Jewish community, Rabbi Lazar was designated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, to devote his career to living and working in Russia. In 1990, Rabbi Lazar became head of the Marina Roscha Synagogue in Moscow. In one of the most lamentable acts of post-Soviet anti-Semitism, Marina Roscha was firebombed and nearly destroyed in December 1993. In the face of daunting odds and widespread fear, Rabbi Lazar vowed to rebuild the community.
As a fulfillment of this promise, Rabbi Lazar, together with Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisroel Lau and the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, laid the groundbreaking stone in August 1994 for a new seven story Jewish Community Center and Synagogue complex on the site of the bombed out synagogue. In September 2000, Rabbi Lazar’s vision came to fruition with the inauguration of the Center, in a ceremony that featured the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin’s presence at the ceremony is a symbol of the Russian government’s greatly altered attitude toward the Jewish community, an alteration which public figures like Rabbi Lazar helped to bring about.
In June 2000, Rabbi Berel Lazar was elected Chief Rabbi of Russia by the presidents of 87 Jewish communities in Russia and 26 Russia-based Rabbis. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to further Jewish causes in Russia and in the rest of the former Soviet Union. In January 2001, Rabbi Lazar was appointed to a Kremlin advisory panel composed of major religious leaders. In his interactions with heads of state, such as the President of Israel Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon and US President George Bush, he has made his voice heard as an advocate for total religious freedom and distinguished himself as one of anti-Semitism’s most persistent adversaries in Russia. Rabbi Lazar remains committed to serving the personal needs of Russian Jews, devoting several hours each week to individual meetings with local people who come to his office for counsel and assistance. As Chairman of the Rabbinical Alliance of the CIS, Rabbi Lazar represents more than 150 rabbis throughout the former Soviet Union and has also trained and posted numerous Russian-born Rabbis.
As the foremost leader in rebuilding Jewish life in Russia, Rabbi Lazar was instrumental in founding the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC) which first took official shape in November 1999. Under the ministrations of Rabbi Lazar and the FJC’s President, Lev Leviev, the FJC has become the leading umbrella organization for furthering Jewish causes in the former Soviet Union. It has member communities in over 456 cities, 175 of which are in Russia alone. Its mandate is to rebuild Jewish life, culture and religion in the former Soviet Union. The FJC is responsible for the rehabilitation of infrastructures and institutions in its member communities. The Federation also promotes Jewish education and provides humanitarian assistance to the CIS’ many needy families.
As he travels throughout Russia to communities far and wide, Rabbi Lazar is recognized as an innovative and uniquely talented religious leader whose counsel is sought out by scholars, government representatives, organizational and business executives. Since he is an articulate spokesperson, well versed on a host of issues, he is often consulted by the international media on global affairs.
Rabbi Lazar is married to Chana (nee Deren) of Pittsburgh, PA and they are the parents of twelve children. Rabbi Lazar is fluent in six languages.