Visit to the Grand Choral Synagogue
Bush, and his wife, Laura, left, leave Saint
Petersburg’s Grand Choral Synagogue, Sunday, May
26, 2002, with St. Petersburg’s chief rabbi Mendel Pewzner,
right, and his wife Sara, second from right. Jewish leaders
welcomed Bush to St. Petersburg’s synagogue on Sunday and
voiced their support for his efforts to end what they consider
outdated U.S. legislation that links trade with Russia to
On the last day of President Bush’s historic Russian tour, he
made a visit to the Kazan
Cathedral a Russian Orthodox church and later visited with the
Chief Rabbi at the Grand Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg. The
President and First Lady Laura Bush, extended their visit to hear
stories of the Synagogue’s journey since it was first built in
1893 and the great trials up until its recent reconstruction.
The entrance of the Grand Choral reads Edmond J. Safra Synagogue,
named after a businessman who was the victim of murder and is
honored for his donations that helped with the renovation. With
a local population of 4.5 million people, the Synagogue is particularly
special because it is the only house of worship for Jews in the
speaking on his visit, President Bush emphasized his strong belief
in the freedom of religion saying, "I’m impressed by what
I’ve heard from religious leaders, Christian and Jewish, here
about the state of affairs in Russia… One of my strong beliefs
is that people should be free to worship, and I’m pleased that
that’s taking place here in Russia,"
President said that the synagogue
"is a spectacular place for people to gather and worship
an Almighty God — and worship an Almighty God freely."
Berkowitz, with the Federation of Jewish Communities, talked about
the change. During the Soviet era the Synagogue remained open
but those who came to worship were under constant KGB surveillance
and lived in fear of losing their jobs or experienced other
Menahem-Mendel Pewzner, an American who was born in Brooklyn,
is the chief Rabbi at Grand Choral Synagogue, and has been for
nearly a decade. Rabbi Pewzner spoke of the importance of President
Bush’s visit saying, "For the Jewish community the question
for many years, and especially in the last 10 years, has been,
‘Can you really be a Jew in Russia and not be afraid to practice
your religion?’… And I think the answer is yes, you can. If
the President comes to this synagogue, then that is a statement
that things have changed."
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT FOLLOWING TOUR OF CHORAL SYNAGOGUE
Choral Synagogue St. Petersburg, Russia
May 26, 2002
10:49 A.M. (L)
PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody.
Good morning, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Today we’ve had a — a beautiful morning. We’ve been
to a church and a synagogue. One of the non-negotiable demands of
individual dignity is freedom of religion, and I’m impressed by
what I’ve heard from religious leaders, Christian and Jewish, here
about the state of affairs in Russia.
We went to a cathedral that up until recently was a museum of atheism,
and today it’s a place where people can worship God freely.
We’ve been to a synagogue that was, even though open, was not a
welcoming sight for many Russians, and today it is a spectacular
place for people to gather and worship an Almighty God — and worship
an Almighty God freely.
And one of my strong beliefs is that people should be free to worship,
and I’m pleased that that’s taking place here in Russia. It’s important
for this country that religious freedom flourish and there be tolerance
of all faiths.
And it’s been a very rewarding morning for Laura and me, and we
want to thank our hosts and thank the Russian people. Last night,
I was very impressed and pleased to see so many Russians lining
the streets and they were so welcoming to the American delegation.
We’re making great progress in our strides toward freedom — I mean,
toward friendship and our mutual respect of freedom.
Thank you for your hospitality.
Mr. President, yesterday Pakistan went ahead with their planned
Do you think that has had any impact on the situation there? And
do you believe this is something they should have gone forward with
at this point in time?
PRESIDENT: As you know, we expressed our strong reservations
about the tests. Obviously, we hope that there is restraint in the
area, that that not be viewed as a provocation. We’re continuing
to work the diplomatic channels, as are other nations. I mean, everybody
understands the danger of a serious conflict in the region. And
slowly but surely we can erode the distrust that has arisen in the
area so that they can —
Do you think the situation is as tense and dangerous there now as
it was in January where, in hindsight, it appears they came very
close to an armed conflict?
PRESIDENT: I think that any time you have countries with
nuclear arms, that a tension, serious tension is dangerous. And
it’s hard for me to measure the degree of tension. Let’s just say
it’s tense now and it was tense then. So we’ve just got to continue
to work the problem, and we will. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able
to defuse the situation.
Mr. President, are you inclined to agree with your advisors who
say that we should deal with Chairman Arafat, or those who think
he should be frozen out?
PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I get all kinds of advice.
People know my opinion about Chairman Arafat, and that is that he
has let the Palestinian people down.
hasn’t delivered. He had a chance to secure the peace as a result
of the hard work of President Clinton and he didn’t. He’s had a
chance to fight terror and he hasn’t. Evidently, there’s a new attitude
emerging among some of the leadership in the Palestinian Authority
and the answer is, we’ll see. We’ll see if he can deliver.
key for the — for peace in the region, as far as I’m concerned,
is for the Arab world to continue to fight terror, to do what they
say they’re going to do. We believe that that’s happening more than
ever. And that we develop the institutions necessary so that a Palestinian
state can emerge that will be at peace with Israel. And that start
— first step is to have a security force that actually keeps the
security. As well as, the reforms ought to align authority and responsibility
so people can be held to account for success or failure.
I just want to follow up and make sure I understand what you are
saying, when you’re saying that apparently there’s a new attitude
in the Palestinian Authority and we’ll see. Are you —
you’re beginning to see talk of reform. You know, if you read the
press accounts, there’s — people are beginning to question out
loud as to why there hasn’t been success. One of the things that
we’ve been trying to do is to say people must be responsible. My
speech on April 4th called upon –outlined
the responsibilities necessary to achieve peace.
I’m beginning to hear — this is publicly I’m beginning to hear,
I might add, discussion about well maybe we ought to assess how
to make the Palestinian Authority more accountable, and that’s what
I was referring to.
But you’re not referring to any good words or deeds you’re seeing
out of –seeing out of Arafat. So are you saying that the time has
now run out on Arafat and we’re not going to deal with him? Or he’s
still got a chance to do it right?
PRESIDENT: No, what I’m saying is that what we need to
do is develop the institutions necessary for there to be a responsible
Palestinian state. And it starts with security.
of the things that’s interesting is when you talk to European leaders,
there’s an interest about helping the Palestinian people, the Palestinians
with economic development. But it’s hard to promote economic development
when there is concerns about graft and corruption. And so there
needs to be– there needs to be institutions that will be transparent,
institutions that will hold people responsible for the expenditure
of money, institutions necessary to make sure that the good hearts
of the world, when they apply to the Palestinian people, will be
met with good results.
Can I follow on Ron’s question?
Is Director Tenet going back to the region this coming week?
PRESIDENT: You’ve had a big day today, Stretch — three
It’s because he’s taller, you know.
That’s a pool, because we all want to ask that one, though.
PRESIDENT: He’s also booming. He’s also booming out there
with his question, butting in. No — anyway — (laughter.)
My apologies to Patsy.
PRESIDENT: Poor Patsy, here she is trying to be dignified
That was my question anyway.
PRESIDENT: It was your question?
Yes, I was trying to be dignified.
PRESIDENT: Well, would you like to ask it, so you can
Sir, is Director Tenet going back to the region next week?(Laughter.)
PRESIDENT: As you know, I expressed — I said that I
was going to send Director Tenet back to the region. I haven’t changed
— the role of Russia on the Middle East question?
PRESIDENT: Well, President Putin has been very helpful.
And he’s been helpful because he has — he has insisted that there
be accountability and responsibility in the region, and he has been
a — he makes it very clear that the Russian government is — rejects
any kind of terrorist activities that disrupts the peace process
in a very strong voice for reason and for reasonable policy, and
I appreciate that a lot.
Thank you all.
This week for Director Tenet?
PRESIDENT: See you in France.
Thank you, Mr. President.
END 10:58 A.M. (L)