“Deliver me from mine enemies, O Lord” (Psalms 143:9)
Chabad emissary Rabbi Ovadia Isakov was shot Wednesday evening as he was exiting his car in the Russian Federal Republic of Dagestan. He was shot from behind by an unknown attacker or attackers. The bullet punctured his lung and liver and he was taken to hospital in critical condition. He is now in serious but stable condition, which his family describes as satisfactory. A medical team from Israel was dispatched to assist in his treatment and possible transfer to Israel for further care.
Dagestan is a Muslim-majority territory and an epicenter of Islamic insurgency, spilling over from nearby Chechnya, where Muslims hope to carve out an independent Islamic state under sharia law. Victims of violence have included moderate Muslim clerics, as well. The city of Derbent itself, though, where Isakov lives, has remained relatively untouched. Although police have not yet labelled this a hate crime, they are investigating the possibility. According to the Russian Investigative Committee, the rabbi’s Jewish appearance “is among the possible motives investigators are considering for the attack.”
According to Chabad.org, Isakov was on his way home from performing the ritual slaughter of Kosher meat when he was attacked. Conflicting reports have attested to one or three unidentified attackers. While Dagestan’s president, Ramazan Abdulatipov, blamed “extremists and terrorists” who “have no place in Dagestani society,” Israel Army Radio suggested the attack was actually criminally motivated.
Late Wednesday night, Isakov was transported to Israel for further treatment. He is now hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah. The flight was funded by Russian Jewish communities. According to ZAKA coordinator Motti Goldstein, “From past experience, we knew that the first and most important thing was to bring an expert medical team… After the rabbi got initial treatment, he was taken to the local airport, and from there on a medical flight to Israel.”
Leaders of Jewish organizations across Russia have condemned the attack and voiced support for the injured rabbi. Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar said, “We are calling on the law-enforcement agencies to not only track down and punish those who planned and conducted this attack, but also take the necessary legal action to destroy the Jihadi rebels. There can be no compromise with terrorists.” Lazar arranged the plane that brought the Israeli medical team to Russia and Isakov later to Israel.
The European Jewish Congress expressed “deep concern and shock” at the attack. EJC Secretary-General Serge Cwajgenbaum, however, cautioned against jumping to conclusions regarding motive.
Praying that the shooting was not an act of anti-Semitism, Alexander Levin, President of the World Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry said he is “sure that the Russian police will bring this terrorist to justice.”
Isakov has been described by friends as “an artist, a very peaceful man.” He completed his Rabbinical studies in Moscow and has served as the Chabad emissary in Derbent, Dagestan for nine years.
This is not the first attack Isakov has suffered. In 2007, his family home was vandalized with his family still inside.