Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Leader Who Took Down Iron Curtain, Dies

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the former Soviet Union, who is credited for ending the Cold War and bringing an era of new freedoms to Russia, has died at the age of 91.

By Anash.org reporter

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the former Soviet Union, who is credited for ending the Cold War, has died at the age of 91.

Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in December 1991. He pushed for radical changes to the Soviet economy and his overhaul, known as perestroika, and policy of openness, or glasnost, unleashed a political avalanche that brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989 and ended Soviet rule two years later.

Together with the end of Soviet rule came a new era for Judaism in Russia, with Jews no longer having to practice their faith in secret. Before long, Chabad shluchim took up outposts throughout former Soviet lands in order to establish schools and reinvigorate shuls, and countless Jews were reconnected to their roots.

The breathtaking changes were foretold by the Rebbe, who instructed Professor Herman Branover in 1985 to call his contacts in the Soviet Union and inform them that freedom was closer than they could possibly imagine.

In 1992, when Branover met with Gorbachev in Israel, he told him about the Rebbe’s prediction. “He was thrilled and amazed,” Branover recalled. “He asked me ‘Who is this man? Tell me more about him!’, saying that he himself had been unable to predict what would happen in Russia as late as 1987.”

In one of the meetings he had with Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar over the past decades, Gorbachev embraced the Jewish revival his policies helped set in motion, saying that “Russia is good for the Jews and Jews are good for Russia.”

“I am proud that the current situation is something that came about through my doings,” he said.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who served as the Chief Rabbi of England, wrote his memories of lighting menorah with the former president in 1991.

“After we had lit candles together, Mr. Gorbachev asked me, through his interpreter, what we had just done. I told him that 22 centuries ago in Israel after the public practice of Judaism had been banned, Jews fought for and won their freedom, and these lights were the symbol of that victory.”

“And I continued: Seventy years ago Jews suffered the same loss of freedom in Russia, and you have now helped them to regain it. So you have become part of the Chanukah story. And as the interpreter translated those words into Russian, Mikhail Gorbachev blushed,” he recalled.

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