Abramovich: the Jew

What drives a Lithuanian and Israeli Jew with palaces in Europe, the United States and around the world to ask for Portuguese nationality? What good is it to him?

What drives a not very religious Jew to support the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement worldwide for 20 years, with half a billion dollars? What was the origin of the founders of this Chabad movement and the latitudes where it took its first steps?

What other family members, names, routes, cities, and evidence led the highest international Jewish authorities to guarantee the Portuguese origin of the Jew to which we refer?

What led the Portuguese Jewish certifying community to endorse the essential documents of the case to the Registry and the Government?

How did the Registry and the Government, aware of the legal criteria for certification, attribute nationality to someone they knew would be politically contested?

What makes the certification process, which I have known and studied for a long time, start with the applicant's Hebrew name and proof of payment of €250.00?

I confess that I was very pleased to learn about Roman Abramovich's case. His story is my story. It's the story of the Jews.

He is very discreet. He does not give interviews. He does not pose for photographs. He rarely shows emotion. His children are Lithuanian nationals, from the European Union. This is a right of Abramovich, a Lithuanian Jew, a Portuguese Jew, and an Israeli Jew, as well as a Russian Jew.

The history of Abramovich is the history of the pogroms the Jews suffered everywhere. Assassinated in Poland and kidnapped in Lithuania, in the 20th century, to die in Siberia (the resting place of his grandfather, Nachman Leibovich), they had suffered discrimination in Minsk, Poznan and Hamburg, and earlier still in the Iberian Peninsula and in other places, just as had occurred two millennia ago in Judah.

The successive marching orders received to move on to neighbouring countries (when such countries had agreed to take in Jews), as well as their trade relations and the marriages between Jews of different origins, meant that Jewish families from Iberia and those from central and eastern Europe constantly intermarried.

The Jerusalem Post called him the “mega philanthropist” and “an ardent, long-time supporter of Jewish culture around the world". Roman Abramovich has been recognised by the Forum for Jewish Culture and Religion for his contribution of more than 500 million dollars to Jewish causes in Russia, the United States, Great Britain, Lithuania, Israel, Portugal and elsewhere in the last twenty years.

In the Jewish world, one of the greatest beneficiaries of his generosity has long been the international Chabad movement, based in New York, which supervises 4500 rabbis scattered around the world. Chabad took its first steps in Poland, in Poznan, on Portugalis street, and was officially founded by Schneur Zalmane, descended from Rabbi Baruch Portugali, of Sephardic origin.

His civil name is known but possibly not his Hebrew name: Nachman ben Aharon. His name recalls that of the great 13th century Sephardic sage, Moises ben Nachman, known as Nachmanides. Abramovich is a benefactor member of Jewish comunities such as Chabad Portugal (in Cascais it has the largest Chabad Centre in Europe) and B’nai B’rith International Portugal, together with other philanthropists from the United States, Russia, China and Israel.

In addition to donations of millions of dollars to the Jewish Agency for Israel and to Jewish communities everywhere, Abramovich participated in symbolic acts such as the plantation of a forest with about 25.000 trees in memory of the Lithuanian Jews who died in the Holocaust, and the rehabilitation of the cemetery of the old Jewish Portuguese community of Altona, today a neighbourhood in the city of Hamburg.

After decades of helping the people of Israel and the State of Israel, in 2018 he obtained Israeli citizenship. In the West it was reported that he did so to continue to enter London without a visa. For three years he was not seen in the city. When he made it to visit his family in 2021, the news reported he becomes an Israeli to enter the UK.

My father, the Lisbon rabbi for fifty years, always taught me that in different eras and contexts, the Jew is not identified with good sentiments and pure actions, but rather with money, business and dodgy behaviour. The letter which a Polish relative of Abramovich wrote in 1940 to the Jewish community of Oporto (which was mostly Polish at the time), begging it to inform the family that he had arrived safely in London, has led me to conclude that, yes, he had fled the Nazis, but was hardly free from another kind of antisemitism, based on the same myths and insults.

Described for years in the West as a luxury-loving Russian billionaire, from the moment Abramovich became a citizen of Israel and launched the “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign, his Jewish condition has come into focus, not to mention every stereotype that has always persecuted rich Jews.

According to the last report of the Anti-Defamation League, in June of this year, he is the nº 1 target of online anti-Semitism in the world of football. The network contains endless contents such as: “Roman Abramovich is Jewish, stop supporting Chelsea” and “The Jews really rule the world. I was surprised to learn that Roman Abramovich is a Jew”.

Chelsea FC works with personalities and authorities the world over to help fight antisemitism and hate in general. As part of that effort, players, management and fans meet frequently with Holocaust survivors, in a campaign involving partners including the World Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith International, the Holocaust Education Trust and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.

Although he finances projects the world over, such as one in Israel that annually unites 1000 Jewish and Arab children through football, to tear down barriers between youths of different cultures, Roman Abramovich is well aware that many will never ascribe positive intentions or pure feelings to him. The history of the Jews has proved it.