Every year, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia holds an awards ceremony to honor top contributors to Jewish life. Typically, the awards are given to Jewish writers, philanthropists and social activists, but things took a different turn this time around.

This year, the recipient of the “Man of the Year” award was none other than a non-Jewish government official, Ulyanovsk regional Gov. Sergei Morosov, who stood before a crowd of 5,000 dignitaries, officials and journalists at the Grand Hall of the Kremlin in Moscow to laud the Jewish community for contributing “a great heritage and culture to the Russian people.”

“Relations between the Jewish community and the local government are among some of the best in the country,” explains Ulyanovsk Chief Rabbi Yosef Morosov, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who, despite sharing the same last name, is not related to the politician. “Gov. Morosov’s excellent relationship with the Jewish community is unique.”

In October, the governor sponsored the International Jewish Youth Conference in Ulyanovsk. He single-handedly arranged for hotel rooms, conference halls, and performers for the event, which promoted Jewish pride and awareness.

“Just the fact that the governor, even with his busy schedule, helped arrange the festival is amazing,” the chief rabbi commented.

Two Jewish youths from every section of Russia were flown to Ulyanovsk to participate in the event. Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar spoke at that conference, praising the power of youth. “Today, Jews in Russia can openly follow their faith,” he said at the time. “They should be proud of the activities of the Jewish community.”

After the youth conference, Gov. Morosov was at it again, attending the unveiling of a steel menorah outside his city’s Jewish community center.

“The governor was surprised to see that all of our operations run out of a two-story house,” said Suri Morosov, the chief rabbi’s wife.

When the governor walked through, he expressed dismay at the fact that although the center housed a small kosher store and café, two classrooms and a library, its synagogue could only comfortably hold 30 people, way less than the 500 people who participate in the congregation.

“On Rosh Hashanah,” continued Suri Morosov, “people stand in the halls and flood out onto the stairs in order to hear the services. We are forced to rent a hall for every major holiday. Our kindergarten is rented on a separate plot of land, and our synagogue functions as a makeshift Hebrew School three times a week.”

After his tour, the governor pledged to donate 1,200 square meters of land on Karl Marx Square in the center of the city to the Jewish community within six months.

“It is important that the Federation of Jewish Communities show its gratitude to communities’ benefactors every year,” stated Yosef Morosov. “Gov. Sergei Morosov has helped our community tremendously. He has gone out of his way to promote Jewish religion and culture.”