Updated Sunday, July 28 at 4 p.m.

Rabbi Ovadia Isakov, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and chief rabbi of Derbent in the Republic of Dagestan, gave his first account of a shooting that he said was “motivated by anti-Semitism” as his condition continued to improve following emergency surgery in Israel.

Although Isakov had trouble speaking, he briefly confirmed that he was returning from performing a ritual slaughter for kosher meat when he was attacked late Thursday evening. "There was one man waiting for me,” Isakov said, “and as I was entering my house he shot me. He did not say anything and did not ask for anything. I do not remember anything after the shooting.”

“This is not the first time such attacks have occurred,” Isakov continued. “There have been attacks during Jewish holidays, and they even threw a bomb at our mikvah.”

Despite the shooting and other assaults, Isakov claimed that Jewish community members in Derbent do not live in fear. The rabbi says he is looking forward to returning home and continuing his work as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. "Life goes on as usual. I really want to go back there and continue my shlichus. There are many good people there and very good community.”

Visit From New Chief Rabbi

One of Isakov’s first visitors after awakening from surgery was Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s newly elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi, who was at Isakov’s bedside soon after the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath.

Isakov had been flown to Israel early Friday morning in a chartered emergency rescue plane, accompanied by a team of doctors and paramedics. He underwent a second surgery in Israel on Friday, which successfully stopped bleeding in his liver. On Sunday, Isakov was taken off anesthesia and a respirator, and doctors said that while his condition was still serious, they were very happy with the progress in his recovery.

"I would like to strengthen you to continue your shlichus," Lau told Isakov. "After you get well and return to your place of shlichus, I will come visit you," said Lau.

Isakov’s family told the chief rabbi that right after Shabbat ended, Isakov asked them to tell him a story about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, as is customary at the festive melaveh malka meal that joins the Sabbath to the days of the new week.

Rabbi's Family Expresses Gratitude

Family members expressed gratitude to G‑d and to the many people who were involved in assisting following the shooting, and to those who prayed on the rabbi’s behalf.

The flight to Israel was arranged by Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, working with the international unit of the ZAKA emergency service team in Israel. It was funded by the Federation of Jews in the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS.

Lazar noted that “this is not the first time terrorists have selected religious individuals for their attacks,” and condemned those “whose only goal is to kill innocent people, especially those who live in a world of eternal values, morality and spirituality.”

He thanked the doctors, who he said were doing everything in their power for Isakov, and wished “a speedy recovery for the victim, and support for his wife and children.”

Local officials were investigating conflicting reports that either one or three assailants were involved in the attack. Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that the rabbi’s Jewish appearance “is among the possible motives investigators are considering for the attack.”

Those involved escaped from the crime scene, and the investigation is continuing there.

The acting head of Dagestan, a majority Muslim republic bordering Azerbaijan, condemned the attack, blaming it on “extremists and terrorists.”

A native of Derbent, Isakov is described by friends as “an artist, a very peaceful man.” Following years of rabbinic study in Moscow, Isakov returned to the city nine years ago with his wife, Chaya Miriam, as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

In his comments to Lubavitch.com following the shooting, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, asked that the international community pray for the recovery of the Chabad emissary. (It is customary to recite Psalms, particularly Psalm 20, with prayers for a complete recovery using the victim’s Hebrew name and the name of his mother: Ovadia ben Zahava Chaya.)

“We should never take for granted the selfless dedication that shluchim exercise every day in their commitment to serving the Jewish people,” said Krinsky, “especially when that entails the kinds of sacrifices that Rabbi Isakov and his family have made in choosing to fulfill the noble calling of serving as Chabad representatives.”

This was not the first time Isakov has been the target of an attack. In 2007 his home was vandalized by assailants in the morning hours, while the rabbi, his wife and children, including a 9-month-old baby, were in their bedrooms.