neo-Nazi ring 224.88.
(photo credit: Israel Police)
A grassroots organization that helps disenfranchised Russian-speaking teenagers connect with Israel and explore their Jewish identity is to have its budget from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry slashed by more than half, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The move comes just one week after the Israel Police announced the arrest and indictment of members of a neo-Nazi ring for inciting anti-Semitism and attacking members of the public. All of those arrested were immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
"The entire country is talking about this problem and the government cuts the budget of programs that are trying to help improve the situation," said Tal Frankfurt, resource development director and spokesperson for the nonprofit organization One Plus One, which runs a variety of programs countrywide for hundreds of Russian-speaking youth considered at risk. "We help those who are seconds away from falling into this [neo-Nazi] trap."
Frankfurt said the ministry, which provides roughly 40 percent of the organization's budget, had informed the group last week that instead of receiving its annual allocation of NIS 380,000, this year's would be cut to NIS 141,000. The rest of the organization's budget comes from private donations.
"They were supposed to give funds for us to set up 10 new groups for our 'Way to Success' business project," Frankfurt said, adding that for the past two years One Plus One has been running a program assisting high school dropouts to set up their own businesses within one year. "It has been very successful and several municipalities expressed an interest in us setting up similar programs in their communities."
While the Immigrant Absorption Ministry believes in the benefits of such programs, a ministry spokeswoman said, "massive budget cuts in the ministry's overall budget have led to a reordering of priorities," meaning a cutback in this program. "We hope that with the 2008 budget we will be able to continue supporting such projects and expand them further," she said.
However, One Plus One director Luba Berenstein told The Jerusalem Post these issues needed to be dealt with as soon as possible to prevent more Russian-speaking teens from feeling disengaged from Israel.
A study released earlier this week by the Israel Anti-Drug Abuse Foundation found that only a third of teens who came to Israel from the FSU identify themselves as Israeli.
Berenstein said she was not surprised when details of the neo-Nazi case emerged last week.
"We have been warning government bodies for a while now that these events might happen," she said. "This is an extreme case, but the conflicts between the community and the religious establishment, as well as general Jewish identity issues, need to be addressed."
Berenstein, who came to Israel from Latvia at 15, said, "Russian-speaking teenagers experience a serious trauma because of immigration. Nearly all teenagers suffer from identity questions, but for Russian immigrants they also have to grapple with the questions of 'Am I Israeli?' or 'Am I Russian?'"
Lack of acceptance by Israeli society and the increasing segregation of Russian-speaking youth from other teenagers are issues that were raised last week when details of the neo-Nazi ring came to light.
"We need more programs to keep the kids off the streets," said a 16-year-old Ukrainian-born Kiryat Shmona resident, whose life was beginning to spiral out of control until she was introduced to One Plus One's community volunteer program. "I know what it's like for us in Kiryat Shmona; there is nothing to do, so the teenagers just smoke cigarettes, water pipes and drink alcohol."
Formerly part of that peer group, she said by age 14 she was already considering dropping out of school, and had taken up smoking and drinking alcohol on a regular basis.
"Now I am a volunteer for my community and it's a much better feeling than being drunk," she said. "We organize parties and events for other teenagers in our area at the local community center. We don't serve any alcohol, though."
Community volunteer work, Berenstein said, "allows the teenagers to feel a sense of worth, to feel like they are giving something back to society on an equal footing to everyone else. It is very empowering."
Asked whether she believed the establishment had increased efforts to solve the community's problems since the neo-Nazi gang was arrested, Berenstein said: "Unfortunately, nothing has changed. The newspapers made a huge fuss about it, the Jewish Agency for Israel was blamed for bringing them here, the Russian community was blamed for not stopping it. But apart from dishing out blame, there has not been much constructive dialogue at all or any solid suggestions about what can be done to prevent this in the future."