(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak has established a special foundation that will work with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation to advance Jewish education in Eastern Europe.
"There have been sharp cutbacks of Jewish Agency funding in the last few years, and this has put many schools in jeopardy," explained Moscow's Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who sits on the board of both foundations and, together with Kiev's Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, will coordinate the activities of the two philanthropies.
"The Jewish schools [in the Former Soviet Union] were created about 15 years ago because parents wanted their kids to be in a Jewish environment before they left for Israel or the United States," Goldschmidt explained. "Of late, aliya has dropped to a trickle, as has emigration to the US, and the number of children in Jewish schools has fallen drastically across the board. So to fight this trend, we have to reform the whole Jewish school system, first by making them much more attractive to an 'assimilated' Jewish audience."
The Gaydamak Foundation seeks to do this by raising the level of general education in the Jewish schools so that "the school doesn't have to look for the children, but they will break down the door trying to get in," Goldschmidt added.
The Lauder Foundation spends some $5 million annually on Jewish education in Eastern Europe. Though the budget is not finalized and will depend on which projects it pursues, the new foundation is expected to spend about the same.