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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Chabad is turning to small donors to stave off a financial crisis in its Russian operations, as major donors like diamond and real estate mogul Lev Leviev are pulling back after suffering heavy losses in the global economic recession, Chabad officials told the i>The Jerusalem Post
Rabbis told the Post on Monday that new donors were responding to emergency appeals, though critical programs like schools remained at risk for cuts amid a crisis stretching back to the collapse of the US-based Lehman Brothers investment bank in September.
"The budget problem is serious," Rabbi Zvi Pinsky, manager of the Chabad house in St. Petersburg, told the Post.
"People used to tell us, 'You're taken care of, you don't need me,'" Pinsky added. "Now they feel needed, they see the distress... We're surviving because of these new donors."
Officials at Chabad's worldwide headquarters in New York's Crown Heights neighborhood declined to comment specifically on budget cuts due to Leviev's losses, but said that outposts in the former Soviet Union had been successful in drumming up new donors to keep critical programs intact.
Pinsky vowed that his Pessah Seder plans would continue as usual, and said he was preparing for as many as 500 people next week.
"The Seder will not be harmed - we're trying to make sure the recession is only felt behind the scenes, not by Jews who consume our services," Pinsky said.
The Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC), an umbrella of Chabad communities and outposts throughout the FSU, announced it would host nearly 1,000 Seders on Pessah in hundreds of communities from Latvia to Kyrgyzstan, with help from Jewish students.
Leviev, whose Africa Israel development company announced steep losses Monday, reiterated his personal commitment to the program in a statement on Sunday.
"Every Jew, even those who cannot afford it, should be able to celebrate the Passover Seder and feel part of the chosen people," Leviev said in the statement.
The initiative includes distributing some 200 tons of Pessah food to needy Jews in these communities, including specially made matzot, grape juice, chicken and basic necessities.
At Moscow's Marina Roscha Synagogue, Russia's chief Chabad rabbi, Berel Lazar, will host a 3,000-member Seder in which participants will be divided in 74 groups according to occupation, age and language. There will be Seders in English, Russian, French, Hebrew and even Yiddish.
While the impact of Leviev's losses is mostly confined to operations in the former Soviet Union, major donors are pulling back worldwide.
Zalman Shmotkin, who serves as Chabad's spokesman in New York but also oversees its global on-line operation, recently sent out an emergency fund-raising appeal, telling prospective donors that the economic crisis had hit his unit "crushingly hard," with a budget gap of about $1 million that had so far prompted layoffs and the suspension of new on-line initiatives.
Shmotkin told the Post that he was trying to replicate the grassroots fund-raising model that fueled US President Barack Obama's successful election campaign last year.
"It's a matter of reaching new donors or preexisting donors, people who haven't given in the past six to nine months," Shmotkin said.