Jewish programming fails to reach 80% of FSU Jews

Since most Russian and Ukrainian Jews live in the larg cities, the "cultural competition" in urban centers is a major challenge for Jewish and Zionist educators.

zeev elkin 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
zeev elkin 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Fewer than 20 percent of the estimated one million Jews in Russia and Ukraine are exposed to any programming on Israel or Judaism, according to figures presented to the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Monday. While Jewish organizations reach most of the Jews in these countries' peripheries, "in the large cities, where robust [non-Jewish] cultural institutions exist, there is competition with Jewish programming," MK Zeev Elkin (Kadima) said. Since more than 50% of Russian Jews live in either St. Petersburg or Moscow, and 60% of Ukraine's Jews live in the country's four largest cities, this "cultural competition" in urban centers is a major challenge for Jewish and Zionist educators. "You can't get to them through religious education," added Elkin, a former head of the Bnei Akiva Orthodox youth movement in the FSU. "But culture and history, based on an ethnic or national identity, speaks to them. You can only get to larger segments of the population by strengthening Jewish national education." Unfortunately, he said, "Nativ and the Jewish Agency have scaled back their operations in these countries, leaving the arena solely to Chabad, which by its nature can only attract a small part of the population. The solution is to bring back Jewish Zionist education through investment by Israel and the [Jewish] Agency. If we don't do this, all the tremendous investment that went into that region will have been wasted." "It's very hard to pass on content about Israel to a population that was disconnected from Judaism for such a long time, said one official familiar with educational activities among FSU Jewry. "The majority [of FSU Jews and their non-Jewish relatives] know nothing about Israel, and aren't even aware they are eligible for aliya." Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim, also of Kadima, came to the meeting fresh from a six-day visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg, accompanied by senior officials from Nativ, the Jewish Agency and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs. The visit was meant to explore new opportunities for bringing Russians eligible for aliya to Israel, and to strengthen the connections between Israel and FSU Jewish communities. "There are 700,000 Jews eligible for aliya in the FSU, and efforts to bring them on aliya have been inadequate," Boim told the panel. "In the wake of this visit, a joint plan will be developed together with the Jewish Agency and Nativ to revive the aliya programs," he said. Experts talk about one million Russians eligible for aliya. Committee chairman MK Michael Nudelman (Kadima) called for an increase in the budget for encouraging aliya by 2008, and asked Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski to "develop attractive plans for encouraging aliya [from the FSU], similar to those offered in Western countries."