Nativ to coordinate demographic study of FSU Jews

'Post' learns move next step in initiative to expand Jewish educational services in the region.

yehezkel 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
yehezkel 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The government will commission a demographic study of the Jewish community in the former Soviet Union, to be coordinated by Nativ, as the next step in an initiative to expand Jewish educational services in the region, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The initiative was announced in early June, and included the establishment of a high-level interministerial committee headed by cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel to examine ways of reinvigorating aliya from FSU countries, which has dropped from nearly 34,000 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2007. According to current - and apparently inaccurate - government figures, around 900,000 people in the FSU are eligible for aliya, of which some 470,000 are Jews according to Halacha. An estimated 80 percent of the 900,000 figure are intermarried. The population is also relatively old, with 70% of those eligible for aliya aged over 45. The original initiative included a promise from then-immigrant absorption minister Ya'acov Edri to increase the aliya basket for this group by 50%. The proposal was opposed by several Russian-speaking MKs, such as Kadima MK Zeev Elkin, who noted that the demographic figures were based on Russian and Ukrainian censuses and neglected to account for the unique way in which Russian-speaking Jews identify. As he told the Post in mid-June, the figure of 80% intermarriage among FSU Jews fails to convey that "between 60% and 80% of the children of these intermarriages marry one another. In other words, while these are intermarriages in a halachic sense, these intermarried families function as a relatively closed community. And it's precisely the children of these intermarried families who are the main consumers of Jewish activities in FSU countries." In a discussion this week in the Knesset Absorption Committee, Yehezkel acknowledged the need for more accurate figures, and charged Nativ with coordinating the new study. The study will not be too expensive or difficult, according to Elkin. It can be conducted through simple phone surveys examining how relevant households described themselves in the census, allowing the government to translate the census data into information more relevant to Jewish educational initiatives. Nativ head Naomi Ben-Ami welcomed the study. "We want to do this very much," she told the Post. "It can help us continue the work we need to do with that population." The interministerial committee headed by Yehezkel was slated to present its recommendations for a new policy toward FSU Jewry by next week, but this deadline will likely be extended to allow the committee to examine the study's findings.