December 21, 2010
By GIL SHEFLER
Warning comes at Jerusalem conference on Jewish eduction; private contributions to education falling in recent years.
The Jewish education system in the former Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse and needs immediate financial assistance, a charity warned at a conference dedicated to Jewish education in the region, held in Jerusalem on Monday.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the Fellowship of Christians and Jews said at the event that unless the Israeli government helped come up with a plan for the cash-strapped Jewish schools across the former Soviet Union, many will have to close.
“The fellowship is called in from time to time to help organizations in crisis,” he said. “I call on the Israeli government to come up with a long-term strategic plan to promise the continuation of the Jewish education system in the FSU and the continued help to Jews in need. Heads of the Jewish communities in the US and elsewhere should also join the efforts.”
In recent years, private contributions, the mainstay of the budgets of Jewish schools throughout the former Soviet Union, have dwindled considerably, especially after the recession of 2008, which strongly impacted the markets in Russia. In response, Jewish schools have struggled to find alternative sources of income to maintain their operations.
The Fellowship of Christians and Jews is one group that has stepped in to fill in the void left by philanthropists who have had to cut their donations because of the financial downturn. The group, which raises most of its money from evangelical Christians in the US, plans to give NIS 70 million to Jewish causes in the FSU in 2011.
Some Jewish education systems are faring worse than others. Heftziba schools, for example, are in dire need of funds. Others, like Or Avner, are much better off. While the latter's finances have been better in the past, its financial situation is stable with new branches continuing to open and no expected closures, sources said.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who also attended the event in Jerusalem, said it was important to find funds to help assimilated Jews in the region return to the fold of Judaism.
Asher Ostrin, who runs the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee programs in the FSU, also spoke of the importance of having a strong Jewish education system in the region.
“There are some 25,000 Jewish youth at risk who come from families afflicted by problems like alcoholism and violence and need our help,” he said.