The Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff is the latest in a string of financial blows to Jewish aid programs in the former Soviet Union, wiping out the Chais Family Foundation that was the primary funder of Jewish higher education in Russia. The foundation had been providing $2.5 million annually in funding for 12 cultural and educational programs in the FSU.
Chais funded the Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies in St. Petersburg, the Jewish studies department at Moscow State University and the Chais Center for Jewish Studies in Russia, which it founded. The Chais Center brings professors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the region to create accredited programs. Hundreds of Jewish professionals have been trained through the center.
In addition, the foundation was a major funder of the Open University of Israel, which transmits online curricula to the former Soviet Union.
Those programs are now in danger.
The loss of Chais Foundation funding comes after the profound financial cutbacks which have hit the educational networks serving Jewish children across the FSU. The Jewish Agency for Israel's, Heftziba network, the secular ORT system and the Orthodox Shma Yisrael network as well as the largest Jewish educational network in the region, Chabad’s Or Avner system, have been forced to make significant cuts in their operations.
Besides higher education, the Chais Foundation provided tens of millions of dollars for several programs aimed at promoting Jewish identity among youth. The Hillel Organization of the FSU and Limmud FSU will be forced to find alternative budgetary sources or considerably reduce their activities.