Both the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel have indicated that due to ongoing financial difficulties they may need to further drastically curtail their operations in the FSU. These cuts would be a serious blow to both formal Jewish education and social services and significantly undermine what has been a 20-year process to build up Jewish life in the former Soviet Union since the fall of Communism.
In a joint letter to the top professionals at Jewish federations across North America, Steven Schwager, the chief executive officer of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and Irv Smokler, its president indicated that the JDC was in dire need of more funds to continue its operations in the FSU.
The JDC focuses its efforts in the former Soviet Union on delivering social services and community-building activities. The significant budget deficit will require a large cutback in these areas. The organization already has had to cut services overseas, specifically in the former Soviet Union.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, which focuses on formal Jewish education and Jewish identity building in the former Soviet Union, also appears to be facing major challenges. In a previously undisclosed internal report in May, the Jewish Agency’s treasurer informed the organization’s executive committee that programming in the former Soviet Union might have to be abandoned due to severe budget constraints.
The Jewish Agency budget cut would further reduce funding of Heftsibah, a partnership with the Israeli Education Ministry that includes a network of 44 Jewish day schools across the former Soviet Union with more than 10,000 students. Heftsibah had its budget cut in November, 2008 from nearly $13 million to just over $5 million. Now the budget is slated to be $2.6 million for the coming school year.
Aside from the Jewish Agency cuts to Heftzibah, the school system of Chabad, Or Avner, perhaps the biggest Jewish player in the region is also suffering. It has been heavily financed by Lev Leviev, the mogul whose holdings have been massively depleted over the last years. Shma Yisrael, which had been financed by the Reichmann family of Canada, also is dealing with financial troubles.