Betsy Gidwitx Reports











43. The Jewish Agency for Israel has recently issued a report that presents data on contemporary Jewish demography in each Soviet successor state and in numerous post-Soviet cities.44 According to an introductory statement in the report, the purpose of the study is the provision of data for JAFI planning and operations. Some figures in this report offer substantially from those commonly accepted by other reliable observers. Although the Jewish Agency study is much more right than wrong, it is not a definitev report (ansd the Jewish Agency does not claim that it is so). Individuals and organizations concerned with post-Soviet Jewry have long been frustrated by the absence of reliable demographic ataistics concerning the post-Soviet Jewish population.


44. The economic situation in the former Soviet union remains grave (and in Ukraine more so than much of Russia). Inflation contines to erode salaries and pensions. Municipalities are unable to provide consistent essential services; interruptions in water and electrical power supply frustrate daily life; streets are collections of potholes connected by strips of pavement and communications networks break down with annoying frequency. Many basic medications are unaviailable. Corruption invades ever more sectors of post-Soviet life as goods and services become increasingly difficult to obtain.


45. As noted in a previous report, the welfare needs of the post-Soviet Jewish population – particularly the elderly, disabled and children at risk - are overwhelming. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is attempting to address this issue by assisting the formation of local welfare groups and providing them with commodities for supplemental food parcels. The JDC is also facilitating the establishment of local agencies to lend medical equipment, operate day centers for the elderly, dispense talking-books for vision-impaired and provide other services. Nonetheless, relif needs of the post-Soviet Jewish population remain acute.

Although the cost of expanding JDC programs top develop a more comprehensive welfare system for Jews in the Soviet successor states will be high, it may be more cost-effective to increase such services there than by their absence; encourage elderly and other Jews at risk to emigrate to Israel and overburden the Israel health care system. This issue requires thoughtful consideration by Jewish policy-makers in the United States, elsewhere in the diaspora and Israel.


46. Jewish visitors are touched by the efforts of so many dedicated local Jews in the successor states to enrich the specifically Jewish aspects of post-Soviet Jewish life. New Jewish institutions – especially day and supplemental schools, youth groups, summer and winter camps, cultural centers and adult educational programs are reawakening long suppressed Jewish souls. Many of these enterprises are seriously under funded and lack basic Jewish educational materials, particularly suitable textbooks in all Judaic topics. Despite teacher training programs offered by Israel and other organizations, the quality of instruction in many educational institutions is low. Surely reasonable observers understand the difficulty of creating a vibrant Jewish educational environment in a vacuum created by a half century or more of Soviet tyranny, but the inability of Israel and other institutions to develop suitable Judaic textbooks hardly seems to support and encourage the renewal of Jewish life amongst those who are so eager to reclaim their Jewish heritage.


47. Destructive competition between the two Israel service agencies, the Lishkat haKesher and the Jewish Angency for Israel continues to undermine the renewal of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. In terms of programs in the successor states, the two agencies offer competing Hebrew-language ulpans, youth groups and holiday commemorations. For example each of the two organizations sponsors its own separate Holocaust remembrance commemorations and Israeli independence Day celebrations in several cities wherever both are represented. Each agency also sponsors its own high-school-in-israel program; one has been accused of “snatching” desirable candidates from the other. Although the duplicate undertakings may provide more opportunities for participation in Jewish/Israeli activity; such duplication is uncoordinated and thus wasteful misuse of communal resources. Further, the competitive sfforts to attract post-Soviet Jews to their respective ventures have included denunciations of rival program that have not passed unnoticed by local (non-Jewish) media and have caused breaches within local Jewish populations.


48. The establishment of indigenous Jewish communal institutions, many with the encouragement and assistance of the Joint Distribution Committee, is heartening. Yet some leaders of these nascent organizations remain prisoners of the Soviet system in which they were raised, showing limited tolerance for civil debate, political or spiritualism, consensus building, planning or accountability. The development of appropriate leadership, attitudes and skills will require the assistance and patience of Israelis and diaspora Jews.

44. Barush Gut, The Jewish Population of the Former Soviet Union: An Empirical Analysis as of Mid-1993. Situation Paper No.6 (Jerusalem: The Jewish Agency for Israel, 1993)


This report was prepared by Dr. Betsy Gidwitz. The secots on Dnipropetrovsk were written in consultation with Dr. Judith Patkin, Sheila Galland and Martha Moore.

Many individuals and institutions enabled the Boston travelers to distribute pharmaceutical goods. Jewish educational materials and other items to post-Soviet Jews during their October journey. Among the donors are Dr. Walter Abelmann, Action for Post-soviet Jewry and ASPJ Medical Committee (the latter chaird by Dr. Michael Duhan) Barbara anatolev, Dr. Betsy Gidwitz, Robert Gordon/Store 24, Helene Curtis Industries, Israel Book Shop, Susan Smullin Jones, Werner Kaim, Martha Moore, Burton Orland, Dr. Gary Portnay, Dr. Bruce Pastor, Dr. Judith Patkin, Greta Ratsky, Sheldon Rubin, Searle Pharmaceuticals and Harold Tubman. The Boston group is also grateful to Rabbi Gershon Gewirtz for his assistance in selecting appropriate Jewish educational materials.


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