Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Visit to Jewish Institutions in Moscow

November 24 to December 4, 1997

To reach older adolescents and young adults, JAFI operates monthly disco evenings, which are very popular because strict security measures prevent the entry of hooligans as well as alcohol and drugs. Announcements are made between dances about JAFI student clubs and other events of interest to Jewish young people. Sign-up sheets for these activities are available at the disco.

Some students recruited at disco evenings have expressed interest in becoming leaders of high school youth clubs operating under JAFI auspices. Candidates for these positions attend a series of weekend seminars at a site just outside Moscow where their skills and talents are assessed. A training course follows for successful applicants. Experience shows that many of the youth leaders will emigrate to Israel in the future.

Outside of Moscow, JAFI activity in Golden Ring cities operates under the direction of local JAFI coordinators trained and supervised by Marina Ben-Arie, an Israeli staff member of JAFI in Moscow. Mrs. Ben-Arie, who was born and raised in Kharkov, a strongly russified city in northeastern Ukraine, said that about 70,000 Jews live in the Golden Ring cities. Aliyah from these cities is proportionately greater than from Moscow itself because of particularly strong antisemitism in some, especially Voronezh, where the Slavic Union is active, and economic distress in others, such as Bryansk, Smolensk, Kaluga, and Tver. Sela and Chalom27 are very popular programs in these communities. In addition to ulpans, JAFI programs in Golden Ring cities include holiday celebrations, aliyah clubs, and aliyah preparation. Mrs. Ben-Arie said that Jews in these towns were informed of local JAFI activities through the "Jewish telegraph", i.e., word-of-mouth reports from friends and relatives. Advertisements in the public press bring "unwanted visitors", she said.

In discussing target groups for aliyah from Moscow, Alla Levy said that major focus is on young adults and on white-collar families. Both groups require outreach and a program of involvement and recruitment over time. Russian Jewish young adults, said Ms. Levy, do not relate to Israel. They are very anti-ideological and strongly career-conscious. Many perceive numerous career opportunities in Moscow. Considering all of these factors, she continued, JAFI must develop a dialogue with them on their terms. Ms. Levy believes that Moscow Jewish young adults have three options regarding their Jewish identity: (1) rejection of any Jewish content in their lives; (2) Jewish content with little or no Israeli dimension, a direction that seems to be fostered in the Hillel organ-ization; or (3) Jewish content with a strong connection to Israel. Obviously, JAFI wants to encourage the third option. Development of a strong Israeli con-sciousness will require time and effort.

White-collar families are struggling to survive in contemporary Russia. Specific career programs may help them to find better opportunities in Israel. JAFI must develop a support system for such families.

JAFI is not targeting scientists or artists in its aliyah efforts. Many scientists and artists have found absorption very difficult. However, some Russian Jewish scientists and artists are very sympathetic to Israel and can be helpful in promoting a positive attitude about Israel and aliyah.

Regarding St. Petersburg, Ms. Levy said that JAFI efforts in promoting aliyah from that city will be less long-term. The St. Petersburg Jewish population is smaller and older, and aliyah is stronger. 28

29. Zeev Ben-Arie is the Press Attache of the Embassy of the State of Israel in Moscow. Mr. Ben-Arie was born and raised in Kharkov, as was his wife, Marina, who works for the Jewish Agency. (See page 29.)

Mr. Ben-Arie predicted that aliyah from Russia would continue at 20,000 to 25,000 people annually, with a disproportionately large number of olim coming from provincial cities and towns. Little can be done to stimulate aliyah from larger cities because many post-Soviet Jews in Moscow and St. Petersburg perceive economic opportunities in these cities and cannot be swayed by Zionist appeals. They are very anti-ideological, he said. Generating aliyah from Moscow and St. Petersburg requires a long-term investment. Mr. Ben-Arie noted that such efforts are very expensive, especially in the large Russian cities. He believes that day schools can be effective in producing a strong Jewish and Zionist consciousness, but such schools are very costly to operate, perhaps two to three times more expensive in Moscow than in Ukraine.

Probably the best way of promoting aliyah in Moscow, said Mr. Ben-Arie, is targeting specific professional opportunities in Israel and recruiting appropriate individual Jews to fill these positions. [The Jewish Agency Aliyah 2000 program addresses this need. BG]

The economic status of Jews in Moscow and St. Petersburg is generally higher than that of the average Russian. In fact, a disproportionately large number of Jews are very wealthy. In addition to banking, many Jews have done well in computer- and medical-related businesses. Engineers and mathematicians are less prosperous, but the more energetic among them have supplemented institutional incomes by doing consulting work. Mr. Ben-Arie said that some wealthy Jews live in each of the Russian provincial cities, noting especially Nizhniy Novgorod, Kazan, and Samara. The number of poor Jews in these and other Russian provincial cities is very high.

In response to a question, Mr. Ben-Arie acknowledged that some Jews who have emigrated to Israel have returned to Russia as businessmen. He estimated that perhaps two to three dozen such individuals live in Moscow.

Mr. Ben-Arie noted that a large number of very successful Russian Jewish businessmen have asked for Israeli citizenship for purposes of protection, a "guarantee" against a change in the current political and/or economic atmosphere in Russia. Some of these individuals have purchased apartments in Israel. Some vacation in Eilat, bringing Russian government cronies with them. Some also support ex-wives and children who live in Israel.

Most of the businessmen involved in REK are eager to build a Jewish community in Russia. They want to be full partners with Israel and with other diaspora Jewry, and they reject any patronizing from outsiders. However, some have become patronizing themselves in their efforts to aid Israel through investing in various Israeli businesses. They have often demanded special privileges, one-sided deals, then become very annoyed when such preferential terms are denied.

Mr. Ben-Arie said that contemporary antisemitism is not an independent ideology in itself in Russia, but a byproduct of rightwing politics and Russian nationalism. Nationalist groups, such as the Slavic Union, are marginal and enjoy no broad support. Such groups benefit from the disorder and crime in post-Soviet society. For example, members of the Slavic Union have become associated with official militia patrolling certain public parks, such as Sterlitsky Park in Moscow, that are said to be hangouts for drunkards, drug dealers, and other undesirable people. The Slavic Union members dress in black clothing adorned with swastikas and beat up individuals in the park whom they dislike, not all of whom are drunkards, drug dealers, etc. Similar Slavic Union activity exists in other Russian cities, such as Krasnodar and Voronezh.

The Russian legal system, said Mr. Ben-Arie, is insufficiently sophisticated to deal with hate crimes. Some of the difficulty in enacting and enforcing necessary legislation stems from fear by remaining communists that antifascist laws will be used against them.

Mr. Ben-Arie continued that antisemitism is used as a weapon in competition between various businesses, such as between banks [because many banks are controlled by Jews]. It is also used in cultural battles, such as the recent episode regarding the November 9 television broadcast of the controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ. The Russian Orthodox church considers this film blasphemous and drew attention to the fact that the television channel in question is owned by Most Media Group, which is controlled by Vladimir Gouzinsky. The church asked the municipality of Moscow to withdraw all of its deposits from Most Bank. It is common knowledge that Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow is supported financially by Mr. Gouzinsky and several other Jewish bankers. The antisemitic innuendo in the church reaction to this television program was quite blatant.

Mr. Ben-Arie stated that the use of antisemitism as a weapon for control of the economy and culture is far more dangerous than its exploitation by such individuals as Alexander Barkashov, leader of the Slavic Union. Mr. Barkashov's organization is small and is likely to remain so.

30. Eliyahu Sheizaf is an attache at the Embassy of Israel in Moscow and also Director of the Israeli Culture Center in Moscow. Such centers are operated by the Lishkat Hakesher, more recently known as Nativ, an increasingly con-troversial unit within the Israeli Prime Minister's office. In a meeting with Mr. Sheizaf at the Israeli Cultural Center, he said that the role of the Center is to provide information about Israel to local Jews.

27. Chalom is a program in Israel that includes a five-month ulpan and a 10-month vocational training course. It is geared to the needs of young people who lack the qualifications and/or desire for university education. In practice, most participants in Chalom have come from the smaller cities and towns in the successor states where secondary school preparation for university entrance is often inadequate.
28.  As noted earlier, the Jewish population of St. Petersburg is probably about 90,000. A large proportion of St. Petersburg Jewry is descended from Jews who migrated to Leningrad from Belarus shtetls in the pre-war period or immediately after the war as refugees; their Jewish identity is stronger than that of many Moscow Jews. Additionally, the St. Petersburg economy is much weaker than that of Moscow.

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