The challenge is the same the world over – whether one is in London, Tel Aviv or Moscow – how do we get people involved in the religious, cultural and social lives of our community? Sure, each city, and country, has its own unique flavor and flow, but the over-riding challenge does not change. And everyplace I travel, the discussion appears to revolve around two words, Jewish education. Or, more specifically, the need for stronger and more inclusive programs.
I’ve recently returned from two weeks in the FSU countries; I’ve visited schools – elementary, secondary and college – participated in informal education programs, met with communal leaders, think-tank experts and volunteers. I’ve sat one on one with Chief Rabbis, educators, philanthropists, social workers and more. I’ve seen first-hand how those whose Jewishness is defined by The Law of Return, as opposed to Halacha, are welcomed into the community, not ostracized from it; how those assimilated can help enlarge our Jewish family, not detract from it.
Many of our organizations are engaged in valuable work in the FSU countries. Over the past year, I’ve observed the stunning successes of two of these, both focused on education, Limmud FSU and World ORT. I’ve observed first-hand how Limmud FSU’s volunteer commitment has allowed the organization to become an integral part of the Jewish informal educational system. And I’ve come to understand why ORT operates as a bridge to the world of high-tech for Russia. I see why both of these organizations, in their own way, are important for Russia, important for our Jewish world and important for Israel.
I’ve listened to professionals, on every side, discuss the ramifications of educational funding cuts caused by budget shortages at the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Education and how these play-out on the ground. I’ve questioned managers at some of our largest global Jewish organizations on the over-reaching fund-raising emphasis on feeding the hungry, yet an absence of speaking about some of the great work their contributions are making in other areas.
Over the next few weeks, I will share observations and tell stories of programs, site visits and meetings. And throughout, the question for all of us to ponder is what is the responsibility of the Jewish people to these changing communities in the FSU. For today, even though we may not fully grasp the changes that have taken place, for many young Russian Jews, the country has become one to come back to, not one to leave; one with a real future; one that continues to experiment and push the boundaries and most important one that will require a change of attitude, and a reconsideration of our funding priorities in order to flourish.