Time to Right a Historic Wrong: Urgent Reforms Needed for Restitution Process
By Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky
There is an unfortunate injustice which has been going on for decades, perhaps one of the better kept secrets in the Jewish world, but unfair nonetheless.
Hundreds of millions (billions?) of Holocaust era restitution dollars have been distributed in Europe, the former Soviet Union and Israel; while Chabad – the world’s largest Jewish outreach organization actually in the trenches revitalizing many of these same communities – has gotten next to nothing.
(The exchange (from 2:10 in the video) in March 1989 between UJA federation leaders and the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory speaks volumes).
Although a few colleagues in the states indicate that while there has been measured improvement in some cities, it seems that Chabad is still not receiving its fair share of funding, nationally and locally, from Federations.
Chabad is famous for its unique style of openness and for accepting every Jew, no matter their lifestyle, political opinion or level of observance. Nonetheless it is not treated fairly vis a vis these communal funds. Funds which deserve to be distributed without discrimination of any kind.
A Telling Example
Where does inequality and discrimination of this sort lead to?
The current situation in Lithuania is a perfect example. Since 2014, the Good Will Foundation (GWF) has been distributing funds restituted by the Lithuanian government in lieu of pre-World War II Jewish communal religious property. The GWF has representatives of a number of international Jewish organizations involved in restitution, but not Chabad.
This has led to the reality we face today, that Chabad of Lithuania is blatantly discriminated against. Chabad of Lithuania has a 23 year track record of revitalizing Jewish life in this country. Chabad is active and effective in the spheres of education, welfare and religious activities throughout Lithuania. Certainly valid recipients of the government restitution funds.
However, Chabad of Lithuania’s repeated request for membership on the board have been ignored outright. Why is the GWF leadership afraid to include a singular, minority representative of Chabad on the GWF board?
To date Chabad Lithuania has not received any funding – despite numerous requests to the GWF.
Public lists of recipients of GWF are telling, virtually every organization that requested funding – including causes unrelated to Jewish communal work – have received funding. The one organization that has been excluded from the process is Chabad of Lithuania. Recent requests for the details of all of the allocations by the Good Will Foundation have never been furnished.
Worse still is the ongoing, insidious, Soviet-style efforts by the present leadership of the GWF to surreptitiously undermine Chabad of Lithuania. Recently they have resorted to spending communal funds to hire guards for the sole purpose of barring my entrance to Vilna’s only functioning Synagogue, a glaring misuse of restitution funds.
Given their obvious bias, is the current GWF leadership suited for running a restitution foundation? What are the realistic chances they will begin to fairly allocate restituted funds after years of obfuscation?
What Can Be Done?
Clearly, any misuse and underhanded machinations related to restitution funds is a terrible disservice to the victims of the Holocaust, and an insult to their very purpose.
Restitution boards (including the GWF) must take the first step toward greater transparency by including Chabad in their leadership, and most importantly, by assuring that Chabad receives funding in an equitable manner, in Lithuania and internationally.
These steps are vital for bringing true good will, fairness and transparency to the restitution process. We owe it to the martyrs, whose memory restitution funds are meant to perpetuate, to do our utmost to assure that such funding is used to unify our people, instead of being a cause for senseless strife.
Rabbi Sholom Krinsky is the Chabad representative in Lithuania since 1994. Together with his wife and family, Rabbi Krinsky has led a reawakening of Jewish life in a former “capital” of the Jewish world.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone, and are in no manner an official expression of the views of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement.