Christian Donors Aid Needy Russian Jews

International

By Nathaniel Popper

Published January 13, 2006, issue of January 13, 2006.

Christian organizations have traditionally been looked to for support of Israel, but one fund-raising organization has been putting increasing emphasis on urging evangelicals to help needy Jews in Russia. With a $2 million donation last month, the group, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, ended up supplying half as much to feed elderly Russian Jews as the entire network of local Jewish charitable federations in North America.

The International Fellowship sent $5 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee last year for its work feeding elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union. Together, American Jewish federations gave $10 million for the same work, according to the president of the JDC.

As the fellowship has increased its donations to the JDC in each of the last five years, federations have been reducing their contributions.

“It’s an outrage,” said Yechiel Eckstein, founder and chairman of the fellowship, “that there are elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union who don’t have food or medicine, and the Jewish community in America — as wealthy as it is — is allowing the situation to continue.”

The amount that the federations have given from their central annual campaigns to overseas needs outside of Israel has fallen to $43.1 million in 2005 from $55.7 million in 1993, and dropped 4.5% since 2001, according to the JDC. The federation recently begun a $160 million campaign called Operation Promise for overseas needs, but a majority of this money is going to help Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel and none of the funds have reached the JDC.

“The funding has gone down and the number of people who need help has gone up,” said Steven Schwager, the executive vice president of the JDC. “Those two things have squeezed us to the point where people are going without adequate food or heat.”

The JDC used to rely entirely on federations for funding, but since the cutbacks began the organization has turned to other sources. So far the fellowship is the only organization aimed at Christian donors that is writing checks for the efforts in Russia.

The fellowship was founded to marshal evangelical financial support for Israel through direct mail and infomercial campaigns. The organization raised $48 million last year, up $4 million from 2004 and $8 million from 2003 — a sum that would make it the third or fourth largest federation and one of the fastest growing.

In 2000, with the prodding of the JDC, the fellowship launched the Isaiah 58 Project, an effort to raise money for causes outside of Israel. The project raised $8.5 million in 2005, with more than half — including the $2 million emergency payment last month — going to support the JDC’s efforts to feed impoverished elderly Russian Jews.

Eckstein said that the emergency donation came about after he became privy to the income gap that has arisen between Nazi victims in the former Soviet Union and those who are not considered Nazi victims. Elderly Jews who were in Nazi-occupied territory can receive support from Holocaust restitution funds, with $40 million flowing through the JDC for these victims. According to Schwager, because this money is restricted, his organization has not been able to use any of the funds to provide the same care to elderly Jews who were not Nazi victims. To help this population, the JDC has only the $18 million that it raises from the federations, the fellowship and other sources. The end result is that the JDC currently ends up spending twice as much on 115,000 elderly victims as on 107,000 nonvictims.

Given the declining amount coming from the federations, Schwager said he is increasingly relying on Eckstein and his minions of evangelicals to help the nonvictims.

“His 5 million is almost a quarter of the money we have for non-Nazi victims,” Schwager said. “The fact that he keeps increasing it year after year is a miracle.”



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