JERUSALEM (Dec. 18)
Natan Sharansky is proposing a special fund-raising drive in North America, along the lines of Project Renewal, to finance the large-scale absorption of Soviet Jews in Israel.
At the same time, he is seeking to convince the Sephardic community that efforts for Soviet Jews will not be made at the expense of Israel’s underprivileged population, consisting largely of Jews of Sephardic origin, who are the main beneficiaries of Project Renewal.
Sharansky explained to a group of Sephardic activists here Thursday that the money needed to absorb the unprecedented numbers of immigrants expected to arrive from the Soviet Union in the next few years is available in North America.
But the potential donors must be certain their contributions are being put to a specific use, as is the case with Project Renewal, Sharansky said.
He also indicated that the Jewish Agency for Israel, which plays a major role in the absorption of immigrants in Israel, might not necessarily go along with the idea.
Project Renewal is a partnership between the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Appeal, which has successfully raised funds to rehabilitate slum areas in Israel.
Under the program, individual Jewish communities in North America provide direct funding and to economically depressed communities in Israel that they “adopt.”
Sharansky, who came to Israel in 1986 after serving nine years in the Soviet Gulag, spoke in his capacity as head of the Soviet Jewish Zionist Forum, the umbrella body of Soviet aliyah organizations here.
He said he has proposed a Project Renewal-type campaign to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in the hope that Israel will undertake a dramatic project to attract the thousands of Jews expected to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
“Whether that wave is 50,000 or 500,000 depends principally on us,” he said.
He said he is willing personally to crisscross America to raise funds for the project, if the Jewish Agency agreed.
Sharansky was critical of the Jewish Agency and the government’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry, implying that those bureaucracies impede the absorption process.
He said immigrants who arrived during the past year were becoming anxious over the unavailability of housing as their stays at absorption centers neared the end.
But David Levy, the minister of construction and housing, said Monday that the government would build 20,000 new housing units next year, which should be sufficient to absorb about 70,000 newcomers.