New Russian Jewish Groups Will Get Government Funding

Russian Jewish groups are taking advantage of a new law to obtain government funding for communal activities.

As a result of legislation passed by the Russian Parliament in May, minority groups across the country have won the right to form bodies known as local autonomies.

The two Jewish autonomies formed here last week will deal with community-based programs such as starting a Jewish day school or a folk-dance group.

The groups, formed under the auspices of the Va’ad and of the Russian Jewish Congress, will be eligible for municipal funding.

Most of Moscow’s 59 Jewish organizations sent representatives to one or the other of the two new groupings.

Va’ad, the Jewish Confederation of Russia, was formed in 1989 as the first umbrella organization to represent Jewish interests. During the last two years, however, it has lost much of its influence among local communities.

The RJC, created earlier this year by some of Russia’s most prominent Jewish bankers and businessmen, has recently started building its own nationwide structure.

The two groups have traditionally avoided joint activities, both on the local and on the federal level.

Nonetheless, leaders of Va’ad and the RJC said they believed that their two autonomies in Moscow, along with other as yet to be created regional autonomies in other parts of Russia, will eventually merge into one nationwide organization.

RJC executive vice president Alexander Osovtsov expressed confidence that one day “we will have one federal Jewish autonomy.” The federal autonomy would be involved in national Jewish projects, like preparing school textbooks, starting newspapers or television stations, and organizing art festivals.

The legislation passed in May not only grants state recognition to Jews and other minority groups to preserve their traditions, culture and languages.

The law also “obliges the authorities to financially support various programs” serving minorities’ cultural needs, said Andrei Pozdnyakov, a deputy in the Ministry of Nationalities.

Jewish leaders would not estimate how much financial assistance they might receive from government sources.

Mikhail Chlenov, Va’ad’s president, said that “it would be a significant help” if the government allocated $500,000 for various Jewish programs.

More important than the funding that might be provided under the new law, Chlenov believed, was the fact that it granted official recognition to the Russian Jewish autonomies.

Osovtsov agreed, saying, “We shouldn’t overrate the financial aspect of the law.”

More important, Jewish officials say, the state recognition granted by the law could encourage the building of a Jewish communal structure.

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