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Survey of Russian Jews reveals division over desire to emigrate

MOSCOW, March 18 (JTA) — The Russian Jewish community seems to be split down the middle when it comes to the issue of emigration, according to a recently published survey here. While 42 percent of Russia’s Jews believe that members of their community should work to preserve their identity and not emigrate, 48 percent believe that all or most Jews will eventually leave Russia and that an insignificant number will stay. About 47 percent of the respondents believe that Israeli and international Jewish organizations working in Russia should use their funds for Jewish communal revival in Russia. However, a quarter of the respondents said the funds should be devoted to promoting immigration to Israel. Russian Jewish officials said the findings of the survey were not surprising and did not differ much from other polls conducted during the past six years. The poll, which is the most comprehensive up-to-date survey of Russian Jewry, was conducted by Rozalina Ryvkina of the Moscow-based Public Opinion Fund last year, though the findings were just published. Estimates of the Jewish population in Russia run between 600,000 and 2 million. The aim of the survey was to measure Russian Jewish attitudes about emigration, the political situation in Russia and the future of their community. Another goal of the survey was to draw a portrait of the community. About 16 percent of the respondents — some 1,000 Russian Jews in four cities were interviewed — said all Russian Jews should immigrate to Israel. Some 10 percent said Russia’s Jewish community should assimilate, while 30 percent said they were uncertain about whether Jews should leave Russia. Of those who said they wanted to leave, more than half said they would do so to ensure a better future for their children. Most people said they would resettle in Israel (57 percent), followed by the United States (18 percent), Australia (5 percent), Canada (3 percent) and Germany (3 percent). Mark Kupovetzky, Russia’s leading Jewish demographer, said the findings reflected a trend in the departure of Jews. But Kupovetzky found other aspects of the survey troubling. The percentage of respondents who said they identify as Christians was “threateningly high,” he said. About 14 percent of the respondents who said they were religious called themselves Christians, while 24 percent said they were Jewish. Some 29 percent of the respondents said they celebrate Easter and 25 percent observe Christmas, in comparison with the 34 percent who celebrate Passover and the less than 15 percent who observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In addition, 54 percent of the poll’s respondents said they had experienced anti-Semitism at some point. And just 22 percent said Russian authorities “strongly or somewhat” counter the activities of anti-Semitic and ultranationalist groups. No margin of error was reported for the poll, which also found that: * 75 percent of Russian Jews never go to synagogue; * 15 percent of respondents received some Jewish education as children; * 9 percent were raising their children in the Jewish tradition; * 34 percent felt that their Jewish identity grew stronger after the collapse of communism. The survey was conducted in Moscow; the southern city of Rostov-on-Don; Khabarovsk, which is located in the Far East; and Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.