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Israel readies for pilgrimage of 2 million Russian Orthodox

MOSCOW, Dec. 21 (JTA) — Israel is preparing to become a mecca for Christians. Some 2 million Russian Orthodox Christians are expected to make a pilgrimage to the Jewish state between 1999 and 2001 to mark the 2000th anniversary of Christianity. The pilgrimage will create thousands of additional jobs, mainly for recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, said Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister of absorption. Edelstein, who spent several years in a Soviet labor camp before immigrating to Israel in 1987, came here last week on his first visit as an Israeli government minister. The former Prisoner of Zion met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov and Edelstein created a joint commission that is expected to work out the details of the pilgrimage project. The wave of Russian religious tourists is expected to spend in Israel between $2 billion and $3 billion, according to a Moscow daily newspaper. Edelstein, a native of Moscow, was a dissident and Hebrew teacher during the Soviet era. In 1984, the KGB sent him to the gulag for alleged “illegal possession of drugs.” He was released in 1987. Edelstein said anti-Semitism no longer plays a large role in aliyah from the former Soviet Union and added that Israel has to work harder to attract more Russian immigrants.

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