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Despite Russia’s economic woes, funding for Jewish projects is strong

MOSCOW, Feb. 22 (JTA) — The Russian Jewish Congress plans to distribute nearly $2.6 million for communal projects, most of them in Moscow, according to the group’s 1999 budget. The budget, which is little changed from the previous year’s, demonstrates that the financial strength of the leading domestic underwriter of Jewish life here has not been hurt by the country’s ongoing economic crisis. Indeed, some Jewish leaders here had previously feared that the crisis — in which the ruble lost some 73 percent of its value during the last six months — would seriously impair the congress’ efforts to support communal projects. In fact, given the decline in the ruble against the dollar, the latest budget represents an increase. Created in 1996 with the backing of Russia’s leading Jewish business people, the group raises about one-tenth of the money spent in Russia on Jewish projects. The largest contributions to the Russian Jewish community come from abroad — from the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and a private foundation affiliated with the Lubavitch movement. The largest portion of the RJC campaign, $500,000, will go to support charitable and social projects in Moscow. Funding for other projects includes: * $310,000 for Jewish higher education; * $250,000 for Jewish primary and secondary schools; * $250,000 for religious institutions, including yeshivot; * $250,000 for editorial activities and projects seeking to counter anti-Semitism; and * $250,000 for nationwide projects, such as a program for teaching tolerance in Russia’s public schools. The RJC is also sponsoring the construction of a Jewish community center in Moscow. The center, to be built across from the city’s Chorale// Synagogue, is expected to be completed in two years at a cost of more than $15 million. Almost 60 percent of the RJC’s budget is provided by the group’s president, media tycoon Vladimir Goussinsky, and by Boris Khait, a banking and insurance magnate. In addition to supporting Jewish communal life in the Russian capital, the congress has encouraged the creation of a network of branches in 45 Russian provinces to support local Jewish needs. In the past three years, the branches distributed some $5.2 million from funds raised from local businesses. The two most successful campaigns topped $1 million each — in Samara and Kazan, both located in the Volga region.