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Around the Jewish World Russian Jews Open Their Pockets for Fund for Terror Victims in Israel

June 26, 2003
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A Russian Jewish group is trying to send two messages with a fund-raising initiative to benefit Israeli survivors of terrorist attacks.

The primary goal of the campaign, launched a month ago, is to raise money to help young Russian Israelis who have suffered injuries and psychological trauma in Palestinian terrorist attacks.

The first beneficiaries are expected to receive their checks in July.

But campaign officials say that no less important is the campaign’s second goal: to give ordinary Russian Jews a chance to contribute to an important Jewish cause.

The initiative is a “pioneering venture, and therefore we don’t have any target figure” for the campaign yet, said Motya Chlenov, program coordinator and director of the Moscow office of the World Congress of Russian Jewry, the organization that started the campaign.

During the last decade of post-Communist Jewish revival, Russian Jewish leaders generally have focused their fund-raising activities on large donors able to give significant sums.

The new campaign seeks to break away from this pattern. Campaign officials say they believe that Russia’s improved economy gives hope for a flow of small donations from a large number of people.

The initiative seeks to reach out to those who are able to give anywhere between 100 rubles, the equivalent of $3, to $100.

“We have come to the conclusion that our Jews have reached that point at which they can become donors” for various Jewish causes, said the 28-year-old Chlenov, sitting in the small one-room office of the WCRJ, which also has offices in New York, Jerusalem and Berlin.

Even if some places in Russia are not enjoying an economic upswing, at least the Jews in Moscow — the nation’s largest Jewish community, estimated at anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 members — have begun to approach Western standards of living.

“If someone can afford a cell phone, a once-a-year vacation abroad and a once-a-week outing at a Moscow restaurant or a club, then this package can be complemented with participation in a charity,” Chlenov said.

By local standards, the campaign’s first results have been impressive. Over just a few weeks, it raised about $25,000 from more than 1,000 individuals in Moscow.

No figure for donations from outside of Moscow is available yet, as inter-city bank transfers may take significantly longer in Russia than in the West.

Nearly 30,000 brochures explaining the campaign’s objectives were mailed to Moscow subscribers of Evreyskoe Slovo, or the Jewish Word, Russia’s largest-circulation, Jewish-interest weekly newspaper.

A few thousand brochures also were mailed to subscribers and Jewish organizations outside the capital.

The campaign will reach its maximum effect if we attain “an absolute transparency and precision guidance” of the aid, said Leonid Roshal, a well-known pediatrician and advocate of children’s causes around the world.

The WCRJ sits on the project’s board, which will oversee distribution of the funds. The campaign currently is holding consultations with social workers on the ground in Israel to determine the size of the recipient pool.

A 40-year-old Moscow doctor who gave his name as Georgiy donated $400 — and wanted half the sum to go to the family of Kiril Shremko, a Russian-born security guard killed recently while stopping a suicide bomber at a mall in the Israeli city of Afula.

Chlenov said the average donation is much smaller — about $10. Contributors can earmark their donations, but few do.

Some like to bring their money in person to the downtown Moscow office.

Chlenov explains that those who come these days to the office either don’t trust Russian banks or simply want to see for themselves to whom they’re giving the money.

To the surprise of campaign officials, many of those who bring donations are low-income workers or pensioners who themselves are beneficiaries of some charity.

“Some people call in and say they want to help because they themselves receive some aid from the Jewish community,” said Marina Kulakova, secretary at the WCRJ office.

Sergei Sanevich, a man in his 70s, donated $20. As a former prisoner of a Nazi ghetto, he receives a monthly pension from a German fund.

“I know what it’s like to be in trouble,” he said, drawing a parallel between his wartime ordeal and the situation of Russian Israelis whose lives have been affected by terrorism.

Eleonora Furmanova, 76, a former journalist, said she also helped because of her Holocaust-era experience.

“There were many among my family and friends who died in the Holocaust,” she said. “I felt I should help those who lived through terrible things in their lives.”

A similar campaign in the United States, started in 2000 by the American Association of Jews From the Former Soviet Union, inspired the current campaign in Russia.

In nearly four years, the U.S. campaign raised more than $50,000 for Russian victims of terror in Israel.

In less than a month, the Russian campaign brought half of that amount.

It’s hard to predict how much more will be raised, but the first result, which can’t be measured in monetary terms already is clear, officials say.

Chlenov said he recently got a call from Michael Barkan, the Russian-born deputy mayor of Afula, an Israeli city with a large Russian-speaking community.

“He said he had long been waiting for a call from Russia offering some help,” Chlenov said. Now, it has come.

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