Perhaps more challenging, and with little reporting outside of the Israeli press, is the potential closing of the operations in Russia of our longtime partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), which celebrated its 93rd anniversary yesterday. Some fear this will halt the ability of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Many of us will remember the days of the U.S.S.R. and its discrimination against Jews. This included the government denying Jews the ability to immigrate to Israel -- thus the term "refuseniks." Two years prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Agency opened an office in Moscow. Eventually, they would expand to other parts of the Former Soviet Union, which led to the large-scale immigration to Israel (and America) in the early 1990s.
Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine almost five months ago, more Jews have emigrated from Russia (17,000) to Israel than from Ukraine (12,000). Some are protesting the war. Others worry about the challenged economy. And, many are worried this might be their last chance to leave the country. Unlike Ukrainian Jewish refugees who have various asylum options, Israel is really the only option for Russian Jews.
Last month, Russian authorities petitioned a Moscow district court to halt the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia, claiming the organization violated local laws, namely illegally collecting information on Russian citizens. Some feel this is more about Israel's non-support of Russia during the conflict with Ukraine.
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai tweeted, “Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive. The Jews of Russia cannot be detached from their historical and emotional connection to the State of Israel.”
Israel's President, Isaac Herzog (a former Chair of JAFI), called Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to prevent Moscow from closing down the operations of the Jewish Agency. We will continue to monitor this situation (the next hearing is August 19) and hope the "curtain" remains open and not revert back to pre-1989.
We do not talk enough about our work in Washington, DC advocating on behalf of the national (and local) Jewish community in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America Washington Action Office.
Recently, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations package, totaling nearly $1.7 trillion. We are pleased to share that as a direct result of the Jewish Federation’s ongoing advocacy, our priority programs were fully funded. Here is a list of the funding levels included in the Senate appropriations bills related to our priority programs:
- Iron Dome - $500 million. Just this past weekend, we saw some 1,100 rockets fired into Israel and the Iron Dome system intercepted 97% of them, saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives. The Senate bill includes $500 million for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System, matching House-appropriated levels. A special thank you to our legislators who continue to support this important defense system.
- Nonprofit Security Grant Program - $360 million. Following significant advocacy to raise awareness of the urgent need for these critical funds to protect houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations from rising threats, the Senate Appropriations Committee included the requested $360 million for the program, matching the $360 million appropriated in the House, an increase from the $250 million in FY 2022.
- Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program - $10 million. Jewish Federations have advocated for increasing funds for this important program to support the increasing needs of survivors and their caregivers. The Senate bill includes the requested $10 million in FY 2023, matching the funded level appropriated in the House and an increase over the $6 million level in FY 2022.
- Middle East Partnership for Peace Act - $50 million. The Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) established a fund to promote people-to-people programs between Israelis and Palestinians to help build the cooperation, coexistence, and mutual understanding needed to create an environment conducive to peace in the region. The $50 million for MEPPA included in the Senate bill matches the $50 million appropriated by the House.
- Emergency Food and Shelter Program - $330 million. The Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) reimburses organizations, including Jewish agencies, for providing shelter and housing to families and individuals in dire need, and supports migrants who have crossed the southern U.S. border. The Senate bill includes $330 million for EFSP, greater than the $280 million appropriated by the House.
We encourage you to reach out to Senators Wyden and Merkley to thank them for championing our communal priorities. Following the August congressional recess, both chambers will begin to negotiate on the final, consensus omnibus bill. We will keep you posted on what the final legislation includes.
Today is Tu b’Av (15th day of the Hebrew month of Av), a holiday to celebrate love (think of Valentine’s Day). Tu b’Av, like several Jewish holidays (Passover, Sukkot, Tu b’Shevat) always begins on the night of a full moon (last night) in the lunar calendar. It was common for ancient cultures to link a full moon with romance, love, and fertility.
The Mishnah tells us that: "No days were as festive for Israel as Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av." Yom Kippur symbolizes God's forgiving Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf in the desert, for it was on that day that God finally accepted Moses' plea for forgiveness of the nation, and on that same day Moses came down from the mountain with the new set of tablets.
Just as Yom Kippur symbolizes the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, Tu b'Av signifies the atonement for the sin of the Spies, where ten came bearing such negative reports which reduced the entire nation to panic. As a result of that sin, it was decreed by God that the nation would remain in the desert for 40 years, and that no person 20 or older would be allowed to enter Israel. Tradition teaches that on each Tisha b'Av, during those 40 years, when people reached the age of 60 they would die. This plague finally ended on Tu b'Av. (From "Practical Judaism" published by Feldheim Publishers.)
An odd way to end, but I wish you a Shabbat shalom and may we all love and be loved.