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What will happen to Russia’s Jews?

Knowing the precarious position that Russia's Jews are in, why has the Jewish Agency not prepared to help them escape the peril of a war-torn country?

By Cookie Schwaeber-Issan, June 28, 2023

Monday’s Jerusalem Post editorial read, “Prepare for Russian aliyah.” Warning that the deep dissatisfaction inside Russia over Putin’s disastrous Ukrainian adventure – as evidenced by the aborted action of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner group – could grow, it advised that “Israel needs to be prepared when and if that happens, for the repercussions will reverberate here.”

While the editorial is right, another article expressed the unlikely possibility that saving Russia’s Jews could successfully happen at all.

The Israeli government estimates that approximately 500,000 Russian citizens may qualify for immigration to Israel. With the present unrest, where no one knows, from day to day, what will happen or whether conditions will suddenly shift, it’s not far-fetched to surmise that many of those half a million people might want to take advantage of their partial or full Jewish heritage to leave Mother Russia and come to live in a homeland that will, at least, give them a sense of belonging and relative safety.

Knowing the precarious position that these 500,000 are in, why, then, has the Jewish Agency not taken every opportunity to prepare itself for a fast exit from a war-torn country where these people are in peril?

According to all accounts, the agency is the one official organization that has the highest authority to pull off a large-scale exodus of a country’s Jewish population, so if the agency doesn’t undertake this urgent humanitarian crisis, who will?

A refuge for Jews

It was just a year ago that the Russian government demanded that the agency cease operations to bring Jewish citizens residing there to Israel. In fact, the agency was labeled a foreign agent by the Russian Justice Ministry, which, if officially approved by the courts, would make it impossible for agency representatives to even gain entrance into the country. Fortunately, such a judicial decision has not yet been forthcoming.

Since that time, the agency claims it has been forced to scale back operations, letting go of many of its employees – meaning that it is working at a great disadvantage, due to fewer workers and an insufficient organizational infrastructure.

One local source within the Russian Jewish community cited the agency’s lack of efficiency in being “too slow in trying to cope with the number of Jews who already are interested in aliyah,” with it being “almost impossible to get an appointment in their offices” (“Is Jewish Agency capable of operating quick rescue Aliyah from Russia?” – analysis, Zvika Klein, Jerusalem Post, June 26).

If you are someone who has been praying for and greatly cares about the survival of the Jewish people, as well as a person who believes in and supports the Jewish homeland as the ultimate place of refuge for Jews, reading that the flagship organization of the Jewish people is unable to save them during such a perilous time in history can be exceedingly frustrating.

After all, if the agency, the saving arm of the country, is incapable of leading its ethnic brothers and sisters, out of a potential fiery furnace, then how can Israel ever offer guarantees to any others who may, likewise, find that their host country is no longer a safe option for them and their family?

There is, perhaps, no better time than the present, to be reminded of the words of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who passionately stated, “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to reestablish themselves in their ancient homeland. The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles” ( Declaration of Independence).

If, indeed, the state is open for Jewish immigration, would it not require that its representatives, workers, and leaders seek out the most efficient, speedy, clever, and talented individuals, to operate in a manner that would facilitate the physical salvation of its people, worldwide? Is it not shameful and embarrassing that someone has accused the agency, tasked with saving the lives of Jews, of being slow and woefully understaffed?

All of this points to one of two things. Either the leaders of Israel are no longer committed to the words of Ben-Gurion, as read by him in 1947, following the slaughter of six million Jews in the greatest act of inhumanity the world had ever seen, or those who are now leading the effort of Aliyah, via the agency, are inept and ineffective workers, whose efforts are insufficient and fruitless as it relates to helping Jews escape yet another harrowing fate.

Israel's responsibility to Russia's Jews

Either way, Israel, as the world’s only Jewish homeland, cannot afford to continue on this humiliating path, where it can no longer be relied on to guarantee a safe haven for its people. The time has come to reevaluate how we got to such an untenable situation where Russian Jews are unable to arrive at our shores and be taken in at a time when the security of their country is in total disarray.

Where was the foresight to predict this unrest, and why did other agencies, which assist in determining the rightful Jewish roots of individuals, also wait until the last minute to get their own ducks in a row? Nativ, an organization that does this kind of investigative work, is just now searching for a new head, as its present director is preparing to leave her position in August.

Why hasn’t our prime minister personally paid a visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he has so many other times, in order to make arrangements for Jewish citizens who desire to leave to be granted permission to do so?

How is it that we were able to bring nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel between 1949 and 1950 in Operation Magic Carpet, or what about Operation Solomon, when a covert Israeli military operation took place, airlifting nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews, using 35 Israeli aircraft within 36 hours? Are those days of valor gone? Do we no longer have that kind of stubborn resolve when it comes to saving Jews?

And does anyone think that Russia’s Jews will be the only ones to find themselves in such a dilemma? As precarious world events unfold, and countries that house significant Jewish populations become more and more unstable, if we continue to sit on our hands, we will have no one to blame for the demise of our own people, many of whom, likely, would have taken the opportunity to come to Israel, even if it meant leaving their fortunes behind, because no one can enjoy their savings once they are dead.

The time is now! Israel must step up to the plate and be the innovative and clever nation that it is in order to bring its people home.

It also wouldn’t hurt to invoke help from the Almighty, whose plan has always been to preserve His Chosen People – especially in the worst of times.

The writer is a former Jerusalem elementary and middle school principal. She is also the author of Mistake-Proof Parenting, available on Amazon, based on the time-tested wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs.

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