The countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) are the home today for a substantial number of Jews, many of whom live in poor, economically disadvantaged communities. Throughout the FSU, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has supported the development of Hesed welfare and Jewish community centers to assist in the provision of services to Jews in need and to support the renewal of Jewish life after years of suppression. The present report is designed to review the current economic, health, and social conditions of these elderly Jews in need in the FSU and to compare their circumstances, as best possible, to their counterparts who live in western countries such as the United States.
Data from a large number of sources are reviewed and analyzed, including national statistics, national and local surveys, and client-level data. The data indicate clearly that, in view of demographic composition, as well as economic and social conditions, elderly Jews in the FSU have tremendous needs for supportive services funded by philanthropy compared to their peers in the United States. The comparisons also highlight the disparities in available care among those most in need.
There is a clear need for external support for basic health and social services for elderly Jews in the FSU. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is not an adequate safety net for the elderly. The situation is in flux and there are unique challenges associated with understanding service delivery in societies that are in transition. The available data on pensions and living circumstances make clear that the economic situation for elderly in the FSU who seek Hesed services is dire. Faced with increasing costs for basic needs such as utilities and food, along with health services including essential medicines, quality care and homecare, the pension amounts that Hesed clients rely on are inadequate to meet their needs.
Hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and their children currently live in North America. The Jewish identity of the young adults in this group is a source of broad concern in the Jewish community. Taglit-Birthright Israel (Taglit), which provides 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one program that has successfully engaged Jewish young adults with roots in the FSU. Drawing on draws on data collected in a set of surveys conducted approximately three months before and after the Taglit trips in summer ’07, winter ’07-’08, and summer ’08, as well as focus groups and in-depth interviews, this report paints a comprehensive portrait of Russian-speaking Taglit participants.
This report examines the sociodemographic characteristics, backgrounds and current Jewish and Russian identities and engagement of Taglit participants with roots in the FSU. It then examines their Taglit experience and the impact of the trip. Finally, the report explores potential avenues to engage this group’s unique Russian-Jewish cultural and linguistic heritage and draw them into American Jewish life.