Russian-Jewish conference (illustration)
Russian-Jewish conference (illustration)Yossi Aloni

The mass emigration of Russian Jewry has brought great blessing to the State of Israel, with roughly a million Jews having been added to its population. Had the Russian doors remain closed, it is likely that most of them would have been lost to the Jewish Nation forever.

Similarly, some 750,000 Russian Jews now reside in the United States. Having been exposed to little or no Judaism, what prevents them from now unidentifiably assimilating into the melting pot of American society in place of that of Russia?

The answer, to a significant extent, is RAJE - Russian American Jewish Experience. A study by the RINA Institute in New York has found that over the past eight years, 11% of all Russian American Jews aged 18-30 in the New York area completed the RAJE Fellowship program/Israel trip, and that it has had a major impact on intermarriage rates and involvement in Jewish life.

The RAJE semester-long program consists of 250 hours of high-level Jewish educational programming, featuring a two-week trip to Israel, ten sessions (4.5 hours long each), two weekend retreats, and additional social activities.

The RINA study – carried out by an independent research and analytical center founded by Russian immigrants – came up with the following remarkably encouraging statistics: A full 94% of those who got married since taking part in the RAJE program married a Jewish spouse – a significantly higher percentage than the entire American Jewish population. More than half of them met their spouse at the RAJE program; those who did not, made sure to meet their Jewish spouses elsewhere…

31% of the graduates continued on for a second semester – and another 19% took a third semester. In addition, more than 80% of the nearly 80% who gave charity in the past 12 months, gave to a Jewish organization.

Hundreds of Russian Jews have completed the program in New York and Philadelphia in each of the last several years. A pilot program has been launched in Toronto, and plans are underway to open RAJE programming in Chicago and Baltimore.