Russian students at Machon Meir
Russian students at Machon MeirCourtesy

The Russian-speaking department at the Meir Institute (Machon Meir) – is in reality, a "delivery room". Its newborns are people who find out what it means to be a Jew after a period of learning what that is all about.

We opened the department 30 years ago and many thousands of Jews from the USSR came to study with us through the years. People came to us with almost no Jewish background or with none at all.

The Soviet government cut Russian Jewry off from the body of Am Yisrael.

It is very natural for me that after playing a part in winning the struggle to open the gates of Aliyah from Russia, I moved to this new front to fight the battle against assimilation.

As is now known, the grandchildren of Jewish grandparents usually come to Israel. Many come with crosses along with antisemitic ideology.

It is no coincidence that anti-religious MK Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu recruits his supporters from among such "immigrants."

And the extensive activity offered at the Meir Institute is the way to prevent that. However, it requires a budget. Its source used to come from the director of the "Masa" program, under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office. With the funding of "Masa (Journey)", a young person can be brought to Israel to study in an educational program in the hope that the student will remain in Israel after a year.

In Machon Meir, we had a 100% rate of success in the Russian program regarding people who stayed in the country.

Russian Staff at Machon Meir
Russian Staff at Machon MeirCourtesy

Again, most of the government budget goes to academic institutions, but some religious MKs saw to it that a few crumbs were earmarked for Yeshivot.

And here, a week ago we were informed that the Prime Minister's Office is stopping the funding for religious programs in the Russian language.

They sent us a long document from Masa stating that the organization has changed the "model" for the distribution of budgets. And on the phone we were told that they had budget cuts.

Typically, office cuts are made laterally. But in Masa, they went on a more straightforward path: Why cut everyone - we will simply close down the program for the Russians. Indeed, it is written in the document, that the program of bringing students from abroad was fully preserved - certainly - it is a sacred cow.

Admittedly, English and French programming was also preserved and not compromised, in those cases including religious programs.

Only the Russian religious programs were relegated to the trash bin. What is behind this discriminatory mvoe?

I have now received a comment from the parties who made the decision to cancel our program:

"In our experience, most participants from the Russian Federation prefer to choose programs that include vocational training or specialization programs, and there are programs that combine professional development along with Jewish studies, which they can choose from."

Oh really! Makes sense? - Not at all! The Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister's Office are supposed to oversee this program for building a Jewish identity for people from Russia. Instead, what do they write? - The "Russians" are not interested in studying about their Judaism.

Is that something new?

Is that a surprise?

What do you expect from them after 100 years of brainwashing? Are Binyamin Netanyahu and Yitzchak Herzog lending a hand to Stalin? They do not want to study –so the answer is give up? That is exactly our challenge - and we have succeeded in meeting it, in having them change their minds - for the past thirty years.

Someone in the government and in the Knesset needs to wake up to this shocking, discriminatory and anti-Jewish decision.

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich is a former Soviet refusenik and Prisoner of Zion, a leader of Soviet Jewry, who was imprisoned for 11 years in the Gulag for attempting to hijack a plane to reach Israel. His autobiography, Operation Wedding, describes the story and his release in 1981.