In an effort to stem the aging of Russia's Jewish population, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR) plans to offer monthly payments to any Jewish family with three or more children.
The stipends were announced Monday at a conference in Moscow celebrating 10 years since FEOR's founding, which was attended by some 200 local Jewish community leaders and Israeli embassy personnel.
Earlier this year, due to the Russian government's concern over the aging of the general Russian population, President Vladimir Putin announced financial benefits for any couple with three or more children. But though the average Russian family only has 1.4 children, the average Jewish family is even smaller, with 1.2 children.
Therefore, FEOR decided to expand on the government's efforts by offering additional benefits to Jewish families with three or more children. Its monthly payment to each such family will total 2,500 rubles (about NIS 400).
"Our goal for the next decade is to create a stronger community of young people and families," explained FEOR's director general, Alexander Boroda. "This additional money is sometimes what a young family needs to have another child."
The grants are also meant to encourage more Jews to become involved in the community. "We also want to get more young people into administrative positions," Boroda said.
According to official Russian government statistics, only some 230,000 Jews live in Russia. FEOR, however, estimates the number at over 1.2 million, including some 500,000 in Moscow alone. It is planning a comprehensive survey to try to get an authoritative count.
FEOR is headed by Israeli-Russian businessman Lev Leviev and Rabbi Berel Lazar. Its chief rival, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia (KEROOR), is headed by another Israeli-Russian businessman, Arcadi Gaydamak, who also attended yesterday's conference. A third organization - the World Congress of Russian Jewry, headed by Russian parliamentarian Boris Spiegel - operates under the auspices of the Russian government and helps it maintain contract with Jews who emigrated from Russia to Israel, North America and Germany. Putin would like to bring these Jews back to Russia.
Spiegel noted at the conference that the Russian Foreign Ministry now funds Jewish cultural activities worldwide. A senior Jewish Agency official who attended the event confirmed this.
"In effect, they are trying to go compete directly with Israel to attract the talented Russian Jews who are roaming the world," the official said. "They aren't encouraging Jewish culture because they love it."
Several speakers, including Leviev and Lazar, thanked Putin for his efforts to fight anti-Semitism in Russia and said that they had shown some success - though other groups that track anti-Semitism in Russia claim that in fact, it has not declined.
FEOR is considered close to Putin, and the president's hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, even visited its headquarters three days before Putin declared Medvedev his preferred candidate in next month's elections. Medvedev had been expected to attend yesterday's event, but instead, both he and Putin sent congratulatory letters that were read out from the dais, while a deputy minister served as the government's representative.