What about UJA Federation and Joint Distribution Committee? Don't they provide assistance?

As the 1999 UJA Federation of New York brochure states, "last year $1.6 million were advanced to the JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee)" for use in the former Soviet Union, where "we must reach and assist 175,000 Jews, including elderly men and women."* This is $9.14 per person per year! There is no doubt that the UJA's efforts are of great importance. There is also no doubt, that a significant number of elderly Jews in Russia receive no assistance at all.

* These statistics represent a contribution of the UJA Federation of New York. There are other UJA chapters that may be directing some of their assistance specifically to the elderly, but the numbers were not available to Am Echad at the publishing time.
There are not that many truly great problems that Jews today are facing as a nation. One of them is a plight of more than 100,000 elderly Jewish men and women left behind with no means for existence following the exodus of Jews from Russia. Very few of us realize the magnitude of this problem.

How much do we really know about the plight of the elderly and disabled Jews in the former Soviet Union? Their savings were wiped out by 5000% inflation. A great number of them have no relatives who can help them to survive, to battle the hunger, lack of medicine, and loneliness. In St. Petersburg alone, there are 37,000 elderly and handicapped Jews, of which more than 20,000 have to exist on $20 a month or less, and more than 6,000 receiving a pension of less than $15 a month. It is so easy to become numbed by these numbers, and it is so very difficult to see the faces of real people behind the numbers. It was their generation that fought the Nazis, kept the Jewish spirit alive in conditions of harsh anti-Semitism, and to a great extent, made possible the very exodus that left them behind.

Jewish organizations, such as JDC and UJA, provide a lot of help to Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, directed largely to various training, cultural, religious, social, recreational, educational, employment, and other programs. But how much of this monetary assistance do actual needy people receive to purchase food, medicine and other necessities? There are a few food packages a year, there are some services provided by the local Jewish organizations, such as Hesed Avraham, that are supported by JDC and UJA, but this help doesn't come close to being enough by the time it trickles down to the actual recipients. However important, this help is only a drop in the bucket. We may discuss the size of the drop, but we all know the size of the bucket.
Scott Richman, desk director for the FSU at the Joint Distribution Committee, agrees that Hesed Avraham "cannot possibly compensate for a completely failed medical care system," or provide a Western quality of life. In providing services to 220,000 people in 1,700 locations across the FSU, "we [at JDC] just try to keep people from going to bed hungry and freezing, or dying without the medicine they need."

Hesed Avraham does makes a big difference, he says, conceding that "we don't have the funding to do it all, and there are more people out there that we can't reach."
A few families in Washington, D.C. Jewish community decided to do something to help specific, most needy Jews in Russia. From the beginning, the goal of a newly created non-profit charitable organization "Am Echad" was to find from among tens of thousands of elderly Jews the most lonely, the most desperate, those with no relatives to help them, those who are not reached by the efforts of the mainstream Jewish organizations.

In February 2000, one member of Am Echad traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the city's major Jewish organizations and establish an infrastructure to identify people who are in the most critical situations to deliver help to them directly. There is a strict verification system in place to ensure that this help reaches the needy and is not being misused. There are only volunteers at Am Echad, there are no salaries paid, so all donations are being sent to the needy.

The help coming from many other members of Jewish community who have joined in has made a very real and immediate difference in the lives of those few elderly Jews among the first to start receiving regular monthly assistance. No longer do they have to stretch a one-day supply of food over two or three days. No longer do they have to stretch a daily dose of heart medicine over one month period. No longer do they feel all but forgotten.
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