More Jews live below the poverty line in the former Soviet Union than anywhere else on earth. Faltering economies have left many Jewish elderly struggling to survive on pensions of $10 a month or lower.
Medical care is inadequate, expensive, and inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of Jews. Many are forced to choose between food and medicine.
Material and humanitarian aid have long been part of UCSJ's support program. As economic conditions have worsened in recent years, UCSJ has responded by strengthening its aid programs.
UCSJ's International Physicians Commission (IPC) includes volunteer medical professionals and UCSJ activists dedicated to providing medical aid to needy FSU Jews. Based in UCSJ-member council Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, IPC processes requests for medicine and consultation from 15 FSU cities where there are IPC physician contacts. Contributions of medicine and medical supplies are gathered from volunteer physicians and pharmacists throughout the United States and directed to FSU Jewish communities. IPC physicians also provide consultation to medical professionals in the FSU and to Yad l'Yad groups.
IPC also works with UCSJ-sponsored physicians providing clinical services in UCSJ's bureaus in the FSU. In addition, UCSJ member council Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal is, along with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a co-sponsor of Chessed Avraham, a St. Petersburg group that provides wheelchairs, hearing aids, and other medical supplies and services to needy Jews in St. Petersburg.
IPC leaders estimate that UCSJ has transferred over one million dollars' worth of medical aid to FSU Jews in the last two years.
UCSJ councils and Yad L'Yad groups provide ongoing humanitarian aid to their partner communities in the FSU. Because of the decentralized character of UCSJ's program, different communities have responded differently, depending on the need. Thus, for example, UCSJ affiliate council, Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (CASJ), provides funding for a Meals on Wheels program, delivering food to shut-ins and frail elderly in Lviv, Ukraine. In Tblisi, Georgia, UCSJ supports the local Jewish welfare group, Rachamim (Mercy), which distributes food to 500 needy Jewish families. UCSJ affiliate council Bay Area Council on Jewish Rescue and Renewal (BACJRR) supports the Jewish community in St. Petersberg and coordinates a nation-wide program supporting food distribution to poor Jews in seven cities throughout the FSU.
UCSJ and its member councils provided more than a half-million dollars worth of food aid to FSU Jews last year.
Early in 1995, Ukraine's chief rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, told UCSJ activists that Ukrainian Jews were in danger of "dying of hunger." UCSJ received a similar alarm from Georgia's chief rabbi, Rabbi Ariel Levine. As a result, UCSJ and its member councils spearheaded a national food drive. Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal and Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry each organized massive community food collections in California and the Midwest. Containers of food were shipped to Jewish welfare groups in Ukraine and Georgia and the food was distributed to needy Jewish families.
As 1995 began, Russia's war against the breakaway republic of Chechnya was in full swing. A massive bombing campaign on the Chechen capital of Grozny destroyed that city's ancient Jewish quarter. Scores of remaining Jews were left homeless.
UCSJ was the first organization to respond with emergency relief, providing food, clothing, medical aid and temporary housing for over 150 Chechen Jewish refugees. UCSJ's Moscow Bureau advocated to the Russian government on behalf of the refugees' right to emigrate to Israel, and helped secure safe passage for them.