Despite a “frank and honest” phone conversation between Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the Jewish Agency, it appears likely the Jewish Agency will have to leave Russia. The agency’s leaders held an intense meeting this morning discussing how it would move its operations from Russia to Israel. They expect to operate the aliyah process online and over the phone rather than in person. As a result of having to leave Russia physically, they will turn their attention to philanthropy, funding local activities and sending “temporary educators from Israel to assist with Jewish life.”
Since its initial dispute with Russia, the Jewish Agency has seen a sharp rise in applications to make aliyah. The agency’s value is easy to see, as a large number of the 600,000 Jewish people living in Russia are turning to it for help in returning to their homeland. Russia has plenty to answer for already, but threatening the operations of the biggest asset to its Jewish community is certainly a heartless act. The agency’s leaders are taking wise steps to still be able to help Russian Jews, but cutting off the organization’s physical presence is obviously a huge blow to its effectiveness—one we can only pray they can overcome.