See this smiling girl? She’s a Jewish student at a Russian elementary school and this photo was taken on her first day of school. Of course Back to School season is always a little bittersweet. You’re happy to see those school chums that you hadn’t seen all summer. However, gone is the freedom one enjoyed from schoolwork and bossy teachers one enjoyed during the break. In much of the Former Soviet Union, there is an additional level of anxiety caused by grinding poverty which prevents many parents from being able to afford basic school supplies for their children. Luckily, a partnership between the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has stepped up to save the day. They have donated thousands of Back to School Supply Packages to needy Jewish students all across the Former Soviet Union – which might explain why this girl is smiling. The packages include markers, pens, erasers, pencils, a ruler, notebooks, folders, a pencil case etc. all your back to school needs in one convenient package.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the head of the IFCJ is a bit of a controversial character. Many are concerned about the implications of his cozying up to evangelical Christians, who undoubtedly support Israel, yet share little else in common with most secular North American Jews. There was also this whole thing with the Jewish Agency and all the usual kerfuffle one might expect in the world of Politics and Philanthropy. But every time I visit Jerusalem and use the central bus station, my bodily integrity is protected by an x-ray machine donated by the IFCJ. Numerous economically disadvantaged people are fed at Israeli soup kitchens supported by the IFCJ and this little girl is smiling because of Rabbi Eckstein’s work. So I figure, screw it. That’s good enough for me.