Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
The Baltic countries were hit hard by the global recession, suffering some of Europe’s highest unemployment rates as GDP dropped by a third in Latvia between 2008 and 2010, and by almost 25% in Estonia and Lithuania. The effect on the emerging middle class was devastating, as many professionals lost their livelihoods and joined the ranks of the “new poor.” Sharp rises in food prices and heating costs devastated people living on fixed incomes and reduced wages alike, increasing need for assistance among the elderly and at–risk families.
While conditions differ in each of these countries — which have different languages and cultures and have been moving in separate directions — the pace at which their economies will improve is not yet clear.
In this historically significant center of Jewish learning and culture, Jewish life has staged a remarkable recovery in recent decades after being nearly extinguished during the Holocaust and Soviet eras. Dynamic Jewish communities have reemerged in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius, with strong progress toward self–sustainability slowed only by the economic downturn. Covering the needs of dozens of small communities, some with hundreds of years of Jewish history but only a few remaining Jews, is a communal challenge.
Today, in collaboration with the local Jewish communities, JDC:
- Saves the Baltic States’ poorest Jews by supporting crisis–related social service programs for children in need, young families, and other adults thrust into poverty by job loss or severely reduced incomes. JDC adapted its job center model from post–crisis Argentina to help train and place unemployed professionals in Latvia and Estonia. JDC also helps ensure that ongoing relief services bring impoverished elderly the food, home care, winter relief, medical aid, and human companionship needed to ensure their wellbeing.
- Revitalizes Jewish life by offering creative “JCC without walls” programs that make Jewish tradition accessible in alternative venues. JDC fosters pluralistic, grassroots Jewish learning opportunities and more extensive study programs, cultural events, and Shabbat and holiday activities for all ages; preschool programs that attract young families; and youth clubs and popular camp programs that connect the youngest generation to the Jewish community.
JDC is also helping communities cope with the crisis-generated decrease in local funding support and fees.
- Develops tomorrow’s Jewish leaders through training programs for youth leaders and counselors who are now running the communities’ regional and local camps, youth clubs, and intergenerational activities; and supporting the development of a new cadre of lay and professional leaders through cross–border peer training opportunities and multigenerational community boards of directors.
Find out how JDC’s job training program helped Oleg overcome crisis, find new opportunity, and connect with his local Jewish community.
Did You Know?
The number of first graders entering Tallinn’s Jewish day school has increased by 20% as a direct result of rising enrollment in Tallinn’s Jewish kindergarten, which operates as a partnership of JDC, the municipality, and the Jewish community to involve young families in Jewish life.