Cash crisis rocks Chabad
Benefactor: Lev Leviev
The world's biggest Jewish outreach group faces a cash crisis fuelled by fears that its biggest donor, billionaire diamond mogul Lev Leviev, may slash funding due to his own financial difficulties.
Chabad has around 4,000 emissaries in 70 countries, running 3,300 community centres worldwide.
Sources within the movement say many of the emissaries in charge of running Jewish religious activities around the globe have been told that their funding will be stopped.
Mr Leviev's spokesman acknowledged there had been cuts but insisted they were due to a general downturn in donations to his educational charity.
In the Former Soviet Union, where Chabad dominates communal services for most of the estimated 1.5 million Jews, senior educational leaders have confirmed that many schools founded and supported by Mr Leviev's Or Avner network have had their funding stopped or limited over the past few weeks.
The Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, has been holding emergency meetings in recent days with his emissaries to discuss the crisis.
The subject will be high on the agenda next week when thousands of emissaries from Chabad - also known as Lubavitch after the Russian town where it originated - will meet at their headquarters in New York.
One philanthropist who works with Chabad said: "Dozens of shlichim are coming to me asking for help. Some of them have taken bank loans on the assumption that Mr Leviev's funds would repay the loans and now they are distraught."
The Or Avner network of 120 schools and 60 kindergartens in the FSU, Eastern Europe, Germany, North America and Israel - the world's biggest private Jewish education network - was founded by Mr Leviev, who has given it an estimated £50 million a year over the past few years.
Mr Leviev is also the main benefactior for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the Chabad-dominated largest Jewish organisation in Russia, of which he is president. Another major donor of the Federation is billionaire Roman Abramovich.
The turmoil in Chabad comes as Mr Leviev, in 2006 ranked as the richest man in Israel, faces financial problems of his own.
The share value of his main holding company, Africa Israel, this year dropped by 86 per cent on the Tel Aviv stock exchange and almost all its shares are now collateral to the Israeli banks, to which it owns over £2 billion.
While the 2008 Forbes Rich List put Mr Leviev's net worth at $4.5 billion (£3bn), not including his diamond mining concerns in Russia and Africa, the Israeli business media has estimated that his worth has slumped by at least 60 per cent in recent months and he has been trying to sell off major parts of his empire.
Mr Leviev's spokesman in Israel denied that he had cut off support for the Lubavitch organisations in Russia.
He said: "Mr Leviev sent out clear instructions to every emissary to find ways to economise without harming the core activities and instructed the headquarters to check how to keep as many operations running as possible, despite the decline in donations from philanthropists in Russia and the United States.
"Some of the emissaries are running schools with too few children and they have been told that no more funding will be forthcoming this year."
Earlier this year, Mr Leviev moved to London after buying a £35 million house in Highgate. The British branch of Chabad is not expected to be affected by Mr Leviev's situation as it is financed by different donors.