Source: Avi Chai Foundation
In the course of the past seven years, the central focus of Avi Chai’s work in the FSU projects-in-the-former-soviet-union/ has turned to reaching out to the widest and most diverse Jewish audience, which represents the overwhelming majority of post-Soviet Jewry. By extending beyond conventional Jewish establishment activities, we have identified what may be a golden opportunity to reach those young, well-educated Jews who rarely, if ever, participate in organized Jewish activity, and for whom the term “hidden Jews” is perhaps most applicable. These programs, all led by local Jewish leadership, are unique in Russia, paving the path to what we hope will be a model that can be strengthened and expanded in years to come.
Avi Chai has developed and supported programs in the following areas:
- Encouraging Jewish Study and Involvement for Unaffiliated Jews
- Strengthening and Enhancing Academic Jewish Studies in the FSU
- Programs for Jewish Day Schools
- Summer Camping
Since the beginning of Avi Chai’s philanthropic activity in the FSU, supporting programs that seek to strengthen and enhance Jewish day schools, youth activities, and the structured study of the Hebrew language has been at the forefront of their efforts. These programs include support for a wide variety of informal Jewish experiences in 25 Jewish day schools in nine FSU cities.
Avi Chai’s initial exploration of Jewish life in the FSU identified Jewish overnight summer camping as a powerful mode of informal Jewish education. The existing programs suggested their potential to serve as catalysts for young Jews to become more active in, and connected to, Jewish life, as well as excellent recruitment tools for organized Jewish programs and local Jewish day schools. At the same time, it was clear that there was much room for enhancement of the Jewish educational programs of these camps. Many of the counselors were poorly prepared for their roles as camp counselors and educators, a structured educational theme was lacking in most camps, and there was little focus on follow- up activity beyond the camp program.
Over the course of approximately five years, Avi Chai supported a number of educational training seminars and initiatives to try and enhance the Jewish knowledge and activity of FSU camp leadership.
Numerous Shabbaton (Jewish weekend retreat) programs have taken place, with an estimated 3,250 participants in the 25 schools eligible for this grant in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Novosibirsk, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Zhitomir, Lugansk, Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk and Riga. In addition, there are many other programs, including 25 extended-day programs with bar/bat mitzva preparations, Jewish school newspapers, inter-school Jewish musical performances and the expansion of in-school Jewish libraries open to parents and children.
A new development of this grant is the initiation of a program that provides educational support and training for high-school students who express interest in being Shabbaton and Jewish retreat leaders. Piloted in five schools three years ago, this program includes the development of thematic games, informal Jewish resources and program materials, ways of using books on Jewish themes to lead session discussions, the creation of a data bank of batei midrash (Jewish study halls) – in this case employing Jewish texts with a combination of music, art, theater, and dance mediums – educational materials for informal Jewish programs, and a leadership training component.
JAM (Jewish Active Madrichim)
High school students attending local Jewish day schools across the FSU receive ongoing training, educational seminars, materials and a large educational component to further strengthen their Jewish knowledge. They receive training in psychology, methodology and leadership.
The goal of the program is to create a cadre of young, well-educated and active local Jewish leaders to avoid having to rely on foreign Jewish leaders who are less attuned to the Russian way of thinking.
Online Russian Courses
Avi Chai supports 28 online courses on Jewish life, culture and textual study. Three of the courses are digitized with search capabilities.
Created in 2005 in response to the large number of participants at events on Jewish themes that were organized in Moscow’s intellectual clubs and cafés, Eshkol conducts monthly programs focusing on Jewish culture, literature, Jewish-themed family plays, and book readings, as well as monthly screenings of Israeli films and performances by Israeli and local Jewish artists, theater productions and music presentations.
Booknik is a Russian-language Internet portal focusing on the full gamut of Jewish life and thought: Jewish and Israeli history, religion, society and ideas, Jewish literature, art, music and culture, Jewish people and places, Jewish philosophy and ethics, with a separate section for children and family reading.
See Avi Chai's website for a detailed report of their FSU activities.