The Sefer Center in Russia: At the Heart of the Ongoing Revival of Intellectual Jewish life in Countries of the Former Soviet Union

Jan. 26, 2016

Source: Jeducation World 


I will not exaggerate if I say that the “Sefer” Center (based in Moscow, Russia) is the most influential and important organization for the development of academic studies in Jewish civilization in the entire post-Soviet space. During more than 20 years of its existence it has made a significant contribution to Jewish studies among Russian-speaking scholars. Sefer was established in the early 90s, when nobody in Russia would have reasonably envisaged any future for academic research of the Jewish civilization there. The number of events and activities organized by Sefer is considerable: three annual conferences, publishing books, sending lecturers on Jewish Studies to different towns, internships for young teachers in Moscow, etc. However, the most important branch is, of course, education.

Every year the Sefer Center organizes two “stationary” schools (in most cases they take place in Moscow) – at the beginning of February and in mid-summer. Each school is a five to seven day intensive seminar where the students attend mini-courses of lectures given by the leading specialists of Jewish Studies from Russia and abroad (Israel, Poland, USA etc.). Every student can chose a subject of interest and follow that through the program. There are usually nine or more different courses (each course consists of three to five lectures), divided by different themes: Biblical Studies, Yiddish Studies, Israel history, Holocaust studies and others.

Every school is dedicated to one common theme, which is always topical. Last summer’s school was called “Practical Conflictology: Jews, Non-Jews, and the World around Them” and next winter’s school will be dedicated to the issue of migration.

Sefer cares not only about theory but also about practice. Every year it organizes 2-4 expeditions (also called “field schools”) to different regions of Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova. The main goal of these research trips is to preserve Jewish heritage and to record oral history about the Jews who lived in these places. Sometimes this yields amazing results – for example, last summer during the expedition to the Glubokoye town (Belarus) Sefer’s students found the oldest matseva in the region! This discovery was an important step in researching the history of Jews in Eastern Europe in general.

The educational programs are not limited by these events. In recent years, Sefer offers an opportunity for a regular, full-fledged education from September to May online: the webinar program is open to anyone who is interested in Jewish Studies, notwithstanding place of residence, age or previous education.

The webinar program comprises three language courses: Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew and Yiddish; several long (up to 16 lectures) courses and several mini-courses (three to five lectures) on different themes. This academic year, for example, there are courses such as “History of the Jews in the Modern Time”, “History of the State of Israel”, “Introduction into Biblical Archaeology” and many others. Among the listeners there are people who need these courses for professional and research activity (scholars, teachers and lecturers who work in universities, Jewish schools, and community centers, employees of museums, libraries and archives) and people who are just interested in these subjects without any practical reason.

Read more at Jeducation World

Updated: Jan. 21, 2016