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.
These events, all of which take
place at various Moscow clubs and cafés, have an average of 60 to 150
participants per session, and attendance at related “Eshkolit” mini-programs for
families continues to grow.
Based on detailed feasibility
studies and the successful piloting of a number of “taste of Jewish study”
activities in 2008 and 2009, the Eshkolot program was launched in
While still in its beginning stages, Eshkolot continues to expand
and is attracting a growing number of participants to programs that are divided
into four primary areas:
• large monthly learning events, led by prominent
• mini-series events, composed of two or three monthly text-based
study seminars with greater immersion in specific subject areas;
Jewish Study Festivals – six annual events relating directly to the Jewish
• monthly study group cycles focusing on the study of one specific
Jewish text, facilitated by Russian-speaking Jewish educators and
All Eshkolot programs are videotaped, and live-stream video
enables those not physically present at the events to participate from home or
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.
Since Booknik’s launch
in July 2006, monthly visitor traffic (based on Google Analytics) has grown from
6,000 monthly visitors to a combined total of over 800,000 visitors per
For more than 70 years, the literary
treasures of the Jewish people were unavailable to virtually any reader in the
Political repression forced generations of Jewish
scholarship and literature underground.
The vibrant world of Jewish life,
history and ideas was painfully, systematically and mercilessly sliced away from
Soviet society and identity.
Today, the Russian-reading public remains
largely unaware of this scholarship and culture.
To address the critical
need of opening closed, forgotten and often unknown pages of Jewish literature
and thought and making them widely available, Knizhniki Publishers and Book
Distribution Center was founded in 2005.
Knizhniki publishes works of
fiction, nonfiction, academic literature, illustrated books for children on
Jewish themes, classical Jewish literature, pearls from the world of Yiddish,
and books on Jewish and Israeli history, including books by Haim Grade, Sholem
Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow and Meir
Outside the university programs in Moscow
and St. Petersburg, since 2003, Avi Chai has provided significant funding toward
Sefer, an academic umbrella organization uniting scholars, young researchers,
and graduate and undergraduate students of academic Jewish studies from across
the former Soviet Union. Sefer organizes oneweek schools in a number of regions
of Jewish significance, arranges academic conferences on Jewish studies,
publishes several annual academic publications with recently conducted research,
sends academics and junior faculty to teach minicourses at universities across
the FSU, and directs Eshnav, a three-week study program at the Hebrew University
in Jerusalem for select students and junior faculty.
enrollment in the Sefer schools and programs has increased from 350 to 600
students a year, with conducted evaluations pointing to the academic quality and
importance of the organization’s programs and activities.
Sefer, which is
housed at Russia’s Academy of Sciences, remains the only program of its kind in
the FSU and is often the only opportunity for FSU students to pursue their
academic Jewish study research and interests – as well as to network with others
who share these interests.
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
MATCH is a new program geared toward encouraging
locals to contribute to the costs of running Jewish programs in schools. Avi
Chai, together with a group of major donors, has created a matching system by
which those donors will contribute 50 percent of any gift above $10,000 to
support the 50 schools across the FSU, and which benefits 12,000-14,000
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
Jewish day schools
Expanding from six schools with 87 students in
the initial pilot year (2007-08), the number of schools using TaL AM for their
Hebrew-language and Jewish studies instruction now totals 15, with 686 pupils in
the first to third grades. Based on the evaluation methodology devised for TaL
AM, these pilot pupils show a growing proficiency in the Hebrew language and
display much enthusiasm for TaL AM classes. These initial accomplishments are
especially important in an environment where exciting students about their
Hebrew and Jewish studies classes is a growing challenge, with many parents
often finding these subjects foreign and academically unnecessary for their
children’s education. The expanded pilot has also created a buzz in other Jewish
day schools in the FSU, with many requests to bring TaL AM to their
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. Away from the preoccupations of daily
life, these camps, sponsored by community centers, youth organizations and day
schools throughout the FSU, would provide thousands of young Jews with an
immersion in Jewish study and living, reaching the unaffiliated in a way that
few programs could.
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.
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.
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.
Supervised by a number of
local Jewish educators, many high-school students have taken part in training
seminars thus far, with a committee of school teachers, principals, students and
educators continuing to develop this program.
Online Russian courses
Chai supports 28 online courses on Jewish life, culture and textual
Three of the courses are digitized with search
A total of 25 teachers and academic
tutors (of various subjects) receive monthly salary enhancements in four schools
that have been carefully selected based on their track record of academic
accomplishment and a leadership committed to improving the respective schools’
academic standing. Growing numbers of students from these schools compete in
inter-school and inter-country academic Olympics and receive academic tutorials
to prepare them for university entrance exams, with several students scoring
tuition-free spots at prestigious universities due to the excellence of their
entrance test scores.