Avi Chai Foundation programs

Eshkol, Eshkolot, Booknik, Knizhniki, Sefer, JAM, MATCH, TaL AM, Jewish day schools, summer camps, Shabbatonim, and more.

VSEVOLOD ZELCHENKO reads the Booknik magazine 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
VSEVOLOD ZELCHENKO reads the Booknik magazine 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.Eshkolot
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 2010.
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 speakers;
• mini-series events, composed of two or three monthly text-based study seminars with greater immersion in specific subject areas;
• Eshkolot Jewish Study Festivals – six annual events relating directly to the Jewish calendar;
• monthly study group cycles focusing on the study of one specific Jewish text, facilitated by Russian-speaking Jewish educators and moderators.
All Eshkolot programs are videotaped, and live-stream video enables those not physically present at the events to participate from home or the office.
www.eshkolot.ru Booknik
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 month.
www.booknik.ru Knizhniki
For more than 70 years, the literary treasures of the Jewish people were unavailable to virtually any reader in the Soviet Union.
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 Shalev.
www.knizhniki.ru Sefer
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.
Since 2003, 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 of thinking.MATCH
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 students.TaL AM
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.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 classrooms.Summer camps
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.
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.Shabbatonim
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.
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
Avi Chai supports 28 online courses on Jewish life, culture and textual study.
Three of the courses are digitized with search capabilities.Academic improvement
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.