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Computer Network Links Latvian Jews to a Wider World of Jewish Information

When Dina Belman, a high school student at the Simon Dubnow School in Riga, was interested in finding out about the history of the Holocaust in Latvia, she turned to her computer.

Using telephone lines hooked up to the computer, she was able to connect to the Dis- tance Learning Network, a recently created Jewish database that also provides a communications network with teachers around the world.

“Even though I am in Riga and the teachers or information are in Europe or Israel, we can still communicate,” said Belman, enthusiastically pursuing her interest in Jewish issues.

Similarly, Anotoli Freedman, the principal of the Dubnow School, can now “discuss” curriculum development for his school with fellow educators throughout the world as a result of the computer linkup.

Freedman, who also heads the Association of Jewish Schools in the former Soviet Union, expressed his hope that Jewish education would improve here as a result of the network.

“We need to be able to connect to other schools in the (former Soviet Union) and the world to fully be a part of the Jewish world,” he said.

“Jewish schools in the Soviet Union have many students and many teachers, but few specialists. This network will help overcome that problem,” said Ellen Isler, director general of World ORT, one of the co-sponsors of the network, known officially as the Shirley and Milton Gralla Distance Learning Network.

The New York-based Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Rich Foundation in Geneva also sponsored the creation of the network.

After extensive development of the project, the Dubnow School in Riga became the first pilot school to be joined to the Distance Learning Network’s regional center in Moscow — and via Moscow to the London Center of World ORT.

Since its founding four year ago as the first Jewish day school in the Soviet Union, the Dubnow School has grown to over 500 students. The Jewish community of Riga numbers approximately 15,000.

MORE PILOT PROGRAMS EXPECTED

In London, an extensive collection of software on Jewish themes written in Russian has been developed for use on the network.

Similar pilot programs are scheduled to be implemented in the near future in Minsk and Kiev, the respective capitals of Belarus and Ukraine.

Officials with the Distance Learning Network are hoping eventually to reach all Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union.

“All the Jewish schools in the (former Soviet states) face a severe shortage of materials, resources and especially a dearth of teachers. This network will provide ongoing contact with Jewish experts in Jewish education,” said Jerry Hochbaum, executive vice president of the Memorial Foundation, which took part in the official unveiling of the new network last week, when its biannual meeting was held in Riga.

The Memorial Foundation is an umbrella group representing 60 Jewish organizations whose goal is to rekindle Jewish cultural and religious life around the world. The foundation was created in 1964 with a $10 million grant from reparations funds provided by the former West German government.

The foundation has been actively assisting Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union over the past several years.

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