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New Online Educational Initiative Hopes to Enhance Russian Jewish Life

A new educational and community-building program will be launched later this year through 46 Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union, reaching from the Baltic states to the Chinese border.

The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, established in 1955 to reconstruct Jewish cultural life worldwide after the Holocaust, is sponsoring the effort.

The 46 schools in the program are members of the Association of Jewish Schools in the CIS, organized in 1990 by Jerome Hochbaum, executive vice president of the Memorial Foundation.

“In our judgment, the school is the critical institution for the reconstruction of Jewish life” in the former Soviet Union, says Hochbaum. He has seen the association grow from a handful of principals at a first meeting in Riga, Latvia, to dozens now conducting periodic seminars in Moscow; Kiev, Ukraine; Kishinev, Moldova; and St. Petersburg. They also conduct study trips to Israel and the United States.

The heart of the new program will be an online magazine — yet to be named – – that will be distributed via the Internet, reproduced at each school in full color and then distributed to students, their families and the Jewish communities at-large.

The magazine will appear six times a year, covering major themes selected by the principals involved in the association, according to Hochbaum. Jewish family education, holiday observances, computer-aided education, Holocaust education and Judaic education are among the topics expected to be included.

Hochbaum says that the 46 schools in the association represent “the entire gamut of Jewish life” in the former Soviet Union — Zionist, communal and secular schools, as well as religious schools ranging from the Orthodox to Reform.

The foundation’s activities and programs are funded primarily by a major endowment from Holocaust reparations received from Germany in the 1950s. Some new programs require participation from outside benefactors.

Hochbaum is enthusiastic about the likely impact of the planned magazine on Jewish community revival.

“In most Diaspora communities, the schools reflect the community,” he says. “In the CIS, the schools are creating the community.”

He says the magazine will be a “wonderful new resource for professional and lay educators, parents and children, and anyone interested in knowing more about Jewish heritage.”

“The magazine will make Jewish learning enjoyable and accessible,” he says, with no “political or religious leaning.”

(Milton Gralla, a retired journalist, is a member of the JTA board of directors.)

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