Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Visit to Jewish Institutions in Moscow

November 24 to December 4, 1997

Mr. Kuravsky said that Achey Tmimim was established in 1989, the first day school in Russia of the glasnost period. Its original home was a few rooms in the Archipov street synagogue (the choral synagogue now under the direction of Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt). Its current facility is in another structure in the same area of Moscow. The building has been undergoing considerable renovation, but requires more attention. Mr. Kuravsky said that enrollment in the school is increasing, but that its premises impose limitations.

Youngsters commute to Achey Tmimim from throughout the city and several towns outside city limits. Some spend as much as two hours each way on the Metro or on public buses in traveling between their homes and school. The school does not operate its own buses.

According to Mr. Kuravsky, the range of academic aptitude among pupils is very broad. Similarly, the standard of living varies substantially among families of youngsters in the school. Some families, he observed, are very poor, and probably about 20 percent of the pupils are from single-parent homes. All children are Jewish according to halakha.

In response to a question about the appeal of Achey Tmimim to parents, Mr. Kuravsky listed the following reasons (in order of importance): (1) the school provides a safe, comfortable, and peaceful environment, similar to that in a good home; (2) the school offers a quality education in secular subjects; (3) parents think that their children "should know Jewish culture"; and (4) the school prepares children for emigration (by teaching Hebrew, Judaism, and English) if families intend to leave Russia. Mr. Kuravsky observed that fewer families are leaving now than in previous years.

The most important goal of the school, said Mr. Kuravsky, is еврейское воспитание (evreyskoye vospitaniye or Jewish upbringing), to be good Jews, to love one another, "as Rabbi Hillel said". Mr. Kuravsky said that Chabad tradition is very important in the school.

The curriculum includes five to 11 classes in Judaic studies weekly, of which three to four are Hebrew-language instruction; the precise number of Judaic studies classes depends on age level. Two teachers from Israel work at the school. The secular curriculum aims to prepare youngsters to enter Moscow institutes upon graduation or to attend post-secondary institutions in countries of immigration.

Classes are small and friendly, said Mr. Kuravsky. The school provides three meals to pupils each day.

Achey Tmimim has one computer classroom equipped with 14 Pentium 75 computers, each with a 650 MB hard drive and 8 MB RAM. CD-ROM capacity is available only through the network server. This system was given to the school in 1995 by the Russian Jewish Congress. The school owns a modem, but it has not yet been connected. They have several printers and a Mustek scanner. Mr. Kuravsky commented that additional computers should be placed in science laboratories and other classrooms and integrated into class work in mathematics, physics, and other subjects, but he seemed doubtful that the school would ever have the wherewithal to develop such capacity.

7. Beit Yehudith (School #1330) was started in 1990 by Rivka Weiss, who sought a Jewish day school for her own daughter. Mrs. Weiss, who is of Belgian and Israeli background, lives in Moscow with her husband, Rabbi David Weiss, a rabbi in the Ural Mountain area employed by the Joint Distribution Committee. Initially holding classes in the Weiss apartment, the school has since moved to a former pre-school building. It enrolls 152 youngsters from grade one through grade eleven.

Previously a school only for girls, Beit Yehudith began to enroll a few boys in first grade at the beginning of the 1997-1998 school year and expects to continue to enroll boys. Mrs. Weiss said that classes probably will remain mixed in the lower grades, but separate sections will be developed for boys and girls in the middle or upper grades. The school has also created a small special education program that currently enrolls four boys between the ages of six and eight. Both the special education class and the entry of boys into regular classes have occurred in response to requests of parents whose daughters are pupils at Beit Yehudith.

The Jewish curriculum at the school is strong, beginning with five hours weekly of Hebrew, two hours of Jewish history, and one hour of Jewish tradition in first grade and increasing to 14 hours of Jewish studies in the upper grades. The school also offers an active Jewish music and dance program and, through its dormitory (see below) and family education programs, provides pupils with Jewish life experiences.

Mrs. Weiss said that the secular studies curriculum is also comprehensive, featuring excellent instruction in English and in computer skills. Evidence of a high-quality art program was displayed on the walls of the building.

According to Mrs. Weiss, the majority of youngsters are from poor families, many of them single-parent households with an absent non-Jewish father. The school provides many girls with clothing and sends older pupils on trips to Belgium or England. Beit Yehudith girls stay in the homes of religious families in Europe so that they can learn how observant Jews live in family units.

The goal of Beit Yehudith is to bring its pupils into the Jewish people, into the [collective] Jewish family. The school maintains strong ties with such Israeli institutions as Machon Gold, Michlala, and Bar-Ilan University in the hope that its graduates will choose to enroll in one of these programs and, eventually, settle in Israel. However, Mrs. Weiss recognizes that some girls will want to remain in Russia or develop their futures in other diaspora countries. Beit Yehudith hopes to prepare its graduates to be Jewish community-builders wherever they live.

Parents learn about Beit Yehudith through advertisements in Russian media, brochures that are distributed in Jewish venues, and word-of-mouth. Parents are looking for a small, warm school with a homelike environment that also prepares their children for entry into a variety of post-secondary educational institutions.

Because of the difficulties encountered in traveling to and from school in Moscow, Beit Yehudith has established dormitory accommodations for approximately 40 pupils. Younger girls stay in several rooms in the school building,5 and older boarders live in apartments near the school. The dormitories permit enrollment of a small number of girls whose families reside in such distant cities as Saratov and Baku. A program of supervised study and extra-curricular activities has been integrated into dormitory life. Most local girls go home on weekends and some also spend one weeknight at their homes.

Mrs. Weiss believes that the warm, comfortable atmosphere of the school can be retained even if the school continues to grow. However, its current premises are quite cramped and offer little opportunity for enrollment expansion. Beit Yehudith hopes to obtain a second building on the same property; this facility is currently unused, but will require substantial renovation.

In addition to the day school, Mrs. Weiss also supervises a small pedagogical college that trains women to teach Jewish subjects at Beit Yehudith and at other Jewish schools in Moscow and elsewhere in the transition states. The curriculum includes Chumash, Prophets, tradition; Jewish history; Jewish philosophy and ethics; methodology, human development; Hebrew, English; computer skills; and aerobics, swimming, and dance. A discrete division of the college trains paraprofessional social workers who work with elderly Jews in the Moscow area. Their studies include gerontology, paramedical aid, and family psychology. Young women enrolled in the college programs serve as madrichot (youth leaders) for girls in the day school.

Beit Yehudith also operates a "parents university" (родительский университет), an educational program for school parents and other adults that features lectures on Jewish tradition, law, history, and holidays by Moscow-area rabbis and Jewish studies instructors. Participants in this program are invited to Shabbatot and other holidays at the school.

Orthodox Jews in Switzerland provide major financial support for Beit Yehudith. The school has an excellent reputation among expatriate Jewish professional communal workers in Moscow and local community activists.

8. Chamah was founded in Russia in the 1950s by Chabad followers as an underground organization. It is now centered in Moscow and operates Jewish welfare and education programs under the direction of Rabbi Dovid Karpov. Ties between Chamah and other Chabad institutions are tenuous. Its school, the major component of its Educational Center for Underprivileged Children, enrolls 45 youngsters in grade one through grade four. About 15 children remain overnight at the school during the week. Upon finishing grade four, most children continue their day school education at Achey Tmimim/Beit Rivka. Chamah also operates a nursery school and kindergarten in the same premises. The school building has been renovated and includes computer facilities, an arts program, and an aboveground swimming pool.

Rabbi Karpov is seeking funds to develop an internat (boarding school or children's home) for Jewish street children and children from unstable homes. He has access to a building that will be suitable after extensive renovation, which he hopes to begin in September 1998. He will need $180,000 to cover repairs to the structure and purchase furnishings. He believes that $50,000 will be required monthly to support 100 children. The latter figure includes rent as well as food, clothing, medical care, and supervisory personnel. Rabbi Karpov expects to receive some funding from the municipal government; he is already familiar with government policies as he has visited municipal children's homes in an effort to find Jewish residents and extend support to them. 6 In response to a question, Rabbi Karpov stated that his proposed internat will accommodate Jewish youngsters between the ages of four and 14 or 15. When asked about plans for youngsters after they reach age 14 or 15, Rabbi Karpov seemed startled and said that he would have to think about working with youth in this older age group. 7

9. Etz Chaim (School #1621) is a modern/centrist Orthodox day school enrolling 300 youngsters in a program serving nursery school through ninth grade. The school will add tenth and eleventh grades in the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 academic years respectively as current ninth grade pupils grow into these grade levels. Classes for pre-school through second grade are held in one building, and third through ninth graders meet in a second building. At full enrollment, the school probably will accommodate about 400 pupils in its current premises. Any greater enrollment growth will require additional space, perhaps in an adjacent structure that was part of the school when it was first built for the municipality.

5. The school dormitories appear very crowded, but are clean and attractive.
6. According to Rabbi Karpov, two Jewish children have resided in municipal children's homes until recently. One of them recently reached 18 years of age and has since emigrated to Israel.
7. Rabbi Karpov was aware of homes for Jewish children that exist in Odessa (Ohr Somayach; Rabbi Shlomo Baksht) and Dnipropetrovsk (Chabad; Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki). He was not aware of a residential program for Jewish boys that operates in Kyiv under the auspices of Yad Yisroel (Rabbi Yaakov Bleich). Rabbi Karpov questioned the writer about all three programs.

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