MACHANAIM - JEWISH HERITAGE CENTER FOR RUSSIAN SPEAKING JEWS
- Jewish Heritage Ulpan
- Golden Age Academy
- Giyur programs
- Lectures and Outreach Programs
- Youth program
- Jewish Studies for University Students
Beit-midrash Machanaim offers courses for olim with varying levels of Jewish background. There are classes for beginners and for advanced students; a special course for conversion; and intensive study programs for olim aged 55+. Different groups meet in the morning, afternoon, or evening, and topics include Torah, TaNaCH, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, halacha, and Gemarah. Classes are held in either Russian or in Hebrew, depending on the students' knowledge of Hebrew. The programs are designed to accomodate those who study in an ulpan or work and therefore cannot learn full-time.
For those who do not live in the Jerusalem area, where Machanaim's center is situated, Machanaim teachers give lectures in other locations as well. Regular classes are held in Maale Adumim, Beit El, Eli, and Ramat Gan. Machanaim staff also teach in various programs for Russian speakers at Bar-Ilan University, including its Ashkelon department; at Hebrew University, at Machon Meir yeshiva, and at various other educational institutions.
In addition to their contribution to Jewish education, Machanaim classes fulfill another extremely important goal. Because of Machanaim's open, welcoming atmosphere, many non-observant olim attend lectures and classes. Thus these lectures and classes contribute to building a much-needed bridge between religious and secular Jews.
This project includes a variety of activities: evening lectures and seminars, intensive daytime Jewish studies, an advanced learning program, a teachers' training program, and introductory courses for beginners.
Evening lectures are given in Russian and Hebrew on different aspects of Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish philosophy. Two to three lectures are offered each evening, five evenings a week, attended by about 100 people.
There is also a special course for beginners: two lectures, held three times a week, are attended by a regular group of 15 students.
A teachers' training course involves two groups of about 10 people, each studying 20 hours a week.
Introductory courses include lectures, social activities, and holiday celebrations for beginners.
The Golden Age Academy is a unique program for elderly olim, many of whom are thirsting to learn about Torah and Judaism. Some still have dim childhood memories of Jewish observance in their families; Soviet life forced them to forget all they used to know and practice, but now in Israel they are eager to return to their roots. Others have never had any knowledge of Judaism but, seeing their children and grandchildren studying and practicing it, they wish to learn about the religion's main concepts. Later, these olim often become more interested and begin to seek classes on a regular basis. Finally, some elderly olim led the life of religious Jews even while still in the USSR but did not have any opportunity to learn, and now they want to catch up on what they missed.
All these people, even here in Israel, are left without a means of satisfying their thirst for Jewish knowledge. They do not know enough Hebrew to attend lectures in Hebrew; they are not admitted to yeshivot because of their age and lack of Hebrew; and they are not satisfied with merely dropping in on occasional popular lectures in Russian.
Machanaim offers such people a special program of intensive learning. Participants study for four hours every day with experienced Russian-speaking teachers. They learn Torah with commentaries, and they can ask whatever questions they want. In addition, several times a week, a Hebrew-speaking rabbi gives them a lecture on an advanced level. They help each other to understand the language; those who know Hebrew best sometimes translate for the others.
Besides its educational value, the learning is very important psychologically to these olim. Having come to Israel at an advanced age, these people often feel lost and unwanted. The classes give them a focus and meaning in their life, and they come to love this country and to find friends and a place where they feel they belong.
At present, five groups of students are participating in this program. About 80 elderly olim are studying 12 hours per week and 40 more are studying 20 hours per week. A monthly stipend of 100 or 200 NIS assists participants with travel expenses.
Machanaim's conversion program is designed for non-Jewish immigrants from the CIS who have expressed the desire to become part of the Jewish People. Most of the participants come from mixed families, including many children of mixed marriages, as well as some whose spouse is of Jewish extraction. Many grew up with a clear feeling of belonging to Judaism, even though they were not halachically Jewish.
Most of the participants are new immigrants who do not speak Hebrew well enough to attend classes conducted in Hebrew. Even for those immigrants who do speak Hebrew, cultural differences often make it impossible for them to find programs that suit them. Machanaim's program, in contrast, is conducted by experienced Russian-speaking teachers, who themselves began keeping mitzvot in an environment similar to that from which their students are coming.
Machanaim currently runs two groups for conversion, each comprising more than 20 students, who study for nine months, 12 hours a week in the evening. In addition to the regular classes, Machanaim often brings in Hebrew-speaking rabbis to give lectures in easy Hebrew.
The course curriculum is designed to meet the requirements of the Israel Rabbinate and the Jewish education institutes of the Jewish Agency. Topics covered include Torah, Jewish philosophy, and halacha. Students take intermediate examinations throughout the program, as well as a final examination administered by the Jewish Agency. The program is under the supervision of the Tsomet Institute and the Jewish Studies Institutes of the Jewish Agency.
In addition to the classwork, Machanaim staff provide each participant with a variety of services to smooth the path of their conversion process:
- Personal consultation regarding each student's specific issues and problems.
- Regular staff contact with participants' school teachers or university professors, if relevant.
- An "adoptive family" for each participant. This family hosts their adopted student for Shabbatot and holidays, provides guidance with problems, and answers the student's questions in a practical setting.
- Assistance in making connections between participants' families and their community rabbis.
- Regular staff contact with Israel's Chief Rabbis.
- Educational weekends, which include a Friday trip to various sites around the country and a communal Shabbat experience (candlelighting, Kiddush, guided prayers with explanations of the Torah reading, Shabbat songs, and more), as well as lectures and classes. During the weekend, each student receives the educational brochure "Shabbat Shalom", published by Machanaim.
Most new olim, even if they are interested in learning about their Jewish heritage, do not ever reach Machanaim. The most obvious reason is that most olim from the CIS do not live in the Jerusalem area, where Machanaim's activities are primarily located. For those who do live in Jerusalem, many are too preoccupied with their day-to-day problems. Thus, part of Machanaim's work is to constantly reach outside its doors into the wider community.
As part of this effort, Machanaim teachers give lectures in all kinds of places where new olim gather: Hebrew classes, community centers, and olim clubs all over the country. For example, Zeev Dashevsky gives regular lectures in several Hebrew classes in Jerusalem run by religious groups. Machanaim teachers also conduct introductory courses for Bar-Ilan preparatory program students, traveling all over the country. Moreover, they offer special lectures before each holiday, conducting Passover seders and other celebrations. Machanaim often receives telephone calls from various Israeli yeshivot and religious colleges that are starting programs for olim from Russia and want Russian-speaking teachers of Jewish culture. Machanaim does its best to meet all these needs.
Machanaim runs an after-school Torah and science program for adolescents aged 10-16, designed for both new immigrants and youth who have grown up in Israel. This program includes classes in Torah, mathematics, and physics, lectures on Jewish thought, and various social activities such as trips, seminars, concerts, and films.
At present, about 40 pupils aged 10 and up are participating in Machanaim's youth program. Experience has shown that beyond their educational value, the classes create a social framework which significantly enhances the young people's development and rapid absorption into Israeli society. Moreover, the program serves the important goal of bringing veteran Israeli youth together with young olim, particularly in the area of Jewish tradition.
In addition to the year-long program, Machanaim ran two sleepaway camp sessions in the summer of 1995 for a total of 100 children. These camps were designed to provide the young participants with science and Torah activities in an open atmosphere, thereby encouraging their curiosity about their Jewish heritage.
All teachers in the program have academic degrees and Israeli teaching certification, as well as broad experience in teaching enrichment programs in mathematics, physics, and Judaism.
Machanaim teachers give lectures to Russian-speaking students at several universities. These activities include weekly lectures at Hebrew University, lectures to undergraduates and PhD students at Bar Ilan University, classes at the Bar Ilan Midrasha for Girls, and various classes for university students throughout the country.