What is "Machanaim"?

Machanaim is a network of Jewish-Israeli education for Russian-speaking Jews in Israel and worldwide. It originated in Moscow in the late 1970's as a small underground group of young idealistic people, who met secretly to learn Jewish history and tradition. Once they acquired some knowledge, they began teaching others and it slowly developed into an organized underground center of Jewish studies.

In 1987, with the subsequent fall of the "Iron Curtain" and opening of the gates, most of the founders and original members, received their long-awaited permissions to make Aliya and realized their dream (the moving force behind Machanaim and its founder, the renowned astrophysicist Dr. Zeev Dashevsky, was finally allowed to join them in 1990). A few years later, when the big wave of Russian Aliya began, major difficulties and challenges in the social and spiritual absorption of the new Russian Jewish immigrants arose, primarily due to their ignorance about their Jewish heritage and lack of connection to the local culture and values. Machanaim's leaders then understood that their experience in Jewish education and their open-minded attitude would be useful and even crucial, and they could be the vital link between the Olim and the Israeli society. As a result, they renewed their educational activities and programs in Israel in a formal manner.

Initially, the organization had two primary goals. The first goal was educating the new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union about Jewish heritage and culture. The second goal was to provide the same education to Jews who remained in the FSU countries. The dual character of the work in Israel and Russia inspired the name "Machanaim", which means "two camps" taken from Genesis 32:3.

Since then, Machanaim has developed into the leading organization in the area of Jewish-Israeli education for Russian-speakers both in Israel and abroad.

The following are some examples of Machanaim's central programs and functions:


    This project includes various features: evening lectures and seminars, intensive studies of Judaism during the day, advanced learning program and introductory courses for beginners. The lectures are given in Russian and in Hebrew and deal with different aspects of Judaism, Jewish History and Jewish Philosophy.


    One of our most popular programs, these two-day seminars (Friday-Shabbat) include a guided trip, Shabbat together in a hotel or youth hostel, lectures in Russian on Jewish tradition, philosophy and culture, as well as on history and geography of the place where the seminar takes place.


    This program is a series of comprehensive preparation courses for conversion, taught according to the Chief Rabbinate's standards. In addition to 12 hours of intense study per week, Machanaim offers its students individual counseling, accompanies them to the rabbinical courts and helps them to deal with the challenges of the conversion process.


    MACHANAIM has developed a special educational approach designed to introduce Jewish values and Jewish traditions to the Jews who were cut off from their Jewish heritage. Our approach has already succeeded in the educational projects mentioned above. However, there are not enough teachers who can teach at these programs. More teachers must be recruited and trained. The Teachers' Training Project provides a unique educational framework to train aspiring teachers who made Aliyah from the FSU.


    MACHANAIM has written and published dozens of books and methodological materials on Judaism in Russian. The books about the Jewish life cycle and Holidays are very popular among new immigrants in Israel and Russian speaking Jews in the Diaspora. Other popular editions include: a collection of Rabbi Soloveichik's works, a translation of several books on Jewish Law, such as "Laws of Cooking on Shabbat and Yom Tov", "Laws of Meat and Milk" and "Laws of Burial and Mourning". Machanaim's book of Torah stories for children ("And You Should Tell Your Son") has been reprinted many times due to great demand both in Israel and in the FSU. Our real "bestsellers" are the Siddur "Shaarei Tefilla" and the Machzor "Shaarei Teshuva" for beginners. Machanaim's translation of the classical Rambam's work "Moreh Nevuchim" (for the first time from the Arabic original into Russian) is an example of a book for our advanced readers.


    MACHANAIM participates in various programs on Israeli radio, newspapers and television. It has also created an educational website that provides Jewish knowledge to Russian speaking Jews all over the world (about 5,000 hits monthly!). The site contains over 14,000 pages, including the world's most extensive collection of materials on Jewish tradition in Russian, and 16 interactive academic courses on various Jewish Heritage topics. Some of the features on the website are: Jewish Calendar, TaNaCH with commentaries, Jewish life cycle, philosophy, history and modernity, the Oral Torah, and miscellaneous. The website contains discussion forums and an "Ask the Rabbi" service.

    This year the site is broadcasting a course of lectures given in Machaniam by Rabbi Uri Sherki (in Hebrew with Russian translation). These lectures are viewed by hundreds of users.


    MACHANAIM has a well-developed program of learning-based field trips. These tours take participants around Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. Each tour is conducted in Russian by an experienced professional guide and lasts 4-8 hours. These tours bring Olim together and strengthen their bond to the land of Israel. They come to know their land better, develop an interest in its history and culture and some begin to learn about their heritage on a regular basis.


    MACHANAIM is involved in Jewish educational activities in Russia, Ukraine and other FSU countries, assisting local Jews in acquiring knowledge about Jewish History, Jewish Culture and Religion.


    MACHANAIM runs Jewish Identity programs for children as well. The activities include arts and crafts workshops, classes on the Jewish life cycle and Holidays, educational and social meetings and day camps during vacation time.


    MACHANAIM runs courses in Judaism for over 400 Russian-speaking students in Bar-Ilan University, where all students are required to take basic to advanced level courses on Judaism. These classes, given in their native Russian tongue enable the students to feel more comfortable and the learning materials to be more accessible.

    In summary:

    Machanaim, active since 1979, is considered one of the most experienced and longstanding educational organizations working with Russian speaking Jews worldwide. A primary and critical focus since the last big wave of Russian immigrants to Israel and the need to form a new Jewish-Russian-Israeli identity, has been to facilitate the absorption process of the immigrants from the FSU through their connection to Jewish and Israeli values and Jewish education for all Russian speaking Jews in Israel and abroad. The difficulties in this significant undertaking are interwoven with the identity problems experienced by the Israeli society in general and the current political struggles of the State of Israel itself.

    With all this however, Machanaim continues to be a vital link in the Jewish Russian-Israeli dynamic and solidification process. A special aura at Machanaim has been created, combining the formal learning elements of an open Beit Midrash with the informal social and cultural aspects of a "club" that enables the Russian immigrants, both old and new, to truly connect to their roots and "feel at home".

    With Machanaim at the forefront of Jewish Russian education and absorption, the imaginary lines between the "new immigrant" and "native Israeli", "religious" and "secular", "right" and "left", are slowly fading, to reveal that which truly exists behind them - our common identity, fate and future as one united people.