Schechter Batei Midrash Model Reaches out to Wider Audiences
In the past year, Midreshet Yerushalayim has expanded its educational mandate to include communities of veteran Israelis looking to enrich their Jewish knowledge, in addition to the well-established network of learning centers for Russian-speakers.
The Kerem Midrasha for Jewish Culture, affiliated with Karmiel's Masorti Kehilat Hakerem, marked its first anniversary as a prime outlet for pluralistic Jewish studies in Israel's north. Developed in partnership with Schechter graduate Rabbi Reuven Resnick of Kehilat Kakerem, the midrasha offers weekly Jewish studies classes in Hebrew, Spanish and Russian. Ron Nissel, the Midrasha's director and a Schechter graduate, is committed to providing high-level academic learning in the pluralistic spirit of Schechter. Greater cooperation between city officials, the local community center and Kerem Midrasha is planned for 2010-11 to enhance informal Jewish learning in the city.
The Bet Midrash of Masorti Kehillat Moriah in Haifa, led by Schechter graduate Rabbi Dubi Haiyun, launched a rich and intensive program of studies in 2009-10 geared toward all residents of Haifa and its environs. With 16 classes and over 300 participants, the program attracted Israelis from the entire spectrum of observance from secular to Orthodox. The varied program included classes for seniors, new immigrants, families of Bar-Bat Mitzvah age, pre-schoolers and more. The success of Bet Midrash programming has had a positive impact on synagogue membership and an increase in the number of participants for the B'nei Mitzvah program.
And in Russian-speakig communities, over 1,000 immigrants, from high school youth to retirees, are studying and connecting to their Jewish heritage and Israeli identity through Midreshet Yerushalayim programs in Israel:
- Weekly Courses in Jewish Studies, offered to over 600 participants in cities and towns throughout Israel, serve a population generally forty years and above. Subjects include Jewish history, Bible with traditional commentary and criticism, Introduction to Jewish Holidays, Survey of Jewish Literature, Hasidic Tales, Land of Israel Studies, and Introduction to Liturgy.
- The MILI program reaches out to young Russian-speakers with a creative Jewish learning twist: competitive game playing. While many organizations provide outreach activities for Russian immigrants, attempts to reach out to younger Russian speakers (ages 16-35) have not been successful. They are not drawn to classes in Judaism or Zionist-oriented programs, which primarily attract older people. The MILI program provides a framework for these youth that enriches their knowledge of Jewish culture and strengthens their Jewish and Israeli identities within a comfortable social milieu. MILI is an intellectual quiz competition based on the popular Russian “What, Where, When” television game show. In the Midreshet Yerushalayim version of the game, half the questions are on Jewish content. Eight MILI clubs currently meet in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Yavne, Bat Yam, Haifa, Karmiel and Nesher. MILI national competitions and regional competitions also meet around the theme of Jewish holidays.
- Educational Resources on the Internet: Weekly Torah portion sheets appear on the Midreshet Yerushalayim internet site (www.mili.org.il), which has 7,000 regular visitors who surf the site monthly. An additional weekly feature “Jewish Lexicon” written by Rabbi Michael Kovson provides basic introduction to Jewish terms and customs. These website features are the only Russian-language Jewish educational resources that take a Masorti approach to Jewish studies, combining love of tradition with an academic approach.
- The Shvilei Moreshet groups in Jerusalem, combining historical studies with fieldtrips, are conducted for high school and university students. Land of Israel Courses include fieldtrips as well, and 3 courses will be conducted during the February-June of 2007.
- The Jewish Culture Club, in Jerusalem, combines weekly programming for about 100 participants in a number of areas, including a Jewish Music club, a Bet Midrash, a monthly lecture series “Issues in the Jewish World”, and a Hebrew Book Afficcionados group.