Rena Greenberg – Lubavitch.com
With the launch of the first Russian language Rohr Jewish Learning Institute course February 6, Jews in formerly communist countries will join the ranks of their brethren everywhere else as they participate in a richer Jewish life experience with the benefit of advanced learning opportunities.
“Towards a Meaningful Life,” as the course is named, will run simultaneously in 14 cities in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia and Belarus. The development marks a watershed for Jewish life in this region where twenty years after the end of communist oppression, Jews have finally found their bearings and can move on to a level of adult Jewish education that leaders say will help them catch up.
“With JLI International providing standards in the field, we will revolutionize our communities’ current appreciation for Torah study and engage students long lost from their heritage,” Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar of Russia, told lubavitch.com.
With hundreds of affiliates in 19 countries around the world, the Brooklyn-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute courses are available in Spanish, German, Greek, Hebrew and English languages, providing Jews worldwide with research-based instructional design and cutting-edge approach to adult learning.
Extending the JLI community to central Asia has been a common goal of Rabbi Efraim Mintz, Executive Director of the JLI, who has partnered with Rabbi Lazar, Rabbi Dovid Mondshine and other leaders of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. The partnership allows the extensive network of the FJC to tap into JLI’s valuable resources, and has largely been made possible through the generous support of Mr. Michael Mirilashvili.
JLI’s professional teams of writers, multimedia directors, and marketing experts have presented adult educators in various Russian-speaking communities with a ready to use product, which will include workbooks, videos, PowerPoint Presentations, teacher and student lesson manuals and surveys. A new Russian-language website, www.myjli.com/russian, has been launched as well, advertising the course. “We expect this course to be a first, concrete step in advancing a deepened sense of Jewish identity among Russian Jews,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Chairman of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.
Based on the bestselling book by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, the original Toward a Meaningful Life course piloted to high acclaim in English-speaking communities worldwide has been described as “a toolkit of life skills” and “a timely and effective course that replaces the void of meaninglessness with a more engaging, purposeful and happy existence.” Beginning with the first lesson that guides students to establish their own personal mission statement, the course uses core principles of Positive Psychology and faith-based meditations to teach self-introspection, goal setting and other strategies to facilitate a life of vision and satisfaction. A second course, focusing on Torah’s judicial process, “You Be the Judge” will be available in April-May 2012.
Rabbi Eli Wolff, JLI’s Moscow-based liaison to the FJC of the CIS, coordinates the effort to provide the large network of Jewish communities throughout central Asia with the Torah classes. “My hope is for JLI to reach new demographics, to include audiences who do not yet partake in existing Torah classes offered in individual communities, and to challenge them with JLI’s rigorous and rewarding lessons.”
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Russia’s Jewish population, roughly estimated on the low end at 500,000 Jews, has been a focus of Jewish outreach organizations mostly concerned with the physical sustainability of a nation in crisis, establishing orphanages, soup kitchens and providing other humanitarian aid.
The next step, in the 2000s, was to rebuild Jewish identity and pride through of the establishment of Jewish community centers, schools, and synagogues—a dramatic shift for people who often hid their Jewish identity for fear of persecution. This left an adult population lost between their elders, many of whom practiced an unlettered yet pious form of Judaism, and their children, who thanks to the proliferation of the Or Avner Jewish day schools in the region, were now more knowledgeable of their heritage than their parents.
Denied a Jewish education in their childhood, Russian Jewish forty somethings and older presented a demographic with a mostly unmet need. But JLI’s sharp clear formula supported by technological advances will finally meet the challenge, and provide a fresh, dynamic appreciation of Judaism’s relevance to contemporary life, explains Rabbi Dubi Rabinowitz, COO of the Rohr JLI.
Rabbi Dov Axelrod, Chief Rabbi of Cherkassy, Ukraine, who will be teaching the JLI course come February, says that the announcement of the course was well received in his community. “Many people have already signed up, eager to learn Torah on an academic level.” This particular course, he says, “differs from any class I have offered until now in that it will require my students to change their perspective on fundamental aspects of life.”