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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2012

February 17, 2012

Eastern European Nachas

As I advised you earlier, the Foundation is planning to organize meetings of our Board of Trustees and the 25th anniversary year Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Warsaw in July, 2012. In that connection, I should like to share with you two important examples of nachas from the activities we supported in Eastern Europe that reflect the range of the successful results we have achieved in the former Soviet Union. The first is the story of Grigory Lipman, one of the pioneers in the establishment of Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union. The second is a Jewish Archival Survey in the former Soviet Union, which is making available to Jewish institutions and scholars for the first time the huge historical and communal materials that were hidden away in the archives closed by the Soviet Union.

Grigory Lipman

The first Jewish school established in Moscow after glasnost celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It was an auspicious occasion in the renaissance of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, attended by federal and city authorities, foreign guests and most importantly, many of the former graduates who are now active in Jewish life in Russia.

The visionary architect of this unique institution is Grigory Lipman, in our judgment a not sufficiently recognized hero of the revival of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, with whom the Foundation has worked since glasnost. It is a story worth telling, including the Foundation's more than modest role in his successful leadership and that of his colleagues, the other educators who have created the network of Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union.

In December 1990, twenty-five young Jews from Moscow were invited to Israel by the Kibbutz Movement, one of the first Soviet youth delegations to visit that country. Gregory Lipman, then a schoolteacher who had not paid much attention to his Jewish identity until that time, was one of the leaders of that group. Gregory Lipman returned home very proud of the achievements that he witnessed in Israel, accompanied with a strong desire to create an environment in his own city, Moscow, where Jews could come out of the closet and feel free to study their history, culture and traditions.

Lipman immediately prepared documents for a new Jewish school, and despite his pessimistic expectation, the authorization from the appropriate officials came rather quickly. Lipman was even offered space for the school. Information about the school spread instantly around Jewish Moscow, and soon Lipman received 200 applications from pupils of all ages. Today, the school, appropriately named Techiya (Revival), occupies a complex of buildings in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Moscow.

I first met Grigory Lipman at the first Nahum Goldmann Fellowship the Foundation organized in Eastern Europe immediately after glasnost in 1991 in Zvenigorod, outside of Moscow. He was among a small group of educators who were pioneers in establishing Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union. By 1992 there were already 9 other Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union. The Foundation took a pioneering step in organizing for those principals an Association of Jewish Schools, which met in Riga that year. Grigory Lipman subsequently rose to become its president. In the decade that followed, the Association organized 17 seminars for the principals in different cities in the FSU — in Riga, Kiev, Minsk, Kishinev, St. Petersburg, and Dnepropetrovsk. All of the other seminars were held in Moscow at Techiya.

The Association became the organization of the principals, operated by the principals, and for the principals. In time, it also developed into a functional body for the development of educational programs and materials for the schools and the training of the educational personnel in those schools. Our most important accomplishment was that the Association empowered Grigory and the other principals, a major contribution at that time in the nascent Jewish community in the former Soviet Union. The principals decided the topics and themes for the seminars, and which problems they would be able to solve by themselves and what assistance they needed from the outside. In those early years, the Jewish schools were, together with the synagogues, the most important institutions for the revival of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. It was through the schools that Jewish culture and values were transmitted, not only to the students, but also to the parents and to the grandparents of those children. Via other vehicles like family clubs and Jewish family education developed with Foundation support, the principals also disseminated Jewish culture to the community at large.

One of the most important seminars for these budding Jewish educators organized by us took place in the United States in the early 90's. Our intention was to expose the principals to the rich fabric of Jewish education in the most vibrant Jewish community in the Diaspora and to provide them with the range of educational options that existed in Jewish schools there. The members of the Association had practical hands on experience at a variety of Jewish day schools, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. They also became acquainted with their counterparts in the United States and the state-of-the-art educational materials used in both Jewish and general education in the United States. Meetings were arranged with experts in Jewish education with whom they could discuss a variety of subjects of common concern to them.

When Grigory, one of the leaders in that seminar, returned to Moscow, he began to contemplate both the adoption and adaptation of those options and the creation of others that would be compatible with his concept of what a Russian Jewish school should constitute. He ultimately also developed a whole range of cultural and social services at his school, transforming it, into a model Jewish communal school. It served as a pro-active and provocative body, Jewishly enriching not only the school's students and their families, but the surrounding Jewish environment as well.

Some of you may recollect that when the Foundation met in Moscow in July 2001, we spent an evening visiting this school. All who attended were deeply impressed with the teachers who guided us, the emotional impact of the students' performance that evening, and the visit to the marvelous museum in the basement of the school.

Even more impressive was Grigory's leadership in recent years in shaping the Association as a vehicle for professional support and training for the senior Jewish educators in the CIS, and identifying and filling needs not being adequately addressed by outside educational groups. Two examples suffice to show the quality of his leadership. Grigory launched and completed a project, together with Hana Rotman — another Jewish educator we supported from St. Petersburg — that developed curricula material for the teaching of Hebrew, Jewish tradition, and Jewish history that was compatible with the needs and goals of the principals in the Association. He also organized an in-service training program for teachers in the Association's schools, who receive formal certification for their attendance from the Russian educational establishment.

While Grigory has been successful in obtaining support for his ideas and programs from a variety of external agencies, he always maintained his vision of what he believed Jewish schools in the CIS should be and become. This is reflected in the program of a pedagogic center he also developed in Moscow.

Grigory's success is not only the result of his many talents and deep commitment to his school and Jewish education. He has demonstrated the critical importance of indigenous leadership in shaping the philosophies, purposes and programs of Jewish education in the CIS.

Were there no Grigory Lipman, we would have to create or clone someone like him to help achieve the miraculous evolution of Jewish education in Russia.

Jewish Archival Survey in the Former Soviet Union

One hundred years ago, in the early 20th century, Russian Jewry was the largest Jewish community in the world, and the center of Jewish religious life, culture, and political movements. The archives in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are full of untapped materials on the history of this important Jewry, from which most American Jews are descended. The Foundation has considered it an endeavor of the utmost important to discover, retrieve and make accessible to researchers this vast body of documentation, which was closed and inaccessible under the Soviets. It has therefore supported Project Judaica's "Jewish Archival Survey in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine".

Project Judaica, is a pioneering Jewish Studies program at Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, co-sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. It has been supported by the Memorial Foundation since its inception. It is the first degree-granting academic program in Jewish studies in the former Soviet Union, offering an intensive five-year program leading to the Russian equivalent of a Masters' degree in Judaica, and a one-year certificate program to train young Jewish communal leaders for Russian Jewry.

The Jewish Archival Survey is lead by Professor David Fishman, co-director of Project Judaica, who was earlier the recipient of both doctoral scholarships and fellowships from the Foundation. The Archival Survey is a monumental research project, involving the participation of teams of historians and archivists who are knowledgeable in Jewish history, command numerous languages, and are intimately familiar with the Soviet archival system. Professor Patricia Grimsted, the world's foremost authority on post-Soviet archives has called the Jewish Archival Survey in the FSU "the most ambitious and extensive project of its kind".

To date, the Jewish Archival Survey has published guides to Jewish collections in Moscow (describing 560 collections in 28 different repositories), St. Petersburg (volume one of a three-volume series, describing 427 collections in just two repositories), Kiev (908 collections in 20 different repositories), Belarus (1,074 collections in 35 different repositories), and the Volhynia region of Ukraine (498 collections from 9 repositories). In all, it has described 3,500 collections related to Jewish history, and its work is only half done. The Survey is currently active in Southern Ukraine (Odessa), under the supervision of Dr. Efim Melamed, and in St. Petersburg, under the supervision of Dr. Alexander Ivanov .

The Survey published an extraordinary guide this past year (2011), in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Entitled Nazi-Looted Jewish Archives in Moscow, it describes 98 Jewish archival collections that were looted by the Germans as they conquered Europe, and then seized and shipped to Moscow by the Soviets at the end of the War. There the collections were kept in a top-secret repository called the "Special Archive" whose existence was first revealed in 1990. Among the Jewish collections that suffered this unusual fate are the records of the World Jewish Congress, the European Bureau of the Joint Distribution Committee, the Bnai Brith Lodges of Germany and Austria, the Jewish Communities of Amsterdam, and Salonika, the Berlin Zionist Federation, and the papers of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Joseph Isaac Schneerson. This volume has been praised for rescuing from oblivion entire chapters of Jewish history.

The Jewish Archival Survey's archival guides have become standard reference works for all who are interested in researching the modern Jewish experience in Eastern Europe, including the authors of the three volume History of Russian Jewry that the Foundation has commissioned and is being currently published by the Shazar Institute for Jewish History in Israel.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President