Russian Immigrants Explore Their Jewish Roots

By Wermes, Joanmarie | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Russian Immigrants Explore Their Jewish Roots


Wermes, Joanmarie, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joanmarie Wermes Daily Herald Correspondent

Jewish role models are at the helm of a family school instituted to instill Jewish pride in its students.

Shalom Sunday family school, held from fall to spring in the Northwest Suburban Jewish Community Center, 1250 Radcliffe Road, Buffalo Grove, is a community school with a mission to "create an enlightened and vibrant Jewish community of families from the former Soviet Union."

The school, according to its director Svetlana Pritzker, has a goal to teach by using music, art, drama, video, discussion, food and celebration.

Pritzker said the unique program provides a framework for students and parents to instill pride in their Jewish heritage. It also helps participants celebrate Jewish holidays, understand the lessons of Jewish history and thought, and it imparts a love for the state of Israel as well as helping folks maintain a positive attachment to Russian language and culture.

Children ages 2 to 14 may take part in the program to learn about their Jewish heritage, something they were denied under communism in the former Soviet Union. Adults may attend Shalom Sunday, too.

The immigrants know they are Jewish because it says so on their passports, but in most cases they do not know what it means to be Jewish and they know nothing about their rich heritage.

Pritzker said the Jewish Federation and the Jewish United Fund as well as the Jewish Community Centers have supported the program for the past 10 years, dedicating themselves to the Russian Jewish community.

"During the past five years more than 90 children have celebrated their bar or bat mitzvah in cooperation with the partnership program with Congregations Am Yisrael, B'nai Emunah and Am Shalom," Pritzker said. "The teachers and staff are selected with care to provide the students with positive Jewish role models so they may encompass the diversity of our Jewish community."

The four primary goals of the program are to introduce positive Jewish identity; to inspire a sense of Jewish community; to become aware that each one is part of being a special and holy people; and to own a pride and love of Israel.

To accomplish those goals, the programming includes a curriculum incorporating the teaching and use of Hebrew, music, the Bible, and bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. However, family celebrations and field trips are integral to learning about one's heritage.

Families from Russia are introduced to area folks who share meals and social events. They celebrate Jewish holidays together and they form synagogue partnerships.

To experience an event or worship together is beneficial.

"Our classes are experiential in approach," Pritzker explained, "because experience is one of the strongest methods that leads to taking ownership in learning. …

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