December 22, 2010 – Targum Shlishi has over the course of several years provided critical support for an innovative and significant project to enhance Jewish education in the Baltic States. The project, run by the Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University, provides intensive training to teachers at four day schools to improve their Jewish Studies programs.
The project is a pilot program that has developed a model that can be adapted to other communities in Eastern Europe and the FSU. The schools involved in the project are the Riga Dubnow School and the Riga Ohel Menachem School, both in Latvia; the Vilnius City Jewish School in Lithuania; and the Tallinn City Jewish School in Estonia. Together, these schools serve approximately 1000 students.
The project was originally conceived by Targum Shlishi’s director, Aryeh Rubin, who was concerned that the diminished Jewish population and the limited resources threatened the future of Jewish life in the region. He visited some of the schools while traveling in the region on work related to Operation Last Chance, a campaign to bring remaining Nazi war criminals to justice, a program of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office and Targum Shlishi. He was impressed both by the desire of the Jewish community to maintain a high level of Jewish knowledge for the children, and by the lack of certain academic resources.
“As we know, the Baltics is an area where the Jewish population was largely decimated during the Nazi era. Recently, there has been a resurgence of Jewish life in the region that is handicapped by lack of access to Jewish education,” explains Targum Shlishi’s education consultant, Judith Dach, Ph.D. “We hope that improving the quality of Jewish education and the resources available will have a ripple effect. By improving the knowledge base of teachers and strengthening their skills, we hope to directly reach thousands of students and indirectly reach their families, their friends, and other students.”
The initiative launched in 2004 when a team of educators from the Lookstein Center visited the schools and identified the challenges and obstacles educators there face in their Jewish Studies programs. Among the issues identified by the Lookstein team were deficiencies in the curriculum in core Jewish subjects, lack of curricular materials such as textbooks, and insufficient Jewish knowledge base and Hebrew language base on the part of the educators.
The Lookstein Center then developed and implemented a professional development program for local teachers designed to raise the standard and quality of instruction. The program included methodology workshops; Jewish Studies enrichment workshops; and mentored, guided group work to review and revise existing instructional materials as well as training for classroom implementation. The project also included a separate track of training lead teachers in each school to coordinate the project and a component focusing on general studies teachers in the schools to nurture an understanding of a Jewish day school and the development of a holistically coherent school culture.
Targum Shlishi initially partnered with Van Greenfield in supporting early stages of this project. In addition, Targum Shlishi’s seeding of this project and promotion of it (Targum Shlishi sent out a letter in 2005 encouraging other donors to support the project) led to attracting an additional major funding partner, The Pincus Fund, Jerusalem.
The project has already made great strides, and through extensive feedback from participants and a continuing survey of the needs in the region, the curriculum and materials continue to be developed and refined.
“Targum Shlishi’s initiative with this project has facilitated the creation of a more professional culture in the Jewish schools in the Baltic States, and has led to the establishment of frameworks for ongoing interaction, sharing and support among colleagues from different schools with all of the benefits that accrue from that. This project can serve as a replicable model for other communities in the FSU and throughout Europe,” says Lookstein Center director Stuart Zweiter.
About The Lookstein Center
The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education of the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University was established to promote quality Jewish education in the Diaspora. It focuses on leadership programs, teacher and curriculum development, as well as interactive communication and networking for Jewish educators worldwide.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.