Nina Raben, April 17, 2006

I am writing to express my gratitude to you and other Shalom teachers and staff for providing a unique place of Jewish learning and celebration for the Russian Jewish community of Greater Washington. Our grandson, Tosha Skolnik has been a student at Shalom Education Center since 2003. In addition to learning about Jewish traditions in a Russian-speaking environment, our grandson has enjoyed being part of a real Jewish community of people with similar background. Beyond its educational mission, however, Shalom Center has become a place for our entire family to celebrate Jewish holidays. Every year we look forward to Shalom’s Hannukah party, Purim celebration, and monthly Shabbat dinners. If it were not for Shalom, we would not have such a place. We are really thankful to you for making it possible and to all those who support the school.

Sincerely, Nina Raben

Our Children Say “Shalom” To Their Heritage

It is Saturday night and my boys are excited. Tomorrow is the performance day. My eight-year-old is practicing the role of Haman for the Purimshpil – he enjoys being a villain and is running around the house, his sword drawn, making God-awful “evil” noises. The five-year-old is singing Hava Nagila off the top of his lungs. As I am making the last-minute alterations to the costumes, I can’t help wondering, “What would we do without Shalom?”

Let’s face it: most ex-Soviet Jews are secular. We have no tradition of going to a Synagogue and no religious culture in our community. Few of us have overcome this handicap of our upbringing. As a result, we hesitate before spending thousands of dollars on Synagogue memberships and Hebrew school enrollments for our kids. And yet… yet we wish for our children to have the choice we never had, to receive some basic Jewish education we were denied and to feel Jewish, whatever that entails in our highly secular context. We are well aware that the prevailing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union helped us remain Jewish by de facto separating us from the rest of the society; we know our children have no such “luxury.” Thank God for small favors, but how are they to retain their Jewish identity outside of the religious context?

Russian-born parents have one other concern: we want our children to know the culture and language of their ancestors, and this time I am talking about Russian. This is our first language and the language or our parents and grandparents. We would like our kids to master it, but not in a boring, “let’s conjugate some verbs” sort of way – we want them to learn having fun while speaking Russian.

The Russian-Jewish school Shalom that operates out of the Jewish Community Center in Rockville does all this and then some. It’s the answer to the prayers of most Russian-Jewish parents in the area. The children are reconnected to their roots – both Jewish and Russian – in a way that is educational, entertaining and close to our mentality. Their highly competent, caring teachers make sure the children are learning – but the children themselves barely know it. They are too busy solving math puzzles or staging theater productions in Russian or singing Hebrew songs and preparing for and reading about the next Jewish holiday. They also draw, sculpt, play chess, dance and go on trips. The older kids prepare for their bar and bat mitzvahs while the parents listen to free lectures on Jewish history.

Thanks to the generous support of the American Jewish community, this is all very affordable and no Temple membership is required. Dozens and dozens of families gladly pay for the services Shalom provides knowing that they are doing the right thing for their offspring while enjoying a kid-free Sunday morning and afternoon. Frankly, most of these parents would not pay for traditional Hebrew school education, so Shalom fills a unique niche within our community helping children preserve their Russian-Jewish identity - an identity they might have lost were it not for this wonderful school.

I can’t say enough good things about the staff of Shalom. All teachers are the ultimate professionals – creative, dedicated, responsible and very knowledgeable. My boys have been attending the school ever since we moved to MD two and a half years ago and have loved every day of it. This school is as unique as it is necessary. Maybe its motto should be “perfect solutions for the imperfect Russian-Jewish world.” It is well worth your support. I hope this school will able to provide services to our children for many years to come. I am making plans for my five-year-old son’s bar mitzvah – and I won’t do it without Shalom.

Thank you very much for all your support. We appreciate it – we really do.

Sara Deychman

Nadia Krupnikova, April 03, 2006

...Two years ago, Educational Center Shalom entered its doors to the Russian Jewish community. Its mandate was to impart Jewish learning to children of former Soviet Jews in the language of their parents and grandparents. The center has been wildly successful. It began to assure that a link in a nearly six-thousand-year-old tradition remains intact. More children, who otherwise would be lost to the Jewish people and would not know their historical and religious heritage, are now actively participating in its educational programs. However, this is not enough. As is well-known in our tradition, Jews are made at home, not in the synagogue. What makes a Jewish home is a transmission of traditions related to holidays from grandparents to parents to grandchildren. Our children are at a significant disadvantage. Not only were their parents robbed of observances of Shabbat and other major Jewish holidays, their grandparents frequently have only vague gastronomic memories of such events, such as matzah for Pesach and hamantaschen for Purim. It is essential that our children re-experience the magic of Jewish holidays celebrated communally, so that they can teach it to their children and thus repair the breach created by the Soviet system. In that context, school-wide celebration of Shabbat, say, on a monthly basis, a Hanukah dinner, a Passover seder led in Russian are very important. The sense of closely-knit community generated by one Shabbat dinner held together further supports the need for such activities. It is only through living a Jewish life that one remains Jewish, and we cannot afford to lose any souls to assimilation, indifference and ignorance.

Nadia Krupnikova

Jonathan Skolnik and Masha Belenky

...Our six-year old son, Tosha Skolnik has been attending Shalom Education Center for three years. It has been a wonderful and enriching experience for all of us in many different ways. We are really grateful to the school and especially to its wonderful director and staff because, in addition to providing an excellent education in Hebrew and Jewish culture and traditions for Russian speakers, the school is a place where Jewish holidays can be celebrated and enjoyed. For many of the school’s families who are not affiliated with synagogues Shalom provides with a unique Jewish community. For those that are affiliated, the Russian-speaking environment allows for both additional special learning opportunities and a wonderful inter-generational experience of celebrating Jewish holidays such as Hannukah, Purim, Pesah, etc. Every year Shalom teachers and staff prepare special celebrations for Hannukah and Purim which allow children to learn about the holidays and Jewish history and traditions through first-hand participation in these fun festivities. This year we were really impressed with Shalom’s production of the Purism-schpiel in which all students big and small had a role. We also really appreciate Shabbat celebrations which have enriched our lives. Our son really loves feeling part of a warm, nurturing and educational Jewish environment. We are delighted that our son and our whole family have been part of the Shalom “family” and we hope that it will continue for years to come.

With best wishes,
Jonathan Skolnik and Masha Belenky (parents of Tosha)