Schechter’s Ukraine Educators’ Training Seminar: A Success

09/08/2023

Celebrating its 31st anniversary, Midreshet Schechter’s annual Educators’ Training Seminar was held from June 29-July 3, 2023 at the Bogolvar Hotel in Antalovtsi, Western Ukraine.

Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and the danger in traveling from cities under attack, some 40 educators including teachers, community activists and camp counselors from five cities throughout Ukraine (Kiev, Odessa, Chernivtsi, Kharkiv and Dnepro), participated in the five-day seminar.

Participants benefited from an intensive seminar of study, pedagogical training, exchange of professional experiences and advice as well as a respite from the travails of the war.

A highlight of the seminar were lectures focusing on the Holocaust and on Jewish Studies. Lecturers included Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Director of Midreshet Schechter, Dr. Etka Liebowitz, Director of Community Education, The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and Dr. Uri Gershovich, lecturer in Midreshet Schechter’s Long-Distance Learning Program from Israel, alongside Dr. Yuri Radchenko, a Ukraine expert in Holocaust studies and a teacher in the Kiev Masorti Community.

Gershovich focused on “Understanding the Holocaust in Jewish Thought and European Philosophy.” Part 1 focused on Emmanuel Levinas’ thought on the Holocaust, the role of the Jewish people in sacred history and the changes that occurred after the Holocaust in the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Part 2 discussed the thought of the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard on the Holocaust, including the following questions: How can we explain the Nazis’ desire to exterminate the Jews? Why did they try to cover up the process of extermination? Did Europe repent? What is the role of Holocaust memorialization? Dr. Gershovich also gave an interactive Talmud class on tractate Eruvin (13b).

Radchenko focused on the history of the Holocaust in Ukraine, its study and teaching. He compared the academic studies of the Holocaust in the West, in Israel, and in Ukraine after 1991. He described the “politics of memory” in Eastern Europe within the context of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Gritsevskaya taught Talmud classes, including a story from Masekhet Tamid on Alexander the Great, Wisdom and the Limits of Power. She led discussion groups on the attitudes of different sects in the Second Temple period towards the revolt (Pharisees vs. zealots); and on Israel’s current judicial reform proposals. She also discussed the contemporary relevance of the weekly Torah reading.

Liebowitz lectured on “Queen Helene of Adiabene: Gender and Conversion during the Second Temple Period,” and its connection to issues of conversion in Israel today. Analyzing Josephus’ writings, Hellenistic sources, Rabbinic literature, and archeological remains, she examined the reasons for Queen Helene’s prominence, including her philanthropy as well as the influence of Helene’s gender upon her conversion to Judaism, an issue quite relevant to Ukrainian Jews.

The daily schedule included Shacharit prayers using Midreshet Schechter’s new Ukrainian-Hebrew prayer book, a joyful Friday night service with singing on Shabbat eve, and a Shabbat morning service with Torah and Haftarah reading. There were also creative workshops, such as making Hallah Covers for Shabbat, so that teachers could take this experience into their classes.

Praying Shacharit at the Educators’ retreat

Small groups discussions allowed participants to share the challenges facing Ukrainian Jewish communities such as assimilation, lack of texts in Ukrainian, lack of kosher food, etc. One goal of this seminar was to counter-act assimilation by providing Jewish educators with the tools to educate their communities.

Educators creating Challah covers in hands-on experience

Evoking the challenges facing those living in a war zone, Tanya from Odessa mentioned the ordeals she faces while continuing to participate in classes. These hardships are typical of those living in cities under siege. Her husband, in his 40s, was drafted into the army and sent to fight, and she constantly worries about him. She and her 16-year-old daughter were alone in their apartment when rockets landed 100 meters from their home, shaking their building, she said.

The Schechter Institutes expresses its appreciation for the support of the seminar by the following organizations:

  • The Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany
  • The Pincus Fund for Jewish Education.

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