by Pamela Deutsch
Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, Ariel was involved in the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement after the fall of the “Iron Curtain”. ?For Ariel, the emissaries who came to the Ukraine from Israel and the US were his earliest role models and a source of inspiration. It was clear to him that he would follow in their footsteps – working in Jewish Zionist education both in Israel and in Diaspora Jewish communities.
Ariel made aliya in 1992 at the age of 16 with his family.? The family first lived in Kfar Adumim and a few years later moved to Jerusalem.? Ariel finished high school in Jerusalem, and then continued his studies in the Hesder program of Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Ma?ale Adumim, serving in the paratroopers in the IDF in the framework of the program.
From the age of 17, Ariel began serving as an emissary and continued to do so for years to come.? His first trip back to the FSU was to work in a Jewish summer camp.? This was followed by participating in the interview committee for Na?ale for the Israeli Ministry of Education, taking part in Zionist Seminars through the Jewish Agency, working for Bnei Akiva, serving as summer camps coordinator in the Ukraine and finally serving as the central Bnei Akiva ?shaliach? in Argentina.
Ariel studied Education and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University and continued to serve as an emissary.? During his studies, he traveled for a variety of Jewish organizations such as the Lauder Foundation, Bnei Akiva and the Jewish Agency to many different communities worldwide ? Spain, Germany, Costa Rica, Mexico, etc. in diverse roles and capacities.
In 2002, Ariel met Rachel, a nurse who had made aliyah from the United States in 2000.? They were introduced by a common friend, and already on the very first date, Ariel mentioned to Rachel that as soon as he finished his degree he was planning to take a position as a ?long term shaliach?. From 2005, the couple spent 3 years in Uruguay where Ariel was the rabbi of the local Sephardic congregation and the coordinator of Jewish studies in a local Jewish school.
Upon Ariel’s return from Uruguay, he began to work as the CEO of Machanaim, a veteran Russian Jewish Education Network. Machanaim works to promote Russian Jewish education in both Israel and the Diaspora.? Its wide range of programs includes formal and informal education for all ages as well as distributing educational materials, both on and off line.
While serving in Uruguay, as the rabbi of a non-observant community, but one that is deeply connected to its culture and tradition, Ariel realized that the ?community? in Uruguay had a lot in common with Russian-speaking Jews in Israel and worldwide. Just as the “community”, in its wide meaning (not only a synagogue), is a framework for maintaining Jewish life for the Jews in the Diaspora, in Israel it can be a supportive framework and a link to the Israeli society, its tradition, culture and actuality.
Due to their historical background, many of Russian-speaking Israelis lack a clear Jewish identity; they have little if any Jewish education and feel little connection to Jewish values and Israel. The result is that many of them have had serious hardships integrating into Israeli society and that they have difficulty identifying themselves as Israelis and even as Jews. Tens of thousands of these immigrants have left Israel ? either to the US, Canada or Germany or back to the FSU.? According to research conducted by the Israeli Institute of Democracy in 2009, only 28 percent among FSU immigrants gave a positive answer to the question “Would you want your children and grandchildren to live in Israel?”.
Through the Supportive Communities Project, Machanaim proposes to build on and create new community centers for Russian-speaking Israelis ? both new and veteran immigrants and their families. Members will have the opportunity for learning and experiencing Israeli and Jewish values and Israeli culture, which will be the base from which they can grow and develop as full and committed citizens of the State of Israel. The project ?supports Russian-speaking Israelis in a manner which helps them to form a strong sense of identity as Jews and Israelis and develop a sense of belonging and shared values.
Activities offered include:
Formal and informal classes on Jewish subjects, Israeli history and current events, as well as in music, theater, cooking, etc.; preparation for Bar-/Bat-Mitzva classes; preparation to wedding for young couples; experiential and learning workshops; preparation to the army service for youth; festival celebrations, including preparatory workshops for every Holiday; Kabbalat Shabbat with families, once a month; educational tours; Shabbat seminars; cultural events (concerts, performances, etc.); and more.
The project was initiated in September 2010 thanks to the generous support of Cyril Stein z”l, whose family and friends are continuing to carry on the project and its vision. Since then, the program has expanded from one community center to four, and now involves thousands of people.? Plans are currently underway to expand to additional communities.? The project has been successful in involving new partners including the Ministry of Absorption, municipalities and local and foreign-based foundations.
Ariel believes that the Community Project can serve as a model for creating a more inclusive Israeli society, not just for Russian speakers, but for people of all backgrounds as well.