Beit Binah is a training program that teaches women to become Torah study facilitators, with a focus on social activism. In 132 intensive classroom hours, facilitators are taught Bible studies, Jewish ethics & faith, and classroom dynamics to prepare for bringing their Jewish knowledge to their local communities. Project Kesher staffs the training program with Jewish leaders from the Progressive (Reform and Reconstructionist), Masorti (Conservative), Modern Orthodox and Orthodox movements to expose participants to a spectrum of religious viewpoints and observances.
Beit Binah now has more than 90 ongoing bi-monthly Torah study groups in communities throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Groups meet once a month to study text, followed by a second meeting to plan and implement social activist projects inspired by the reading.
Pictured: Rabbi Julia Gris at her congregation in Odessa, Ukraine, after receiving a Torah Scroll from Project Kesher with Olya Weinstein, Director of Education and Development reading text.
Spotlight: Mother Daughter Retreats
To date, over 330 Mother/Daughter pairs have graduated from our Mother/Daughter retreats. Often, our retreats provide the first exposure to Jewish tradition and learning for participants.
These retreats improve the relationships between mothers and daughters by teaching ways to solve conflicts and techniques for constructive dialogue. This program inspires and encourages the practice of Judaism and social activism, and instills a desire to improve their lives and the lives of those around them through Jewish values.
In 2018-2019, PK held retreats in in Lviv (Ukraine), Rostov-na-Donu (Russia), Kislovodsk (Northern Caucasus and South Russia), educating 84 women and girls, 42 mother-daughter pairs, from 13 cities. Activists went back to their cities and organized over 90 programs, reaching thousands.
Pictured: Mother/Daughter pair at Project Kesher’s 2017 retreat.
Spotlight: Global Women’s Celebrations
Project Kesher provides training to women along with educational materials for Jewish Holidays – from the High Holidays, to Passover, Simchat Torah, Tu B'shvat and Hanukkah. All information for the holidays is housed on the Project Kesher Russian language website, making it easily accessible and replicable across communities.
Passover Seders resonate strongly with these communities, with the message of freedom to live as Jews. With the end of Communism, Passover Seders were one of the first rituals widely re-introduced into the Jewish community. Now, several thousand women participate in more than 140 Seders each year.
In recent years, Project Kesher has added an Online Seder to create a virtual round table to bring women together. Through this technology, women in more than 25 cities are able to participate.
Pictured: Celebrating PK’s Global Women’s Seder in 2018.
Spotlight: Alice Shalvi Jewish Learning Program in Israel
The Alice Shalvi Jewish Learning Program (ASJLP) engages Israeli Russian-speaking women in serious Jewish learning, most for the first time.
Named for the legendary Alice Shalvi, the Israeli feminist and educator who has played a leading role in progressive education for girls and in the advancement of women, the year-long program offers monthly half-day sessions of creative and pluralistic learning options with Rabbis and Jewish educators from all movements. Each month, women from across Israel engage in study about Jewish holidays, values and text. The program connects Jewish learning with social justice. It encourages and empowers women to engage with their local women’s groups on issues that advance gender equality and religious pluralism in Israel. The connections provide a sense of community through a peer-to-peer support system.
Each year, the ASJLP participants conduct more than 100 holiday and social activist programs in their communities. Israeli Russian-speaking women now participate with more than 150 women’s groups and 2,500 women from the Project Kesher network in an annual Global Women’s Seder—a multi-generational program utilizing a Project Kesher-created Haggadah.
Pictured: From left to right: Irina Lutt, Alice Shalvi, and Olya Weinstein.
Spotlight: Torah Return Project
Seventy years ago, Torah Scrolls were exiled from Eastern Europe. At first, the Torahs went underground; Jews passed them from house to house and met in basements to read the Torah. Then, faced with Siberia or death, they smuggled the scrolls out of the country. The practice of Judaism sputtered out in the region.
With the renewal of Jewish life in the region, there has been a shortage of Torah Scrolls. In June 2004, Project Kesher brought six Torahs from the United States and put them in the hands of six of their leaders, who brought them home to their communities. In most cases, there had not been a single Torah in those communities.
To date, Project Kesher has since sent 37 Torah Scrolls to the region. Wherever they have gone, Jews have come forward to study, to become bar/bat mitzvah, and to celebrate together. They have served as a locus of Torah-centered activism.
Pictured: Torah presented to the Jewish community of Kursk, Russia in October 2018.
Spotlight: Documenting Women's Stories
Project Kesher, inspired by the Jewish Women’s Archive in the United States, seeks to “uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public the rich history” of Jewish women in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Project Kesher will document the stories of domestic Judaism that helped women surreptitiously sustain Jewish life during the Communist Era through their stories, family traditions, culture and social activism.
Finally, Project Kesher will document the stories of women who, once Judaism could be practiced freely, were instrumental in the rebirth of Jewish life in their region.
Pictured: Center, Sallie Gratch, Founder, Project Kesher, gathering with potential activists in the late 1980s, Povarovka, Russia.
With the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS population outside of Africa, Ukraine remains tentative in its efforts to educate its population about this disease. Project Kesher women's groups are actively engaged in raising awareness and initiating programs to prevent AIDS from spreading.
Today, Project Kesher works closely with organizations specializing in HIV/AIDS helping to de-stigmatize the disease, educate women about how it spreads and encourage people to go for testing.
Pictured: Project Kesher activists celebrating “A Day of Health” in Odessa, Ukraine.
Spotlight: Breast Cancer
Every year, 50,000 women in the region are newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
The breast cancer rate has increased 64% over the last 20 years. Rates are even higher for Ashkenazi Jewish women who live in the path of the Chernobyl cloud.
PK-trained leaders get information out into the community and confidently address taboos that might prevent women from seeking tests and treatment for sexual health issues, breast cancer, postpartum depression, and more. Working with women, health care professionals, NGOs, and academic institutions, these programs get women accurate information about reproductive health care, community resources for a wide range of health concerns, and access to tests and treatments. Groups provide support and community for women going through differed health and mental health crises. The goal of PK advocacy programs in this area is to remove the taboos so deeply ingrained in Russian and Ukrainian society, around women’s bodies and health.
Pictured: PK Activists conducting an initiative for women’s health at a breast cancer awareness seminar.
Spotlight: Beit Binah - Text Study to Health Activism
Each month, approximately 1,500 women in the Project Kesher network gather to study Jewish text and inspire each other to engage in women's health activism. Whether a group of women learns how to cook nutritious meals, accompany each other for mammograms, or meet with pregnant women to discuss pre-natal care, the project makes the text come alive through the activities of the participants.
The Beit Binah project provides Jewish women with two access points to deepen their Jewish identity -study and activism- a powerful combination.
Pictured: Celebrating Shabbat, at a Project Kesher seminar in 2018.
Spotlight: Multi-ethnic Coalitions
Our inclusiveness is our strength.
By linking ethnic and religious groups, Project Kesher builds strong communities and promotes tolerance. These multi-ethnic coalitions have been instrumental in diminishing and/or responding to incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic intolerance. As we work with our counterparts, they learn about our values and our commitment to building a just and civil society that serves all people.
Pictured: PK Israel activists along with their muslim partners making bread together.
Project Kesher supports 13 award-winning Mara Schwartz ORT Keshernet centers in Belarus, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine that train women in financial best practices and technological skills to stay relevant in the workplace. The centers have graduated over 62,000 women at a cost of less than $100 per woman. The goal is to help women gain job skills and financial self-sufficiency, to protect themselves and their families. With the severe economic downturn in the entire region, these centers have become ever more vital by providing basic and advanced computer skills, economic and legal literacy training, and a home for PK women’s groups, social activism training and activities, and for the Jewish community as a whole. Trainings include:
Basic computer and Internet competency, Professional trainings for tech jobs, Financial literacy for personal and family development, Employment skills for job-seekers.
Project Kesher-Israel’s Financial Literacy Program teaches Russian-speaking immigrants to navigate financial literacy in Israel, including pensions, credit, negotiating phone plans, family budgets and more. The project addresses a gap many Russian-speaking women have in understanding the Israeli economic system (including banking) and fostering sound decision-making skills for family finances and budgeting. This training can be critical to their stability and ability to more smoothly assimilate in Israeli society.
In 2018-2019 with an investment of $30,000 Project Kesher Israel helped 386 participants save an average of $900 during the past year. In total, the program helped Russian-speaking Israelis save more than $345,000.
Domestic Violence Advocacy
When Project Kesher started to talk about domestic violence in the 1990’s, the first step was to make sure women knew that it can take multiple forms - physical abuse, mental abuse, or even financial control. Naming and defining the problem was critical to addressing it.
PK-trained leaders are at the forefront of activism to educate about domestic violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking. Groups advocate for better policies, laws, and enforcement, and work to change societal attitudes about violence against women (children, the elderly, and disabled) in all its forms. Programs promote healthy relationships and provide support for victims of violence.
In Israel in 2018-2019, PK launched an intensive professional training course for Russian-speaking women in Tel Aviv. For the first time in Israel, this course will produce a cohort of 25+ volunteers who will provide resources in Russian for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, led by Beer Sheva Rape Crisis Center Director and PKI board member, Liza Nikolaichuk. At the conclusion of the course, activists will provide free, culturally sensitive support for Russian-speakers across Israel through Whatsapp and Facebook. Along with PKI activists from across the country, this new cohort will advocate for victims of gender violence in their communities, in the Knesset, and in the streets.
Spotlight: Issue Advocacy in Israel
Project Kesher-Israel, with its cost-effective, grass-roots model, is uniquely positioned to effect change in Israel by empowering Russian-speaking women to be leaders and activists. These women can reach deeply into the community, build Jewish identity, and influence change on key issues.
The Project Kesher leadership training program in Israel teaches participants about Israeli civil topics, such as the pension system, workers rights, women’s health and safety, working with social media and more. The “train-the-trainer” methodology ensures materials are then shared with their women’s groups, maximizing the impact and broad outreach.
A group of the most active Russian-Israeli women were selected for a special two-year training program which provides techniques for social activism and community organizing, and allows them to surface and advocate for important issues in their communities, the public-at-large and in government. The women trained are now designing and implementing community-wide programming to bring dialogue, education, and ultimately changes in attitude to issues important to the Russian-speaking community and to all of Israel.
Pictured: Project Kesher Israel activists challenging their countries limitations on marriage freedom.