Your July 13 editorial, “The Russian Evolution,” suggests that when Russian Jews flooded America’s shores, Jewish organizations failed as they attempted to “wrap them in Yiddishkeit,” while the Russians, concerned only for their needs of food, shelter and a future in America, shrugged them off. But having been involved in educating Russian-speaking young Jews for more than 33 years, I write to say there were notable exceptions.
In 1979, Marc Ratzersdorfer, a prominent member of the Upper West Side community, visited the immigrants in the hotels where they were being temporarily housed and helped bring them needed food, clothing and shelter. When the immigrants asked for a Jewish school for their children, Marc responded by calling rabbis, friends and activists and a few months later, Be’er Hagolah opened its doors to 400 children.
Since its inception, Be’er Hagolah has provided a well-rounded Jewish education and a stellar secular studies education to thousands of students, helping to fortify the next generation of American Jewry.
Further, we not only taught our students about Shabbat and Passover, but we also sent them food packages with provisions to create the holiday for themselves. We provided the families with direction and guidance in all areas. With more than 500 hundred students enrolled in grades pre-K through 12, we have never turned a child away due to his or her parents’ inability to pay tuition. We know that the alternative is public school and feel that children who do not receive a basic Jewish education rarely attach anything more than cultural symbolism to Judaism.
While we applaud the efforts of those organizations that work with teens and young adults within the Russian Jewish community, we cannot help but wish that more emphasis would be placed and more funds allotted to providing a Jewish education to the many hundreds of children of Russian Jewish immigrants. A Jewish education that begins in early childhood, continues on through elementary school and, most important of all, through high school, is the key to Jewish continuity. Nothing can take the place of a Jewish education.
Director, Be’er Hagolah Institute Brooklyn