Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Year of Project Kesher

As we kick-off a new year, we invite you to look back on this sampling of Project Kesher 2011 highlights.

Project Kesher ‘Next Generation’ leaders from five cities in Southern Russia. In 2011, Project Kesher saw tremendous growth in the number of young Jewish women connecting to our work.

Students at Russia State University in Moscow are trained by Project Kesher to advocate for preventing domestic and date violence in an early start to PK’s wide-spread programming for “16 Days Against Violence.”

Project Kesher brought together representatives of 30 ethnic and religious groups for an outdoor program promoting inter-cultural understanding. Participants planted trees to beautify the city and as a show of unity. Representatives included the Jewish, Armenian, Belarusian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Lithuanian, Roma, Russian, Polish, German, and Greek communities. The project was part of Project Kesher’s region-wide program “16 Days to End Violence. Project Kesher initiated more than 50 events in 33 cities in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus on the issue of tolerance and domestic violence prevention this month.

Project Kesher brought together 27 participants from Russia and Ukraine for a Shabbaton seminar. Participants are trained to take leadership roles in Project Kesher Women’s and Youth Groups in their communities. One of the daughters tells us: “My first Shabbat was at this seminar. I remember it forever”.

Project Kesher-Israel (PKI) addresses issues of social isolation and economic vulnerability, Jewish literacy and immigrant rights in the Russian-speaking community in Israel. PKI has 16 women’s groups, and is growing.

Healthy life-styles and women’s health programming taking place in communities throughout Russia and Ukraine. PK teen groups focus on anti-smoking and healthy relationship-building campaigns.
A total of 22 cities conducted 28 anti-smoking programs.

Forty women and girls from 22 cities in Ukraine and Russia met at PK regional seminars to receiving training to enhance their facilitation skills and receive Beit Binah study materials. Victoria M. of Poltava, Ukraine, tells us: "... What I found out at the seminar will be brought to my Project Kesher Women’s Group. Themes of women's health, text study and how… it is proposed for discussion will, of course, be of interest to our women. "

MAY 2011


Project Kesher activists work to ensure the needs of women and girls are met when resource allocations are made.

Project Kesher activists work on the adoption of a draft of a bill addressing issues of gender equality in Oryol, Russia. In 2011, PK continued to advocate for the health and safety of women and girls at the local and governmental level.

PK Programming Director Vlada Bystrova of Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, (far left in photo) was interviewed in Washington D.C. by the Voice of America radio. In the 1960’s, Vlada’s grandfather secretly listened to The Voice of America which is how he learned Israel had won the Six Day War! Vlada says she felt as if her family had come ‘full-circle’ with her trip to Washington D.C. and interview about her life as a young Jewish woman and activist living in Ukraine.

Project Kesher activists met with committees of the Russian Duma (government) to address improving mandates for, and enforcement of, child support laws; worked with the local government in Kineshma, Russia on improving the lives of the disabled and house-bound (including support at the local ORT Keshernet center for disabled residents); led a round-table discussion in Rybinsk, Russia on the particular needs of women in business; led a seminar for heads of the 18 ORT Keshernet centers on “Overcoming the Digital Divide” in Tula, Russia; and held a seminar on developing youth leadership in the Jewish community of Southern Russia.

Project Kesher Youth Shabbaton in Cherkassy Ukraine

PK Women’s Tu B'Shevat Seder in Cherkassy Ukraine

PK Beit Binah in Belarus training seminar

Project Kesher welcomes 2012 and wishes you a happy new year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Project Kesher - Israel Takes Back the Night!

A note from Lesley Sachs, PK-I Interim Director...

Shalom all,

Just a short note with great satisfaction. PKI women took part yesterday, for the first time, in a "Take back the night march" organized by the rape crises center in Tel Aviv.

We were the only ones with signs in Russian, one said "rape is a crime and rapists are criminals" and the other " women sometime sacrifice but we are not willing to be sacrifices ." Our women felt very excited to be part of their first protest/march in Israel. Here are some photos:

The second activity I feel very proud of is that that a group of our main activists and staff have started to be trained by our wonderful partners from PKI FSU on how to create, build and lead a PKI seminar. We have only started and it will take time to become professional but we have made the first step.

This week end we have one advanced leadership seminar (for 22 women) and one introductory seminar for 20 women. The group that has been trained by Svetlana will be taking part in the facilitating and leading of the seminars with the assistance of Olfra finogenova and Vlada who will be coming .

We are so proud that PKI is strong enough to move to the new phase of activism.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mother-Daughter Retreat Update and More!

This has been a fantastic and busy couple weeks for Project Kesher, and we couldn't help but share the news with you!

Project Kesher Mother-Daughter Retreat
October 28-31, 2011
A mother and daughter from Cherkassy, Ukraine, participate in the October 28 – 31, 2011
Project Kesher Mother-Daughter Retreat in Kiev by jointly creating a family symbol.

The Mother-Daughter retreat brought together thirteen pair of women and girls from Ukraine and Russia. Participants attended workshops about Jewish tradition, leadership development, community activism, women’s health and safety, and building strong family relationships. All are expected to actively participate in their local Jewish community and PK women’s or youth groups after the training, with ongoing support and peer mentoring provided.

Mother-Daughter Retreat Participants

Project Kesher Beit Binah Retreat
October 28 - 31, 2011

Twenty women from ten cities in Belarus came together for Beit Binah text to activism training. The participants studied Jewish text and its connection to social activism. Beit Binah participants receive monthly programming ideas from the Project Kesher Russian language website about activism corresponding to the cycle of the year and text. The women become lay leader Torah study facilitators in their communities.

This program has developed 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 which is followed by a second meeting to plan and implement social activist projects inspired by the reading.

Svetlana Yakimenko, PK Director Presents at Berlin Conference: October 25 – 30, 2011

Project Kesher Director Svetlana Yakimenko was invited to Berlin to meet with leading women’s NGO’s and European Union representatives to report on Project Kesher’s anti-trafficking and domestic violence activism. Sveta met with German government leaders and advocated for continued support for programs that improve the life of women and girls, even during a period of economic uncertainty. She also presented to Bet Deborah, a European-wide coalition of Jewish women leaders on Sunday, October 30.

PK Honored as Organization of the Year by YWCA in Evanston:

October 27, 2011

Karyn Gershon, Executive Director, Rita Kashner, Board Char and Sallie Gratch, Founder
at the YWomen Leadership Awards

Project Kesher was selected by the YWCA of Evanston, Illinois for its YWomen’s Leadership Award which was presented to Founder Sallie Gratch and Executive Director Karyn Gershon on Thursday evening, October 27 before a crowd of 400 local community members and activists. It was joyful to be surrounded by people who embraced Project Kesher's vision and values, and to be inspired by our fellow award recipients.

PK Groups Participate in Women’s Simchat Torah: October 27, 2011

Twenty-eight Project Kesher women’s groups and youth groups in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia marked the end of the high holidays and fall holidays with special programming in communities throughout the region for celebration, learning and outreach. Here are a few examples – these communities are three of twenty-one communities receiving a Torah Scroll as part of our Torah Return Project:

In Bobruisk, Belarus, PK Beit Binah graduate Lena Davydov and PK leadership training program participants Sophia Bespyatova and Galina Dubasov take out the Torah Scroll Project Kesher brought to the community as part of our Torah Return Project. The women brought together twenty-six mothers and children from the Jewish Sunday school as part of Project Kesher’s Women’s Simchat Torah celebration.

In Bryansk, Russia, thirty-five members of the local Project Kesher women’s groups brought together children and their parents from the Jewish, Christian and Armenian communities to introduce all to the importance of the Torah Scroll in Jewish life and to continue our work building strong relationships and connections between different religious and ethnic communities.

In Nizhny Tagil, Russia, the Project Kesher women’s group brought together children and the elderly for Simchat Torah celebration.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simchat Torah and PK Torah Return Project

Bringing 21 Torah Scrolls to the region to date, the Project Kesher Torah Return Project has inspired…

• The first B’nai Mitzvah in two generations in several communities.
• Simchat Torah celebrations which were the catalyst for previously hidden Jews to attend their first services.
• New community-wide programs connecting children and teens to Jewish study.

In one community, the gift of a Torah inspired the local government to return a synagogue building being used for government offices.

Project Kesher-trained leaders are making a significant impact in the communities where the Torahs have been placed. The women have been trained by Project Kesher’s leadership training program or participated in our Beit Binah – text to activism training. They are the catalysts for Jewish renewal and social activism in their communities and we are proud of all they are accomplishing.

As we celebrate Simchat Torah, we would like to provide updates from some of our Torah Return Project Communities:

Balakova, Russia
“It is symbolic that our young and growing community received the Scroll from an American community that has more than a century long history (1867-2006), it underlines the continuity of generations and eternal nature of the Torah.” - Larissa Andriyanova, PK leader, Balakova

Bobruysk, Belarus

“Our Project Kesher women’s group has been celebrating Simchat Torah and other holidays using our own Scroll – a gift from PK- for 6 years already! We believe that our knowledge must be…spread to our children, and we are reading texts to them.” - Elena Davydova, Bobruysk PK Leader

Gori, Georgia

“The new Sefer Torah brought new energy to the Gori, Georgia community. We conduct Jewish study for the youth from 14 to 25 years old. Now, every week we study Torah with them, discuss it… We’ve noticed how our students change going deeper into Jewish tradition, learning more about Judaism. We see these young people grow up, some of them met at our meetings and get married later!”- Zizi Shaptoshvilih, Project Kesher Regional Rep. in Georgia

Rovno, Ukraine

“After the Scroll was carried in many community members came to look at it and ask us to tell them about the Scroll, the history of the Torah, its traditions etc. That is why we decided to start classes using the Scroll in the synagogue, in our Project Kesher women’s group and in a children’s center… The Torah Scroll has become a basis for strengthening and uniting the Progressive and Chabad communities – it is used for Shabbat and on holidays. With the return of the Scroll the life of Rovno Jews is filled with its light as it is said in Mishlei: ‘The commandment is a lantern and Torah is light’.” - Darya Yefimenko, Rovno PK Women’s Group leader

Cherkassy, Ukraine

“For the year past more than 600 people participated in community celebrations of Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah, Pesach and Shavuot….. Galina Polskaya, the head of the Cherkassy community and Elena Pysina, PK youth programs coordinator worked with me to prepare the Simchat Torah celebration in the progressive community. During the celebration women had a chance to both touch the Scroll and dance with it, handing it to one another, telling the stories of the impact that the Scroll had on their lives.” - Azariya Medvedeva, PK Regional Representative in Central Ukraine, Beit Binah graduate and head of Cherkassy Jewish Women’s Center

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"But then, who will help those people in trouble?"

A Dispatch from Inna Motornaya, Project Kesher's Regional Representative in Russia

This July I received an e-mail from Natalya Abdullayeva, director of the «Doveriye» (Trust), Center and coordinator of the project, ‘Prevention of Human Trafficking in Central Asia.’ She asked for help for Karakalpak* citizens who were enslaved by a Chechen man in one of district centers of the Volgograd region. Our partners from law enforcement agencies advised me not to interfere in the cause, as close examination of it made it obvious that it was a criminal case. But then, who will help those people in trouble? They have neither passports (they were grabbed away by the trafficker) nor money.

I turned to Sergey Nikolayevich Chernov, our friend and partner from the administrative office of the Volgograd region, the head of department of information policy, who knows me well through our previous activism in the region. He immediately agreed to help me. After he officially appealed to the department of internal affairs, anti-extremism section, a special campaign to release the enslaved people was held. To date, as Sergey Nikolayevich has told me, 3 young people from 24 to 26 years old have returned to their homes in Kara-Kalpak.

When ordinary, adequate, not -indifferent people understand one another and the cause, I am sure we can do a lot to help people in trouble.

─ Inna

Project Kesher activism, including our anti-trafficking work, is rooted in Jewish values.

The Torah teaches,

Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed (Leviticus 19:16).

You must surely open your hand to him or her ( Deuteronomy 15:8);

The redeeming of captives takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them. There is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives.(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah}

*The Karakalpaks are an ethnically diverse Turkic-speaking people living in the isolated delta region to the south of the Aral Sea, north of Turkmenistan and Iran in western Central Asia. The Karakalpaks are one of the poorest ethnic groups within Uzbekistan and they suffer from high unemployment and generally poor living conditions. In recent decades they have had to contend with the effects of the desiccation of the Aral Sea and the lower Amu Darya, which is turning their region into desert. This has led to an evacuation of the rural population and the growth of the southern urban towns.

Information adapted from

Project Kesher Activists Meet Rabbis Participating in UJA-Federation of NY Mission to Russia

Vlada Bystrova, Project Kesher's Program Director, and her colleague Irina Sklyankina, Jewish Education Coordinator, spoke to a group of New York area clergy who were in St. Petersburg, Russia this past July 27 as part of a mission sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York.

"We spoke about our experience working for the Jewish community, educating women, making a positive image of Jewish community in our countries. We told our stories, described the impact our work is having on the Jewish and wider community, and shared information about our fundamental belief that 'Our Judaism is active and our activism is Jewish' ..."
- Vlada Bystrova, Project Kesher Program Director

Vlada Bystrova, Project Kesher's Program Director, and her colleague Irina Sklyankina, Jewish Education Coordinator.

Vlada Bystrova and Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman of Union Temple, Brooklyn.

Irina Sklyankina with Rabbi Chaim Marder of Hebrew Institute of White Plains.

After the meeting, Irina Sklyankina (Left), Vlada Bystrova (Middle) and Rabbi Laurence Sebert (Right) of Town and Village Synagogue.

Breast Cancer Prevention Roundtable

Helping Women Take Charge of their Health

Project Kesher activist Rebecca S. has made it her job to help women in Moldova become better educated about how to protect their health. In working to create greater awareness among women in her region of the CIS about breast cancer prevention she also discovered the importance of being proactive about her own health.

At Project Kesher Jewish text-based training program─Beit Binah─ Rebecca was inspired to take the lessons she learned there about the importance of living healthy lives and apply them to the needs of women in her community and in the entire region of Moldova. She realized that women's health was an issue that was not getting the attention it needed from the people and organizations that could make a positive impact nor from the media that influences women's behavior.

On January 23, 2011 Rebecca pulled together a multi-cultural roundtable meeting on women's health at the Moldovan Bureau of Multi-Ethnic Relations with more than 50 participants representing 10 national communities, medical centers and clinics, NGO's, as well as local medical, legal and family and children's support leaders. Media also covered the gathering─a first of its kind according to several community leaders who attended the event.

In thinking through how to approach the planning for the roundtable, Rebecca decided that if she expected those participating to pay more attention to breast cancer prevention, she ought to lead by example. Rebecca scheduled her first-ever physical examination including a mammogram and consultation with a gynecologist which uncovered a medical condition that required immediate attention. Fortunately, Rebecca was quickly and successfully treated for her condition and she has used her experience to motivate other women to take charge of their health.

The roundtable attendees left with plans to keep the issue of breast cancer prevention and other women's health issues front and center in their communities. Plans are underway to conduct breast cancer information programs using Project Kesher materials in work and community settings; to provide women with information on where they can get free mammograms; to conduct more roundtable meetings and educate more people; and to encourage greater coverage about breast cancer prevention by the media.