The Dror Israel Educators’ Kibbutz in Akko works closely with its diverse community of neighbors, which includes a large group of olim (immigrants) fromRussia and Ukraine. Each year over 100 new families move to Israel and go straight to Akko. In the neighborhood immediately surrounding the educators’ kibbutz, one quarter of the population are native Russian speakers. One of the programs established by Dror Israel to meet the needs of this community is an innovative Hebrew-learning program for groups of immigrants from the former USSR, who are very new to the country. As opposed to traditional Ulpan where the language-learning is formal and rote, Dror’s approach is language learning through shared interests which are part of day-to-day life. There are groups which focus on different issues: a women’s group, a senior citizens’ group, a young adults’ group. Each group has its own unique characteristics. This September, the educators opened the Hebrew Club where any of the groups’ students - or anyone else who is interested – can come to practice their Hebrew in a non-judgmental atmosphere with native-born Israelis. Members of the educators’ kibbutz meet once per month with the new olim. They drink coffee together and chat in Hebrew. But perhaps even more important than the Hebrew study is the community created by these meetings - everyone who lives in the neighborhood gets to know one another at the Hebrew Club. In addition to the chats, the club hosts short lectures, games, and mingling – so it’s never boring and of course there's always food.
One of the challenges for olim from the USSR is that because in Russia they were not allowed to publicly celebrate Jewish holidays, many families are unfamiliar with traditions common throughout the Jewish world. Often, this is a source of embarrassment – especially in an atmosphere where they feel the authenticity of their Jewishness is questioned – and even though they are eager and excited to finally participate in Jewish life, they don’t have a safe space to ask questions about holidays and practices, and learn more about their people and religion.
So this Hanukkah, the Dror Israel Educators’ Kibbutz in Akko hosted a community candle lighting. Everyone was invited to the kibbutz building, and together we taught and learned Hanukkah songs and the blessings in Hebrew, lit the candles, played with dreidels and of course, ate sufganiyot. Everyone who participated felt a strong sense of community.
Anna, a 38-year-old originally from Ukraine, said, “My father is Jewish and my mother is Christian, and we didn’t celebrate any Jewish holidays at home, but here I’m so happy to be able to celebrate. I really love Hanukkah. Each night I’ve been lighting candles in a different place. Soon I’ll know all the traditions and then I can invite people to my house to light candles.”