Jewish life is thriving in Estonia, the former Soviet republic declared free of its Jews by occupying German forces in 1941. After a year of milestones – both the impressive Tallin Synagogue in the country’s capital and a state-of-the-art Jewish ritual bath opened to fanfare in 2007 – the local Jewish community is anxiously awaiting its new Ohr Avner Chabad Hebrew School.

Announced at the concluding party of this summer’s Camp Gan Israel, a branch of a network of day and summer camps run by Chabad-Lubavitch centers all over the word, the new Hebrew school at the Estonian Jewish Center is a welcome addition for local resident Veronika Armon.

Armon’s five-year-old daughter Rachel, who attended the camp, will be one of the school’s new students. The mother said that her child can’t wait to start.


“She learned so much,” Armon, 31, said of the camp. “She loved playing games and interacting with the other children.”

The school “is necessary for my family,” added the mother, who wants to send her other daughter Michelle to the school in a couple of years.

The news came on the heels of the arrival three months ago of Rabbi Arie and Yamit Presman, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who are implementing a new Torah education program for Estonia’s adult Jewish population.

According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shmuel Kot, co-director of the Estonian Jewish Center and the city’s chief rabbi, the idea for the school had been brewing for years, ever since he and his wife Chana founded a Sunday School club for Jewish children. He anticipated that the new school – which is being funded in large part by the Ohr Avner Foundation of philanthropist Lev Leviev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union – will attract students from several government schools in the area.

Lealeh Lasker, head counselor of the local Camp Gan Israel, said that many of the incoming students attended the camp, and as such will be adequately prepared for the start of classes this fall.

“We added to their knowledge by examining stories from the Tanach,” said Lasker, using the term for the Hebrew Bible. “We were thereby able to introduce many Jewish concepts in an engaging way.”

Each day, the camp focused on a different theme, with lessons from each story reinforced through activities and art projects. For instance, when the children learned about Abraham and Sarah, and their boundless kindness for others, they built their own tents and practiced welcoming guests.

“The children here are thirsty for Judaism, disciplined, and ready to learn,” said Lasker, 20, who is returning to Israel to continue her teaching students. “Their grasp of concepts is amazing.”

In addition to a mandatory class on Jewish tradition, the Hebrew school will offer seven electives – including English, Estonian, Hebrew, mathematics, music, art and homework help – for the children and their parents to choose from. In addition, a Jewish Experience Room will feature special activities each month. A Jewish Please Touch Museum will further teach concepts through photographs, drawings, dioramas and movies.

“The program’s goal is to concentrate different electives in one place and to provide quality teachers,” said Kot.