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Gil Smolinski
Entrepreneur, diver, reader, mensch

Jewish Education Grows in Kazakhstan

Education keeps the world spinning with new ideas from new generations. After being involved with the Jewish community in Kazakhstan, it has become apparent to me how the Jewish education in the country helps traditions thrive and people feel closer to their heritage. 

With thousands of Jews living in Kazakhstan today, after years of moving around and fleeing various instances of persecution, they have formed a strongly bonded community. Kazakhstan serves as a hub for Jewish people, and their government emphasizes acceptance, unity and valuing people regardless of religion. Many of the government’s actions have proven their commitment to making sure Kazakhstan is a safe place to learn and grow in one’s religion. 

I have seen the effects of education, and Jewish education specifically. Since Jews are a minority group in Kazakhstan, teaching the newer generations about Judaism is important in showing that we are here and we are proud. Kazakhstan’s chief rabbi Yeshaya E. HaCohen has noted how the country’s Jewish population and presence is thriving, and this gives hope to the future generations of the community.

Chanukah in Astana, Kazakhstan

Chabad plays a large role in the Jewish presence in Kazakhstan, and promotes Jewish learning from a young age. When the first Chabad Schluchim arrived in the country, they began a Jewish day camp where the local children could experience their Judaism in a welcoming setting. Chabad, in addition, is viewed by the Kazakhstan people as a non-political entity, allowing for the organization to live on without stigma. With my personal connection to Chabad as well as Nur-Sultan’s Rabbi Shmuel Karnoach, I have been able to see Chabad’s lasting impact on the community. In addition to organizing Jewish education, Chabad also serves as a center for international Jewish guests to feel at home when abroad. 

There are 14 Jewish day schools around the country, each contributing to the ongoing traditions of Judaism in Kazakhstan. The Jewish Agency for Israel in addition, provides youth centers called mo’adons throughout the country, promoting Jewish learning in Kazakhstan; the largest mo’adon is located in Almaty. Young Jews who attend these mo’adons are able to learn about their culture and history in these settings, and even practice the Hebrew language. By keeping Hebrew alive, even in this former-Soviet country, traditions are able to remain strong and Jewish people can maintain communication with a unique language.

In the past, Kazakh education leaders have visited Jewish day schools abroad to learn from their successes. In 2013, a Kazakh delegation of five people learned from the educators at the Hebrew Foundation School in Canada, showing the long-term commitment that Kazakhstan has to bettering the education of their youth. Specifically, the delegation wanted to learn from the trilingual schools in Canada that offered instruction in French, English and Hebrew. In Kazakhstan, the official language used by government officials is Russian, but people also speak the native language of Kazak and are increasingly speaking English. By adding Hebrew language education into the equation, Kazakhstan Jews can feel a stronger connection to their heritage.

By providing settings devoted to teaching new generations about Judaism and Hebrew, the Jewish community in Kazakhstan can thrive. I am excited to see how Jewish education in Kazakhstan progresses and grows in the future.  

About the Author
Gil Smolinski is a business developer, entrepreneur, and advisor to startups. He is a loving husband and father of two, who enjoys the depths of books and the sea and tends to dive into both.
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