Havurah as an alternative to traditional supplementary religious education for Soviet Jewish immigrants living in New York City

Norma Singman Krasne-Levine, Fordham University


The goal of this qualitative research study was to look for the development of any specific patterns or themes regarding a group of Soviet emigres involved in a havurah. The emigres' understanding of their Jewish identity and their involvement in an evolving havurah were explored. A group of 10 ex-Soviet families participated in a variety of havurah experiences over an 8-year period. Their oral histories told how they coped with anti-Semitism and Communism. The immigrants came to the United States with a desire to learn about their Jewish heritage and to live freely as Jews in a democratic society. The havurah was created because of dissatisfaction with the traditional Jewish supplementary school model. The traditional school did not serve the needs of the ex-Soviet Jewish emigres. The havurah evolved from a traditional Jewish supplementary school into a community fellowship. Members became leaders in the havurah when they showed proficiency in a particular area. Rotating leaders emerged from the egalitarian group at the various sites. This ethnographic study explored the research questions in two phases. Phase 1 began during the Soviet immigrants' resettlement. During the acculturation process period, the participants completed a questionnaire that constituted Phase 2 of the study. Themes of intergenerational learning through music, the havurah's evolution, rotating leadership, conflicts from traditional religious leaders, and xenophobia were reflected in the life stories of the participants. The emigres studied together in a learner-centered environment. The havurah experience encouraged personal mastery of Jewish rituals, prayer, and the study of Torah. The ex-Soviets' active participation in the havurah strengthened their Jewish identity and their commitment to the Jewish community. The children particularly enjoyed the informal structure of the havurah. They found their studies more meaningful because they were able to literally live their Judaism with their parents. Family retreats and camp experiences gave the participants opportunities to be with people who enjoyed their Judaism. The learner-centered environment of the havurah helped the emigres realize that they needed to participate as members of the Jewish community in order to fulfill their individual obligations as Jews.

Subject Area

School administration|Curricula|Teaching|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Krasne-Levine, Norma Singman, "Havurah as an alternative to traditional supplementary religious education for Soviet Jewish immigrants living in New York City" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3003025.