When Rabbi Avraham and Frumi Bekerman arrived in Moscow nine years ago to assume direction of the Machon Chaya Mushka Institute for Jewish Women, a school for women ages 18-25 interested in exploring Judaism, they found a once thriving school in a curious state of transition.
Established immediately after the fall of communism—when the first taste of religious freedom brought so many to its doors—the school was nearly empty by 1993. Most of the original students had emigrated to Israel or the US to continue their studies there and live in Jewish surroundings. And the turnover rate was almost nonexistent: it seemed only a first wave of seekers had made their way to the institute, while others would eventually be lured to other post-communism novelties.
“They didn’t come looking for us,” acknowledges Rabbi Bekerman. “We had to seek Jewish people out, and introduce them to something they really knew nothing about.” So for four years, the Bekermans focused their efforts on organizing seminars, classes, events, and Shabbatons that would appeal to young women. Slowly but steadily, a community began to form around these events, and more and more young women were showing interest in Jewish studies.
Within a few years, the school began to function as a full-time institution again, attracting students from across the former Soviet Union. Today, 150 women study at the institute.
On September 26, a little over nine years since the Bekerman’s arrival, Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia and director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Former USSR, affixed the mezuzah on the front door of a newly renovated five-story building, officially opened for business. In a festive ceremony attended by community members, local rabbis, dignitaries, and students, Machon Chaya Mushka celebrated the dedication of its new facility.
Until now, Machon Chaya Mushka was housed in rented classroom space, with dormitory facilities in a nearby motel. The renovated building now accommodates the school’s needs with spacious classrooms, dorm rooms, kitchen facilities, and even a swimming pool and health center. Rabbi Bekerman points to the tireless efforts of Rabbi Lazar and community member Rabbi Alexander Brada in acquiring the building.
Fully accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education, Machon Chaya Mushka offers young women a rigorous academic experience in both Judaic and secular subjects. Morning classes are devoted to a full curriculum of Judaic subjects, designed to initiate those with no background whatsoever and challenge those already well versed. The Machon, as it is known, also offers students professional training in economics, linguistics, psychology, and pedagogy. Upon completing 4-5 years of study, students graduate Machon Chaya Mushka with a government diploma qualifying them to work in their chosen field.
“A student who leaves the Machon after several years is qualified in more than just her profession,” says Frumi Bekerman. “She really has the knowledge she needs to build a Jewish home and lead a Jewish life.” And the Bekermans have had the pleasure numerous times, of participating in the Jewish, traditional wedding ceremony of “their” girls. “There is no greater reward for this work than seeing these young women committed to Jewish continuity, and to raising Jewish families,” she says. “Ultimately, this is the bottom line for our future—Jewish women living Jewishly, marrying Jewish, and raising a generation that is Jewishly educated and Jewishly committed.”