Why would the government of an obscure oblast choose to fund the building of a brand new Or Avner Chabad School in a distant Siberian city?
“The governor wants our school to be an example for all of Russia to show how all kinds of people can live together in harmony,” Chabad’s Rabbi Osher Krichevsky, head of the Omsk community told Lubavitch.com.
To see a wish for multicultural cooperation turn into a major investment in Jewish education is nothing less than “a miracle.”
Mere weeks after the ribbon cutting at the school, Omsk Jewish community is already showing signs of growth.
On Rosh Hashanah, the crowd at the synagogue swelled from 400 to 500. Numbers went up, but the median age went down. Middle class parents not in need of humanitarian assistance from Chabad, or attached to Judaism enough to join the Yiddish club or choir, have given Jewish programming a second look because of the school.
They’ve been calling Chabad for a school tour ever since, and in even greater numbers since the school received recognition as an official educational institution.
During the school’s construction, the community decided Omsk deserved a synagogue to match. Local families raised $75,000 to refurbish Chabad’s synagogue on Marshala Zhukova Street. A new Torah scroll, podium, Torah ark curtain are just some of the updates that grace the interior of the 100-year-old building.
As meaningful as it is to breathe new life into a historic synagogue, the privilege also means that the building’s footprint and facade cannot be altered or expanded. That meant Chabad had to search for spaces to rent for their high turnout events, like Chanukah parties and Purim celebration. The school’s three stories with an airy glass atrium give the community a larger space for gathering and celebrating.
The Krichevskys have been laying the groundwork for the school since their arrival on September 11, 2001. “Lev Leviev, Sami and George Rohr, Rabbi Berel Lazar and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky—their hard work and enthusiastic support have made our success possible,” said Rabbi Krichevsky.
Chabad opened a kindergarten in 2004 in a rented space. Ninety children from across the Siberian region attended Omsk’s Camp Gan Israel last summer. Children from these programs enrolled in the school. Pre-opening publicity, television and newspaper coverage of the ribbon cutting, and the general buzz in the city about the school have drawn the rest of the students.
For most of the school’s 75 students, Or Avner is a first exposure to formal Jewish education.