Valley congregation debuts Russian-language program

Congregation Beth Meier will debut a religious school program in Russian for children ages 6 to 8 at its Studio City campus starting Sept. 9. Citing a limited number of local Russian-language programs for elementary students, Rabbi Aaron Benson said the Sunday morning classes at the Conservative synagogue will help students build their Russian-language skills while learning about Judaism and Jewish culture.

The Russian-language class will mirror the English- and Hebrew-language Jewish studies classes at Beth Meier, with “Jewish studies taught in Russian, with the topics presented used as a means by which [students] would improve their [Russian] vocabulary and grammar skills,” Benson said.

Educator Anastasia Smirnova will teach the new class.

“We know families who have expressed that the options for their children to continue the study of the Russian language formally become fewer and fewer as their kids get past preschool age — and certainly to be able to do so in a Jewish environment there are hardly any programs like that at all,” Benson said.

Of Beth Meier’s approximately 100 member families, about a dozen are Russian-speaking, according to Benson, who hopes the new program will appeal to the Russian Jewish communities of the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and elsewhere.

Demographer Pini Herman, research coordinator for the 1997 L.A. Jewish population survey, said that there were 24,500 Jews from Russia and the Former Soviet Union in Los Angeles at the time of the survey. However, he estimates that number is likely lower today.

“I would imagine that it is smaller now as it was an aging population probably with a rather modest birthrate,” Herman said.

If the Beth Meier program takes off, Benson hopes to add a class for 9- to 10-year-olds in 2013.

“We’re very interested to hear feedback and suggestions, and really make the program something that will be a meaningful addition to Jewish life in Los Angeles,” he said.

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