A First for Russia: School That Integrates Special Needs Children

The inauguration of a brand new, state-of-the-art Jewish Day School in Novosibirsk, Russia was attended by over a thousand Jews, as well as the city’s mayor, government representatives, senators, well-known athletes, and many public figures.

The eighteenth of Elul, was an especially auspicious day this year for the Jews of the Siberian capital city of Novosibirsk. On this day two beacons of light for the Jewish nation were born: the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, also known as the Baal HaTanya, and on this day a brand new, state-of-the-art Jewish Day School was inaugurated. The school, a first of its kind, will integrate special needs children under a project called “Lev”.

The event was attended by over a thousand Jews, as well as the city’s mayor, government representatives, senators, well-known athletes, representatives of the Israeli embassy and head of “Nativ” Yana Agmon, many public figures, chief among them the esteemed sponsors who contributed to the building of the school.

The event, which took place in front of the new and magnificent building, began with words of blessing from the Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, who accompanied this project from its very inception and came especially to participate in its historical grand opening.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman Zaklos, the Rabbi and Shliach to Novosibirsk prefaced his words with the shofar blowing and mentioned that exactly ten years ago, in Elul of 5773, at a historical event, Novosibirsk’s first Jewish Community Center was inaugurated. And now, 10 years later, with Hashem’s infinite kindness, a beautiful new educational center is being inaugurated for the “Ohr Avner School” along with the contemporary “Lev” program for integrating special needs children into society.

The governor, the senator and the mayor, each spoke in turn, praising the Jewish community and the family of the dedicated shluchim Rabbi Zalman and Mrs. Miriam Zaklos, for their contribution to the Jewish community and for setting a personal example to the entire city!

The first Jewish school to open in Novosibirsk’s history was 23 years ago with the arrival of Rabbi Zaklos and his family to the city. But as the years passed, the number of students grew and the building became too small to accommodate everyone. The need for a larger space arose. The new building, into which so many resources have been invested is a large and modern one. It includes a school, kindergartens, swimming pools, and the highlight: a special floor dedicated to the integration of special needs children into society under the “Lev” program in conjunction with “Shalva” organization in Israel. The main goal of this program is to connect children with handicaps or special needs to other children which they can befriend and help each other through various informal activities and programs.

This innovative program is the first of its kind in Russia, which resulted in a huge Kiddush Hashem on every scale. The local government was extremely impressed by the program that not only helps special children, but also educated the younger generation to be kind and caring, helping others.

During the event a new Torah scroll was dedicated at the sanctuary of the new school building. It was donated by philanthropist Mr. Leonid Shiman, who sponsored the scroll in loving memory of his parents. Rabbis and Shluchim who flew in to participate in this celebration were honored with writing the final letters in the Torah scroll as well as carrying it during the dancing and hakafos.

Ahead of the grand opening, the local governor, Mr. Travnik, held a special reception in his office honoring Russia’s Chief Rabbi. He praised the activities of the city’s Jewish community led by Rabbi Zaklos. In conclusion he promised to assist “Project Lev” out of deep appreciation and understanding for the need and its great influence.


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