His Way - Misha Jakobas, Vilnius, Lithuania

I met Misha for the first time in the fall of 2011 in Tel Aviv. Misha is the head of Shalom Aleichem School in Vilnius. The school was recruited through the JDC to be part of the LA Jewish Federation’s new triangle exchange program called TALAVI (Tel Aviv – Los Angeles – Vilnius). At first sight Misha looked like a regular middle aged man, gray hair, tall, impressive, very polite with European manners. It was later on when I got to know him better that I learned what a great educator he is and how devoted he is to his students. 

Misha runs a school of about 280 students, from K to 12, and about 75% of them have a Jewish background. Shalom Aleichem is a public school but has special permission from the government to teach Jewish content. In the States we would call it a “Jewish magnet school.” The students in the school study Torah, Hebrew, chagim, and Jewish history. They sing in Yiddish as well as Hebrew, Russian, and Lithuanian, a very interesting combination of languages that is also reflected in the diverse culture of the school. We had the honor of visiting the school in Vilnius last February, and we fell in love with the students, mainly the little ones. They come to school every day dressed in uniforms and were so well behaved that we could only be jealous... 

In a few weeks from now, we are going to host in Los Angeles the TALAVI program’s educators. The head of the school and the coordinators of the program from Tel Aviv and Vilnius are going to be hosted by their partners at Kehillat Israel Religious School. 

Last week, as a preparation for this upcoming visit, I received an email from Misha, who is extremely excited to be coming to Los Angeles. He shared with me his essay, “My Way.” I became very emotional reading his essay and would like to share part of it, unedited, with you. 

In his writing, Misha described his childhood in the Soviet Union during Communist times when Judaism was forbidden. Despite the ban on practicing religion, Misha’s family kept Jewish life in their home “...We knew that our father was surrounded by KGB because our father was openly against the soviet rule. Despite all of that my grandmother lit up the Sabbath candles on Friday evenings, read a prayer, baked the Saturday challah and my grandfather put on the “t’filin” every morning, and pounded his fist into his heart. I watched all of that and it stuck deeply into a little child’s heart. We lived poorly but were brought up following Jewish customs….” 

Misha describes growing up with Anti-Semitism around him. But he did not let it influence his life. Misha was blessed with leadership skills and became a teacher.

“…Being next to children fulfill me….I loves them and always open and kind, I know how to fascinate them with my ideas, my stories, the trips I organize and with the scholarship I provide. I prepare myself, search for and want to give what the children would not find in textbooks. I feel like Moses, with people following after their leader. …A teacher has to be an individual who has to reach to that kind of leadership and it has to be his aspiration. Teacher need to see, to know, to interest and speak with enthusiasm and excitement. A teacher has to understand that he cannot lose his children, children cannot turn their backs on him and he himself has to come to them with an open heart. Teacher’s kindness has to be seen from the start, he has to be an artist as he is on a stage all the time. It is even harder for a teacher than for an artist. A teacher cannot speak to himself; he has to speak to all students, to communicate and to convince the whole audience that he can be trusted, that he can be Their Moses…”

Don’t these words remind you of Janusz Korczak, the great Polish-Jewish educator? Misha is the head of school that knows every student by name and greets each of them with a hand shake every single morning at the gate. At the time of the Soviet Union, the Communists prevented him from becoming a principal of a school. They claimed that he was “not from the right nationality, he is not a communist, and has relatives who live in Israel…” To that Misha responded: “…I am not a communist...the fact that my sister lived in Israel made me proud, and regarding the fact that I am Jewish – well, what God gave cannot be taken away.” 

New times brought Misha new opportunities. Today Misha and his wife Emma live in Vilnius, Lithuania. Emma works at the Jewish Community Center that, with the support of the LA Jewish Federation, helps elderly Jews in the community. Misha educates Jewish and non-Jewish students.

“…I thank God that today I am here and that finally I am the successor of the great ex-Kaunas Shalom Aleichem gymnasium traditions. That we are a great school that has wonderful teachers and that helps to raise beautiful children in warm and cozy surroundings. I am proud that a time has come when I can give myself to the school community: my experience, my knowledge, and my Jewish warmth to my children. “

What a great educator and a great Jewish soul!

Misha Jakobas will be a guest in Los Angeles in March. We welcome him together with Ariel Nadbornik, the JDC representative in Vilnius, Teresa Segaliene, the program coordinator in Vilnius, Max Sivan, the head of Shevach Mofet School in Tel Aviv, Olga Yegorov, the program coordinator in Shevach Mofet, and  Haya Ben Dror, the Director of the School Twinning in Tel Aviv. We wish them a good stay in Los Angeles and hope that they will return to their communities with stories about the warm Jewish community they met in Los Angeles!

Tags: Education, Engaging in our Community, School Twinning Program

Share |
blog comments powered by Disqus