A Return on Investment: Enhancing Jewish education in the Former Soviet Union

by | Mar 1, 2013 | Other News

After years of repression eroded all signs of Jewish life, one organization stepped in after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and recreated a dynamic educational network that spans nine countries, includes 56 projects in 38 locations and serves more than 25,000 people: World ORT. The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater partners with World ORT, the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training nongovernmental organization.

ORT’s network of 17 inclusive Jewish day schools provides groundbreaking technology education and Jewish studies, in cooperation with local governments and Israel’s Ministry of Education. ORT has established Technology Centers in more than 20 vocational training schools and colleges in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

World ORT’s programs in the former Soviet Union (FSU) aim to strengthen Jewish communities across the region through excellence in education. By creating successful and attractive Jewish schools that deliver high quality education, ORT brings Jewish children together in an environment where they can also learn about their common heritage and history. This has become the model for not only revitalizing fragmented communities, but also for providing this new generation with a real competitive advantage when seeking higher education or opportunities for employment.

World ORT uses its science and technology expertise to set up centers of excellence in schools throughout the region that attract Jewish children. Once there, they benefit from the high quality science and technology syllabus, as well as from the Jewish education syllabus, run by the Israeli Ministry for Education.

This model sometimes faces unexpected obstacles. Providing the high-quality education is not enough if the students can’t get to school. In Zaporojie, Ukraine, the ORT Aleph Jewish Gymnasium has more than 300 students, all of them Jewish. The majority of these children live a considerable distance away from this, the only Jewish school in the city.

Though public transportation exists, journeys are long and not always safe, especially for the youngest students. Three bus routes are required to get all of the students to school, and the children ride an average of 3.5 hours roundtrip. The school does not own buses, so these transportation costs must be paid to a rental company. The expense of the buses is outside of most parents’ means—even when they pool together.

Thanks to financial support from outside donors—including Tidewater donors to the UJFT annual campaign and those of other Jewish Federations—ORT is able to help these families continue to have access to secular and Jewish education.

Ninth-grader, David Dickenshtein says, “It’s not so easy to get to school for me. I live outside of the city, in the village of Vysokogorsk. But to study in this good school and to have a better future I get up at 6 o’clock in the morning to get to Zaporojie suburb, where I am picked up by school bus. If there were not such a school bus I would not get to school and I, and 30 other students who take the bus with me, would never be able to study at ORT Aleph.”

ORT’s education initiatives like the one in Zaporojie have created a generation of youngsters with the knowledge to go on to higher education and well-paid jobs, giving them the tools to create active, selfsufficient Jewish communities.

The programs of World ORT, like the schools in the former Soviet Union, are funded in part by the generosity of the Tidewater Jewish community through gifts to the UJFT’s annual campaign. Every dollar raised makes a significant difference to real people like ninth-grader David Dickenshtein—at home, in Israel, and in 70 countries around the world. To make a gift, visit Jewishva.org.