The money is earmarked for essential needs, such as school buses and hot lunches – critical services for schools serving Jewish communities scattered across large urban sprawls and teaching a curriculum that demands long days – and security.
“No words of gratitude can express what we all feel about the help the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has given us,” said David Benish, Head of World ORT’s Representative Office for the CIS, Central Asia, Caucasian States and Baltic States.
“When funding was slashed, many children faced leaving Jewish schools because their parents could no longer afford unsubsidised travel expenses; it was the Fellowship which stepped in. Thanks to their support kids across the region arrive and study in Jewish schools, their minds are not distracted by hunger, and their parents can relax knowing that their children are protected.”
For more than 20 years Heftsiba has been the conduit through which the State of Israel has supported the education of Jewish children attending ORT, Or Avner and Shema Israel schools in the region. It is a system of management, quality control and instructional support and provides Israeli teachers who are expert in Hebrew and Jewish education.
However, Deputy Education Minister Eliezer Moses told the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs last year that since the programme’s creation in 1991 – in which World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer played a prominent part as deputy head of Nativ – Heftsiba’s budget had shrunk from NIS 48 million to a meagre NIS 8 million.
The Committee meeting raised hopes of a restoration of funding but nothing has been forthcoming, meaning that the Fellowship is once again in the position of enabling the affected schools to maintain their Jewish character.
“Giving Jewish children a better chance of success, strengthening their Jewish identity and their connection to Israel – we couldn’t succeed in these important missions without having such dedicated partners as the Fellowship,” Mr Benish said.
Mr Singer said that while funding levels were still far below that necessary to run the schools at their optimum level without the Fellowship’s intervention the whole system of Jewish education in the Former Soviet Union would have collapsed.
“The continued functioning of Heftsiba is fundamental to the vitality of the Jewish communities of the Former Soviet Union and has far-reaching ramifications for the State of Israel,” Mr Singer said. “These Jews form the largest reservoir for aliyah and without the Jewish schools, which form the core of their communities, their future as Jews is in danger.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), headquartered in Chicago and Jerusalem, was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein for the purpose of building bridges of cooperation and understanding between both faith communities and together supporting Israel and Jews in need throughout the world. To date, IFCJ has raised two-thirds of a billion dollars to support programs aiding the sick, elderly, orphaned and at-risk populations in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, India, Latin America, and Arab countries. For more information about IFCJ programs and projects, visit www.ifcj.org.
World ORT is the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-government organization. Founded in Russia in 1880, World ORT has helped more than 3 million people – Jewish and non-Jewish – in 100 countries acquire the skills necessary to live independent, productive lives. World ORT currently has a presence in 61 countries and benefits some 300,000 people a year through its schools, colleges, training and welfare programmes. For more information about World ORT visit www.ort.org or like World ORT’s page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/WorldORT.