World ORT students’ enthusiasm for learning and for being Jewish made a big impact on the members of ORT America’s mission to Russia.
The 30 supporters from across the United States started their mission in St Petersburg. There they met students and teachers at the ORT de Gunzburg School and the ORT Vocational Training Centre at the YESOD Jewish Cultural Centre. The second half of the mission was spent in the capital where they toured the ORT Tekhiya School and ORT Moscow Technology School. Some also went on the post mission to Vilnius where they took in the Lithuanian capital’s rich Jewish history as well its future in the shape of the ORT Sholom Aleichem School.
“Everything’s been absolutely perfect!” said first time ORT mission participant Gail Jospa, of Long Island, New York. “We were incredibly blown away by the Moscow school where we saw older students. The amount of technology is amazing. We’re recapturing part of our Jewish population in such a positive way, moving forward to the future rather than hanging on to the past.”
The ORT de Gunzburg School has more than 450 students from 1st to 11th grades and is officially recognised for its in-depth study of information technology and foreign languages. ORT’s Vocational Training Centre opened in 2008 and provides adults with on-site and online courses which boost their employability – from English to computer aided design and teacher training. When Moscow’s ORT Tekhiya opened in 1991 it was the first Jewish state school to do so in post-Soviet Russia and now has more than 650 students from pre-school through to matriculation.
“I didn’t know that ORT’s work was so extensive,” said Mrs Jospa. “I am just so proud when I see the work that ORT – or any Jewish organisation – does; each one has a marvellous niche for helping Jewry. You just kvell up.”
It was the third time in Russia for Mission Co-Chair Suellen Kadis.
“To see the growth and changes since communism is pretty remarkable,” said Ms Kadis, an ORT America Board member whose husband, ORT America President Larry Kadis, was also on the mission. “People now have a choice of where to send their children to school and they can now choose an ORT school where they’ll get a Jewish set of values. And that’s important because even if you’re not particularly religious, your heritage is a strong part of who you are.”
She added: “The kids were great – such energy and passion for learning. There are high expectations of them so they’re disciplined and focused. Another part of the mission I liked was the mixture of people on it: there were people like Larry and me who have been involved for some time but also people who didn’t know anything about ORT. It was wonderful to see them recognise the value of what ORT is accomplishing.”
ORT Russia Director Dr Sergey Gorinskiy said he and the school communities were very happy to meet the ORT America mission.
“Our schools, ORT and our supporters are one team. We’re all partners in one project – to provide a good future for our students by providing them with a good education. That partnership means it’s very important for us to see our work through the eyes of our visitors,” Dr Gorinskiy said.
He said ORT Russia had tried to present a broad range of its educational provision to the mission, from general education, to STEM and Jewish Studies.
“Our guests liked the idea that our students can be creators of the world around us,” he said.
The Head of World ORT’s Representative Office for the CIS, Central Asia, Caucasian States and Baltic States, David Benish, said it was very important that people around the world remembered that Jews in the Former Soviet Union were still in need of their moral and financial support.
“We hope that there are more missions like this one because when people come to see us they feel much more connected,” Mr Benish said.
He added: “Our main challenge beyond the quality of our education is to connect Jews who are not affiliated with the community. There is no better tool to do that than excellent Jewish day schools. We attract children from non-affiliated families with our technology and science education and they go home with Shabbat and Jewish traditions which, in turn, inspires their parents.”
ORT America Chief Development Officer Marla Landis said the school visits, which were interspersed with tours of Russia’s sumptuous cultural sites, had made a big impact on everyone.
“The biggest impact was seeing the renewal of Jewish life and the passion and excitement of the students and teachers. It was great to see that the children want to be in school, that they want to learn; the ORT schools are really an extension of their families,” she said.