In the Talmud, it is written: “The world endures only for the sake of the innocent breath of school children.”
This teaching is a sign of the fundamental importance of education in Jewish culture; it is a sacred obligation that begins in our homes, extends to our communities, to our nations and to the entire world.
And it is an obligation that drives the people of World ORT, the largest non-governmental Jewish education organization in the world, as they provide the highest quality education in schools, colleges, universities and training centers in 37 countries.
The ORT Moscow Technology School, Gymnasium #1540, is a shining example of the organization’s focus on providing the best in educational opportunities and encouraging the pursuit of Jewish studies. It is an approach that nourishes both the mind and the soul, as 100 teachers share their wisdom and passion with more than 750 students in junior and senior high school.
In early November, World ORT is sponsoring a mission to Russia, which will be led by Americans Dr. Conrad Giles, President of World ORT, and Robert J. Grey, World ORT Finance Committee member and Chair of the Mission. The mission’s first stop will be the ORT Moscow Technology School, which concentrates on providing world-class STEM education.
During the visit to the school, the mission participants will have the pleasure of hearing first-hand about the extraordinary benefits provided by ORT’s unique approach to education. Among those they will meet are eighth grader Roman Lager; 11th grader Anna Korbrinskaya; and teacher Ksenia Guskova, who joined the faculty after her son had a wonderful experience at the school.
Roman, Anna and Ksenia each have their own distinctive perspectives of the school, but they are unanimous in the observation that its welcoming, inclusive atmosphere encourages students to speak their minds and pursue areas of study that are of particular interest to them.
“The culture and friendliness of this school enables students to excel in their studies but it also encourage them to develop as leaders,” said Ksenia. “We see students who enter the school as very shy individuals grow into wonderful leaders who are very comfortable speaking their minds in meetings and elsewhere.”
Anna also appreciates the fact that all students learn alongside special needs students. “Through this experience, we learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Our school is like one big family.”
“We are encouraged to think for ourselves and we have excellent teachers who treat us very well,” said Roman.
Roman is 14 years old and has been in the ORT school since the fifth grade, enrolling after his older brother and cousin thrived there. His favorite subjects are geology, informatics (information technology) and Hebrew.
The experience of Roman and his bother in ORT have led to a renewed interest in Jewish faith and practices in his entire family. In fact, Roman’s brother has been serving in the Israeli army since graduating from the ORT school and the entire family plans to move to Israel after Roman graduates.
Roman says he plans to serve in the IDF like his brother before going on to study bioengineering.
While he certainly enjoys the atmosphere and the Jewish studies in the school, he also says he likes that ORT school classes start a little later than other Russian schools, meaning he gets a little more sleep every day.
When not studying, Roman enjoys playing chess and computer games. He’s also attended Jewish summer camp over the past five years.
Anna, now in her last year at the Moscow school, has three older siblings but she is the first in her family to attend an ORT school.
She says her school is “a very important part of my life.” In addition to providing an excellent education in a variety of subjects, Anna says her study of Jewish culture and history has awakened in her a sense of who she is as a person and has played a large role in her plans for the future.
In fact, Anna is considering attending university in Israel, where she plans to pursue Middle East studies and political science. “I want to understand the problems in the region and learn what I might be able to do to make the situation better,” she said.
Anna also is enjoying a special high school program at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, taking classes in religious studies and culinary anthropology.
Outside the classroom, Anna enjoys spending time with friends, reading and playing the violin, cello and piano. She also has attended Jewish summer camps for several years.
Ksenia’s path to the Moscow ORT school started when her son, George Prytov, enrolled there in the late 2000s.
“While we knew that we had distant Jewish relatives, our family did not think much about our Jewish identity,” said Ksenia, who is an English teacher. “Then our son made friends with a very nice Jewish boy who was a student at the ORT school. As a result, our son asked if he could enroll and we agreed.”
From the very beginning, Ksenia said, her son thrived in the new environment. And, as she learned more about school and its friendly, open approach to education, Ksenia began thinking about leaving her university lecturer job to teach at the ORT school. She did just that seven years ago.
She loves her job and her family now observes all the major Jewish holidays. Her son, meanwhile, is studying business management and political science at the Russian Presidential Academy, one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in Moscow.
“Like many of the students in our school, my son formed friendships that will last because they are based in the Jewish culture and feeling of family that they shared,” said Ksenia.
Hebrew is taught in all grades in the Moscow school, as is the History and Traditions of the Jewish People. The technology program at the school features computer science and programming, robotics, computer design and publishing and 3D video.
“The statistical performance of World ORT schools in Russia and elsewhere is simply outstanding and we are very proud of those results,” said Dr. Giles. “The mission, however, will give us an opportunity to see first hand how these schools improve lives – one student, one family, at a time.”
The upcoming mission is a return to the roots of World ORT, which was founded in 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. In addition to Moscow Technology School, the mission will visit secondary ORT schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as ORT Moscow College. The mission also will meet with Jewish community leaders, the president of ORT Russia and Russian education officials.”
Through a network of schools, colleges, training centers and programs in Israel, the Former Soviet Union, Latin America and elsewhere, World ORT benefits more than 300,000 people annually, with the support of Jewish Federations, foundations, transnational organizations and individual donors. It has benefited more than 3 million people since its founding.
ORT is an acronym derived from the Russian: Obshestvo Remeslenogo i zemledelcheskogfo Truda, meaning The Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor.