ORT building communities in Ukraine “has lessons for America”

American Jewish communities could learn from what World ORT is doing to ensure the future of Jewish communities in Ukraine and Russia, according to Susan Goldman, Immediate Past President of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts

The ORT schools are “transformative”, says Mission participant Susan Goldman, second from right.

Touring ORT schools in Odessa and Kiev, Ms Goldman, an Adjunct Professor of Psychology, has been struck by the historical significance of ORT’s achievements in the region.

“When you’re here you truly experience the vitality and the poignancy of what ORT’s doing. There is this great poignancy every moment I’m with these children because they are fortunate to still be here considering what happened in the 20th century,” she said.

“What’s always in the background is my perspective of how significant the rebuilding of Jewish culture is through the ORT experience for these children and realising that, without ORT, after two generations of separation from Jewish identity, I believe that essentially the community would disappear.”

The ORT schools have a powerful, transformative impact, she says.

“In the United States there’s so much assimilation, with about 70 per cent intermarriage, that our strategies are not that different – there are many parallels. We can learn from what’s done in Ukraine and Russia for our experience in the US,” she said.

World ORT President Dr Conrad Giles, centre, with Mission participants at the ORT Zhabotinski School in Odessa.

Ms Goldman and her husband, Marc, are with World ORT President Dr Conrad Giles, his wife Lynda, and other major supporters of ORT on the five-day mission which has taken them on a fascinating tour of cultural and historical sites as well as tours of the ORT Zhabotinski School in Odessa, and Kiev’s ORT-Hillel Training Centre and Educational Complex #141.

They have enjoyed close conversations with staff and children and presented prizes at the conclusion of a three-day Hackathon in which students from eight ORT schools and four other schools from across Ukraine and Moldova took part.

Addressing students and staff at the ORT Educational Complex in Kiev, Dr Giles noted that the word “family” had been used a lot during the visit.

“You are our extended family,” he said. “You have given us additional energy. More things need to be done but we’re with you – no-one turns their back on family.”

The week has been a great demonstration of the effectiveness of the ORT model, said Mission Chair Robert Grey.

Mission Chair Robert Grey meets students at the ORT Zhabotinski School in Odessa.

“By leveraging what the government provides, we’re able to maximise resources and enhance education. We’re able to provide unique educational opportunities,” Mr Grey, a partner in an international law firm.

In Kiev, mission participants met the Israeli and Canadian ambassadors and a representative of the US Embassy, thanks to which they were able to place ORT’s work in a wider social and political context.

But the personal highlight for Mr Grey was meeting the students.

“Seeing their enthusiasm and how they respond to the educational opportunities is outstanding. The technological enhancement we’re able to provide that motivates the students and jump starts the learning process is extremely impressive,” he said.

Joining them at the end of the mission was World ORT Director General and CEO Avi Ganon. Before heading World ORT’s operational arm in Israel, Mr Ganon led its operations in the Former Soviet Union.

“Returning to the region after so many years I have been impressed by the revolution in the educational services which ORT now provides here,” Mr Ganon said. “It’s a closing of the circle for me – and a very gratifying one.”