Historic ORT 70-for-70 pre-mission kicks off in Lithuania
The pre-mission for ORT’s ground-breaking 70-for-70 delegation to Israel has completed the first leg of its journey with a two-day visit to Vilnius.
The Lithuanian capital is home to the ORT Sholom Aleichem Gymnasium school and the city was once a major hub of world Jewry.
Around a dozen members of the delegation visited the school, which has around 400 students, on Monday. ORT leaders including Avi Ganon, Director General and CEO, joined the touring party shown around the school by principal, Misha Jacobas.
Pupils gave demonstrations of electronics and physics classes in the building’s modern laboratories.
Nikita Yusupov, 11, received a standing ovation for his performance of Dean Martin’s Ain’t That A Kick In The Head as pupils from all age groups displayed their singing and acting ability.
For Elina Mesengiser-Garber, the school holds a particularly special place in her heart.
After graduating from Shalom Aleichem more than a decade ago, she studied Law in the Netherlands and Lithuania, and is now a marketing director at a real estate company in Vilnius.
But the new term also marks a new start for Elina’s family, as her daughter is now a pupil at the school.
“Everywhere I go I spread the name of the school,” she explained. “Pupils want to come here not because it’s a Jewish school, but because it’s a prestige school.
“Parents know it is safe for the children – there are no drugs or security issues. I am delighted my daughter studies here now too.”
David Benish, ORT’s national director in the former Soviet Union (FSU), explained that parents were attracted to ORT schools because they provide the best level of general and technological education, and are inclusive. The majority of pupils are not from religious families, and many students are not Jewish.
Delegates on the mission heard details of ORT’s programme across the FSU, where the education network works with more than 1,000 teachers in nine countries, touching the lives of around 31,000 students.
Places in the ORT schools are highly sought after and over-subscribed – with around six applicants per school place in Vilnius. There are also ORT training programmes available for adults. For example the ORT Kesher Net programme provides employment and skills training for women in 17 small Jewish communities.
Mr Benish said: “ORT’s presence in these countries is very important, and very influential.”
He said ORT students and graduates were playing key roles in their communities, often working for – and leading – other Jewish organisations.
On Sunday, the 70-for-70 participants delved into the Jewish history of Lithuania, where the community once numbered around 225,000 people.
In Ponary forest, which was one of the biggest mass-murder sites in Europe in the 1940s, the group stopped to remember the 95 per cent of Lithuania’s Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust.
They saw the mass burial pits and Shoah memorial. Later the tour moved on to Trakai, the historical capital city of Lithuania, and the town’s castle, where the Caraites sect of Jews served as bodyguards to the country’s medieval Great Duke.
The full delegation of ORT’s 70-for-70 mission will begin its visit to Israel on Thursday.
Kiev is second stop on 70-for-70 pre-mission
Kiev was the second stop on the pre-mission for ORT’s historic 70-for-70 delegation before it reached Israel.
The 70-for-70 mission, in celebration of the Israel’s 70th anniversary, sees ORT’s largest-ever group of supporters, friends and major donors, visiting the country to see first-hand examples of how the education network is placing the future in the hands of the next generation.
The two-day stop in the Ukrainian capital provided an opportunity to view the recently renovated buildings of the secondary and primary schools at the Simcha complex.
The secondary school building accommodates more than 330 pupils from grades five to 11 in state-of-the-art facilities featuring computer rooms, physics and chemistry labs, a sports arena, music hall, playground and kosher canteen.
During Wednesday’s tour, the group visited ORT Primary School Simcha for some of the youngest pupils, aged three and above. Lessons included computer science, a Lego session and Hebrew and English classes.
Ihor Khalemskiy, Principal of ORT Primary School Simcha, said: “We hope that our guests saw not only beautiful, modern equipment rooms, kindergarten groups and additional facilities, but most importantly happy, smiling, talented, cheerful, creative children.”
At the Simcha senior school, maths, history, Ukrainian literature and robotics were on display, while senior students acted as translators for the guests.
Lena Zakharenko, an 11th grade student, said: “We showed the delegation the junior school. They were delighted with the little kids and were impressed by the performance of the group from kindergarten, especially when they spoke Hebrew in chorus.
“Our guests were interested in my hobbies and interests and asked various questions about my future profession, what university I plan to attend and in what country.
“We discussed our extra-curricular activities, how we spend Jewish holidays, and about Jewish organisations in Kiev attended by our students.
“They liked our system of education and said it was very cool that our school gives us the opportunity to spread Jewish culture.”
During the previous day’s visit to Kiev’s ORT Educational Complex #141, the delegation toured the kindergarten, including observing the Lego room and a games session in the playground.
Igor Bulaev, head of the kindergarten, explained how staff and children had family-like relationships in the caring setting.
At the secondary school, the visitors spent time in Hebrew lessons and saw a robotics lab. Students presented examples of robots they had constructed. At the Cisco Lab, the work created on 3D printers was displayed, before a session on history and Jewish traditions.
Irina Fridman, whose work was acknowledged at a national teacher conference, presented her students’ innovative projects. The tour culminated with the pre-mission members discussing school life with senior students over lunch.
In addition to the school visits, the touring group travelled to Babi Yar, the site of the single biggest massacre of the Holocaust. The group also visited the city’s Podol and Brodsky Synagogues before moving on to the full 70-for-70 mission in Israel.