Four teenagers at ORT Argentina’s Belgrano High School have earned their school a special distinction in the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora’s annual My Family Story competition.
The research projects completed by 17-year-olds Ilan Rubin, Diana Jettner, Ezequiel Lindenberg and Michelle Oppel were presented in different ways “ﾓ Adobe Acrobat, video and a blog. But together they impressed the judges, who included members of the Israeli Ministry of Education, authorities in history at the museum, specialists in education at Tel Aviv University and professionals with long-standing experience in related methodologies.
It is the first time that students from the Belgrano campus have entered the competition. The school was represented by Professor Pablo Waibschnaider, at the awards ceremony held at the museum in Tel Aviv yesterday (Wednesday). ORT students shone in last year’s competition as well with Yana Levitan, from ORT Gesher High School in Samara, Russia, and Elizaveta Kirichenko and Yuiry Saenko, who prepared their entries using the ORT Technology Centre at the Levi Yitzchak Schneerson Ohr Avner School in Dnepropetrovsk, receiving awards.
Shelley Kadar, Director of the International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies, which is responsible for My Family Story, the Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf International Annual Competition, said the ORT Argentina students had created “very, very good projects”?.
“Students from ORT Argentina, and from ORT in general, always have an interesting connection to how doing this research helps them to understand their Jewish identity,”? Ms Kadar said. “All of them say it has a very meaningful effect on the way they reflect personally on the way they are as Jews. We’d like to get more entries from ORT because ORT is all over the world.”?
For over 14 years Beit Hatfutsot has been engaging tens of thousands of students from around the world in Jewish heritage through the My Family Story competition. The entries are judged according to four criteria: the level of Jewish peoplehood reflected in the paper; research methodology and skills; creativity and originality of presentation; and the originality of content.
Although some of the experiences of previous generations were painful to explore, the journey into the past has proved to be an uplifting one for the students, whose work can be seen at the ORT Argentina website.
“Doing this research has brought me closer to my community,”? said Diana Jettner, whose paternal and maternal ancestors came to Argentina to flee persecution “ﾓ the former from Austria in 1938 and the latter from Russian pogroms in 1881.
“The attacks my family, and others, suffered must be known in the future and I want to be able to pass on this history to my descendents. It has made me realise that no matter what hardships you have undergone you can still go forward; don’t always look behind you but focus on the present and the future. But I think you must be aware of where you come from to know the way forward.”?
Diana, a design student, put the fruits of her research on a video with still images, film footage and documents explained and contextualised by her written commentary appearing on screen.
For Ezequiel Lindenberg, the competition provided an opportunity to build on the research he undertook a year after his grandfather died.
“My grandfather was like a father to me, I really loved him,”? he said. “This project was a way for me to feel closer to him.”?
As a child he would often ask his grandfather questions about the past. But his grandfather, who escaped Europe in 1938 as an eight-year-old boy, did not like to talk about it.
“I’ve heard stories about his life under Nazi rule from his cousin,”? Ezequiel said. “For example, when he was six or seven, a group of children threw him into the river because he was Jewish. It must have been terrifying.”?
It was amazing, Ezequiel said, how much information could be found on the Internet. Google Maps, for example, took him to the street in the German town of Belsen named after his family, which had once held a revered place in the community.
But more traditional methods of research included rummaging through his grandfather’s house to find official documents, including the ones which were used to leave Germany.
He managed to trace the family back as far as his great great grandfather Solomon who, he discovered, remarried and had two children with his second wife in addition to the seven he had had with his first.
“I haven’t been able to find anything out about these two children, so there’s a whole family out there I know nothing about. I hope people will look at my project on-line and get in contact with me if they know something.”?
This, of course, assumes that they survived the horrors of the 20th century; not many were fortunate enough to have done so as Michelle Oppel discovered.
Michelle’s blog describes how grandfather, Victor, was transported with his family from their home in north-east Romania to Auschwitz.
“He was sent to the work camp with his brother, Yosef, while the rest of the family “ﾓ their parents and three brothers “ﾓ were sent to the gas chambers. After liberation he came to Argentina to join two other brothers who had come here before the war,”? she said.
Her grandfather had written his memoirs before dying five years ago and Michelle used these as the basis of her research, which involved talking to her parents and other relatives for oral history.
Ilan Rubin also had a book of memoirs written by his grandfather which he used as a starting point for investigation. Variant spellings of the family name proved a challenge to his research but he managed to discover that his great great grandfather was in Tsar Alexander III’s imperial guard.
“I was surprised to find out that my great grandfather fought in World War I,”? Ilan said. “I knew he worked in a metal factory but when war broke out he fought for Russia. After the war, he and my great grandmother came to Argentina. It’s a sense of pride that he fought.”?
ORT Argentina National Director Dr Adrian Moscovich said: “As a result of so much individual research the students found out the role of each one’s family within the essence, history and continuity of the Jewish people.”?