18 January 2008 Christian friends strengthen World ORT programmes in FSU and India World ORTs network of Jewish schools in the CIS and Baltic States have a brighter future thanks to the generosity of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). The IFCJs allocation of $45 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) over the next three years, under a partnership agreement signed last month, has enabled JAFI to commit $3.75 million to World ORTs schools in the Former Soviet Union over the same period. The IFCJ is also directly investing more than $240,000 this year in ORT projects in India to provide pre-aliyah training for the Bnei Menashe, a community of 10,000 people who claim descent from Menashe, one of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. The Fellowship has been pleased to contribute millions of dollars in support to ORT training and school programmes over the last few years. Thanks to our new relationship with the Jewish Agency we can now do much more, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ Founder and President, whose organisation is funded primarily by American Christians who want to demonstrate their love and support for the State of Israel and the Jewish People. This is absolutely wonderful news, said Vladimir Dribinskiy, the Head of World ORTs Coordination Department. This money will ensure that our educational network in the CIS and Baltic States, which had suffered from four years of budget cuts, will enjoy stability over the medium-term. And in India it will enable a massive qualitative and quantitative increase in the services we have been providing the Bnei Menashe for 20 years already. Avi Ganon, World ORTs Representative in Russia, Belarus and Central Asia, said the new money would bring the regional networks budget back to its 2003 level, without allowing for cost of living increases. He added that another $2 million per year would be needed to run the schools at their optimum level, but he was still optimistic. This is, I believe, a turning point for our school network in the CIS. Were hopeful that we can raise the level of studies and provide the best Jewish education in the Former Soviet Union, Mr Ganon said. Our heartfelt thanks go to Rabbi Eckstein, his organisations Christian supporters and the Jewish Agency for making this possible. The $1.25 million that World ORTs FSU network will receive this year effectively doubles the support that JAFI provided last academic year and will be used to meet social needs including hot lunches, transport, security, and teacher training and salaries. It is vital that we are able to meet these needs if we are to remain competitive with non-Jewish public and private schools and so remain the preferred option of Jewish families, Mr Dribinskiy said. ORTs long school days and the wide geographic spread of Jewish communities in the FSU mean that the provision of nutritious meals and dedicated transport are bare necessities to allow Jewish children to attend. In addition, competitive salaries and advanced training options are needed in order to attract and retain the best teachers available. Zeev Bielski, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, said it was fundamentally important for the Jewish Agency to support Jewish Zionist education. We believe that Jewish education in the Former Soviet Union is a priority. We see World ORTs network as a major pillar of that, which is why this money is being made available to World ORT, Mr Bielski said. In India, the IFCJ is investing directly in three projects that will allow Bnei Menashe, who live in the remote, north-eastern province of Manipur, to learn the skills necessary to assimilate readily into Israels modern, urban workforce and society. One project is to renovate mens and womens dormitories that would allow Bnei Menashe to spend a year studying at ORT Indias Worli Educational Centre in Mumbai (Bombay). The second project is to provide pre-aliyah training courses on subjects ranging from computing to beauty care and early childhood care and education. The third project is to set up a computer training centre in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. ORT India Director Benjamin Isaac said he was very happy with the IFCJs support. The Bnei Menashe are very serious and devout Jews, Mr Isaac said, and they are very serious about making aliyah because of their love for the religion. But they face many obstacles. This kind of support will definitely help them set up new lives in Israel. Last year, World ORT organised a tour of Manipur for Jeff Kaye, the Director General of the Jewish Agencys Department for Resource Development and Public Affairs, and Rabbi Eckstein and colleagues from the IFCJ a trip that, Mr Isaac said, would ensure that the Bnei Menashe would receive appropriate help. Rabbi Eckstein met the people; he saw them in their homes and experienced the seriousness of their aspirations. I am sincerely grateful to the Rabbi for this because I feel strongly about the Bnei Menashe; they endure hardships because they are a small religious minority. Now we will be able to do more to help them make better lives, Mr Isaac said. The Director General of World ORT, Robert Singer, said he had watched the IFCJs work with JAFI in the CIS and Israel with interest over the past few years. I am extremely grateful for what they have done, for what they do now, and for what they plan to do for Jewish people and the State of Israel and I am proud that we are now cooperating on such projects to the benefit of thousands of people, Mr Singer said.