World ORT, in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Public Affairs and the Diaspora, has brought together 26 principals from the three Jewish education networks in the Former Soviet Union for an eight-day seminar in Jerusalem to strengthen their managerial and other skills.
The heads of 11 Orthodox schools belonging to the Shema Yisrael and Ohr Avner networks sat with 15 heads of ORT schools for a learning programme designed and implemented by the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University. Costs were met by the Ministry with contributions by the school networks.
“This represents the first time in many years that the State of Israel has recognised the importance of Jewish schools in the FSU,” said Avi Ganon, World ORT Representative in Russia. “The principals are the right people to create an awareness and understanding of the State of Israel among their respective communities. By increasing their knowledge of Jewish cultural and historical subjects they develop a greater understanding of Israel’s role in contemporary Jewish life.”
The entire programme comprises three stages “ﾓ the initial seminar that has been successfully completed, a distance learning component, and a 12-day seminar back in Jerusalem in December.
Topics explored this month included Jewish history and tradition, the development of Jewish identity in the FSU, educational approaches to Jewish Studies including comparisons between Israeli and Diaspora schools, and the development of managerial and leadership skills.
While in Israel, the principals met Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver and Chair of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, Lia Shemtov, as well as senior officials in the Ministry of Education and principals of local schools.
The Director of the Melton Centre, Arie Haskin, said it was challenging organising the seminar for a group which included such a wide range of religious outlooks.
“Some of the principals of the Ohr Avner and Shema Yisrael schools are rabbis but some of the managers of these networks’ schools know nothing about Judaism because they leave that to their school’s rabbi,” Mr Haskin said. “I told them that the managers need to know about Judaism because they have to know how to give it a place in the school.”
Lectures were adapted to cater to religious sensitivities, he said.
“Even the rabbis taking part said they found it very interesting because they knew what was being taught but from a different angle,” Mr Haskin added.
He said the programme was an opportunity for the networks, which have enjoyed cooperative relations at a senior level for many years, to form closer relationships at a grass roots level.
“The common ground is much larger than the things which divide them,” he said. “This has been another contribution to Jewish unity in a region which has a long history of division “ﾓ communism divided people very quickly.”
Although principals do not have to teach Hebrew, the seminar introduced them to different pedagogical methods in the subject.
“Managers have to know and understand the different ways of teaching Hebrew because they have to choose which one to use in their school,” Mr Haskin said.
Dr Marina Moiseeva, Principal of the Moscow ORT Technology School, said it had been very useful for participants’ professional development.
“The content of all the lessons was amazing,” said Dr Moiseeva, who was particularly appreciative of the opportunity to meet colleagues from the three networks.
“Everyone was inspired and interested and involved. It gave us a welcome morale boost ahead of the new academic year,” she said. “There were practical exercises to develop leadership abilities and the trainers were very professional. Step by step we realised that there were many things that we need to think about if we want to develop our roles.”
Dr Moiseeva said the meetings with Israeli principals and education officials were particularly useful.
“Knowledge of the Israeli education system is of great practical benefit to us because we have a lot of students who spend some time living in Israel and then return to us. We need to know how to help them continue their education with minimum disruption,” she said.
Rabbi Meir Ostrovsky, Principal of Chabad’s Ohr Avner school in Dnepropetrovsk, which is affiliated to ORT, was also enthusiastic about the seminar.
“It was very interesting to meet principals from other schools,” Rabbi Ostrovsky said. “Although some schools are religious and others not religious we could share experiences and found that we face some of the same challenges and could offer support to each other in facing them.”
Rabbi Ostrovsky was deeply appreciative of the leadership skills training at the Biblical nature reserve, Neot Kedumim, where experience of herding sheep brought insights into leading a school community.
“Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest leader of the Jewish People and he was a shepherd,” Rabbi Ostrovsky said, adding: “It was ingenious to have the seminar in Israel in August because it opened our hearts and minds to think of more spiritual things before the new school year. It will help us to make this educational year better.”