June 26, 2006 Gila Katsav visits ORT-Lauder project in Sofia Israeli President Moshe Katsavs wife, Gila, has toured the Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. As part of her tour, Mrs Katsav saw the Lauder-ORT Science and Technology Centre which comprises two ICT laboratories, a media laboratory, and a science laboratory in action thanks to a multi-media presentation in English by two senior students. Mrs Katsav used to be a teacher so she was very curious to see our school, said ORT Bulgaria Chairman Dr Emil Kalo, who is also Chairman of the Bulgarian Jewish community. Jewish children automatically have a place at the school but, Dr Kalo added, competition to get in among non-Jewish applicants is intense. We have four or five applicants for each place, partly because Bulgarian people like to be close to Jews but also because of the facilities we offer. In Bulgaria there is a programme to ensure that each school has at least one computer; at our school we have 57 computers and a fantastic science lab. Everything in the school is computerised. This may be typical by Western standards but its very advanced by local standards. Mrs Katsav (front, centre) outside the school. Mrs Katsav, who was accompanied by Israeli and Bulgarian officials including Bulgarias deputy minister for education, enjoyed her hour-long visit to the school so much that she didnt want to leave, said the Director of the Bulgaria office of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Becca Lazarova. Having been greeted at the entrance with flowers, bread and salt by pupils in traditional Bulgarian dress, Mrs Katsav listened to a rousing rendition of Aveinu Shalom Aleichem in the school hall. Students also sang the Hebrew folk song Kachol vlavan (blue and white), which is dedicated to the Israeli flag. She was surprised to see such a big school and to see so many children learning Hebrew including the non-Jews, said Ms Lazarova. One of the high points for Mrs Katsav was the performance by a 5th grade Hebrew class of shows dedicated to Purim and Tu BShvat. Mrs Katsav was crying, she didnt want it to stop, Ms Lazarova said. But the visiting delegation had to leave for the next appointment on the itinerary. The school has added three high school classes since ORT joined the project and grades 11 and 12 will be added over the next two years. Last year, ORT Bulgaria signed an agreement with the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association which allows students to receive free IT training leading to qualifications that are recognised across Europe. Overall, Bulgaria has been a benign host to its Jewish population since Jews first settled there after the destruction of the Second Temple. During the war, the Bulgarian government refused to hand over its 50,000 Jewish citizens to the Nazis despite its military alliance with Germany. World ORT, founded in 1880, is the worlds largest Jewish education and vocational training non-government organisation with some 270,000 students Jewish and non-Jewish in 58 countries.