A strong focus on Jewish education is helping to strengthen and grow Jewish communities in Ukraine, experts have told a leading conference looking at Jewish life in the country.
Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, was appearing on a panel discussing the empowerment of the next generation of Jewish leaders through education. The session was part of the Kiev Jewish Forum.
The discussion also focussed on rebuilding Jewish life in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union.
Mr Green described how ORT was working to reinvigorate young Jews’ connection with their roots, religion and culture. As well as encouraging ORT students to embody the value of Tikkun Olam and to help society and others, “we also want our students to be equally committed to Hebrew culture, to Klal Yisrael and to Jewish practice.
“By investing in Tikkun Am and this kind of strengthening of Jewish people, we’re enabling the sustainable flourishing of Jewish people through identity, culture, community, religion, and state, engaging young people as proud, knowledgeable and engaged Jews… and that ultimately leads to a sustainable diaspora community.”
Also appearing on the panel, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, said: “The most important element of community building is Jewish education. If we don’t have young ones, we won’t have elders.”
Bishop Borys Gudziak, President of the Ukrainian Catholic University, explained how the university had recently created a Jewish Studies program, which is giving students in the region an “authentic, rich, multi-faceted” self-awareness about Jewish history and issues.
He said the “deep trauma” of the mid-20th Century had given way to a modern Ukraine in which tolerance, respect and a multi-cultural society have made it possible for the country to have a President and Prime Minister in recent years who are both Jewish.
Mr Green also explained that the sense of “Jewish peoplehood” had grown among ORT students during the challenging pandemic period because of the increased opportunities to connect with each other online.
“We ran so many collaborative projects for students to work with their global peers – virtual summer schools, virtual workshops, making animated films and many other things. Also through investing our time in virtual teacher training as well and allowing our teachers and professionals to come together and discuss issues that they were suffering from and how to share ideas about moving forward beyond the pandemic.”
Mr Green said ORT had been able to support students in reaching the levels of attainment expected of them and in developing their resilience while working to tackle the elements of learning loss suffered in 2020 and 2021. Such challenge and change was a realistic reflection of contemporary working life, he added.
“You might have to pivot and change your career and retrain at a moment’s notice,” he said. “This better reflects the modern workplace our students will enter when they graduate. School is so much more than just learning – the socializing side of it is huge. I cannot place enough emphasis on the fact we want our students back in the classroom with their teachers, face to face, moving away from the virtual as much as possible, and to get them back to that human contact.”
It is the third time the Kiev Jewish Forum has taken place. The two-day event marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Ukraine and brought together leading global figures to discuss the most pressing issues facing Jewish communities worldwide.
High-profile speakers during the forum included Boris Lozhkin, President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine; Volodomyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine; Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact and Chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees; Isaac Herzog, President of the State of Israel; and Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress.
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