ORT Samara student wins genealogy competition


8 July 2009 ORT Samara student wins genealogy competition ORT students in Russia and Ukraine have shone in an international genealogical competition organised by Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish People. Yana Levitan (pictured) a student at ORT Gesher High School in Samara, Russia, won the My Family Story Competition, which this year attracted some 20,000 entries in six languages from students aged 12 to 15 in 59 schools around the world. Unfortunately, neither her family nor her school could afford to send her to Israel for the awards ceremony. And Elizaveta Kirichenko and Yuriy Saenko, who prepared their entries using the ORT Technology Centre at their school, the Levi Yitzchak Schneerson Ohr Avner School in Dnepropetrovsk, came second and third respectively. For Yana, the competition meant more than simply drawing up a family tree for a school project. I decided to take part in this project because it is important for me and my family to continue the work of my grandfather Pavel Finkelstein, she wrote in the introduction to her presentation. Many years ago he became interested in the history of our big, amicable family and wrote and published a book about it. After reading this book I understood that I should continue the work he started, so I decided to investigate my branch of our big family tree. Dr Cecilia Waismann, a lecturer at Tel Aviv Universitys School of Education, oversees the Museums competition, which is run in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Education. The quality of research submitted this year was amazing, Dr Waismann said. Children are reaching back as far as four generations. Yana, however, did a much deeper work than her peers. She interviewed family members and got their narratives, which is really what we want to encourage. We are not interested in what they can find on the Internet. Most of the information Yana presented was based on what her relatives told her. In making its decision, the competition jury noted the rich documentation base of Yanas submission, including photographs and ritual objects from the family archive. The competition, which is now in its 14th year, aims to encourage students to build a connection to the Jewish People by exploring their own families histories. Students work is added to the Museums database for use by future generations. Jewish Studies teacher Simona Fleisher said Yana decided to make her submission in the form of a computer presentation to facilitate the display of the large amount of documents, photos and memoirs in an attractive and intelligible format. It also made it easier for the connections between regional history, the history of the Jewish People and family history to be presented. Ms Fleisher praised the competition for its ability to enthuse students. Children of Yanas age are not usually interested in family history and dont understand the great value of talking to their grandparents, she said. Projects like this motivate children to know their families history and to be proud of their ancestors and of their roots. Through studying family history they understand general history, and Jewish history, more deeply. They are motivated to undertake independent research while their supervising teachers learn how to encourage students to think independently. She added that it was a great pity that Yana and her parents were not able to go to Israel for the awards ceremony and hoped that donors could be found to provide funds for any future winners to make the trip. We are preparing to enter the competition again next year but our job is made more difficult without the possibility of offering a trip to Israel to collect the prize as an incentive, Ms Fleisher said. Susanna Khachatryan, Director of the ORT Technology Centre at the Ohr Avner School, agreed with Ms Fleisher that projects like the My Family Story Competition motivated students and the equipment supplied by ORT helped them to translate their enthusiasm into accomplished pieces of work. Using the technical facilities and with the support of the specialists at the ORT Technology Centre, Ohr Avner students have created a memorial book in which the fascinating and often painful destinies of Jews are described, Ms Khachatryan said. The increasing skills and knowledge students have in ICT give them a chance to demonstrate their research on an international level. We are proud that last year one of our students attained a prize-winning standard in the Beth Hatefutsoth and that this year two of our students achieved it. We hope for even greater success next year. The students themselves readily display their enthusiasm. In the intro to her submission, 10th Grade student Elizaveta Kirichenko wrote: In the Jewish tradition, a person is compared to a tree. Therefore, it is fitting to consider a family tree as a living organism. By putting everything in its place the roots, branches and fruit it should become clear how todays fruit, namely my cousin and I, correspond to the roots which underpin a large family tree. After hearing of her success in the competition, Elizaveta said: I like listening to the stories of my grandmother and grandfather about our family; it is very exciting. My grandfather still has a letter written by his father to his wife, my grandfathers mother. The letter was written 60 years ago and when my grandfather reads it out aloud it sends a shiver through my body. I could not miss the possibility to take part in this contest and tell the interesting story of my family. I was in a great hurry to type texts, to scan and to process material from our family archive. The book which has resulted, thanks to my family, me, and my computer, will be passed down through the generations. Schoolmate Yuriy Saenko added: This is the first major competition that I have entered and it has been very interesting for me. I used all my knowledge and abilities in information technology to prepare as good a presentation as I could. The competition demanded I apply every effort. I am very pleased with the result. Larisa Kurilenko, Ohr Avners Deputy Principal of Jewish Studies, congratulated the students on their success. Their excellent results are no accident, Ms Kurilenko said. We put great store into the study of Jewish family history and the children are often surprised by what they learn.