03 June 2009 Reaching out to Charedi communities The Charedi communities of New York are buzzing with news of the trailblazing collaboration between Chabad-Lubavitch and Bramson ORT Technical Institute. Demand for places on the two-year vocational study programme, which features mornings spent in traditional Yeshiva-style learning and afternoons immersed in secular studies, is steadily increasing as word gets out about the students stunning progress. The programme, which is run in conjunction with Chabads Jewish Technical Vocational School (JTVS), provides a productive alternative for Charedi youths who are not suited to Yeshiva life. At the end of it, the students acquire an associate degree in Business Management and high school equivalency which enables them to pursue full degree courses or work in a wide range of fields, including computers, electronics, web design, and health care. Until this programme started last year many such youths were in danger of dropping out of their communities altogether. Now they can thrive in the stimulating and supportive atmosphere of Bramson ORTs Brooklyn campus situated conveniently on the outskirts of the Charedi neighbourhood of Borough Park. These are guys, aged between 17 and 20, who have the intellectual ability but didnt know how to use it because their schooling had not given them the opportunity to get a high school diploma, said Brooklyn Extension Centre Coordinator Yair Rosenrauch. So we provide them with extra tutorial support to raise their level in secular subjects like math. The teachers at the school know every student by name, and work closely with each of them to help them learn and grow. Theres not one of the students who hasnt experienced a dramatic change, a tremendous development theyre real diamonds in the rough. Its very nice to see and were very proud of them. Not only that, their presence had raised the general tenor of campus life, which hosts more than 300 students from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds most of them seeking a second chance to attain the qualifications they need to undertake university courses or to find a decent job. The feedback from the instructors is that their presence has raised the overall level of students performance because their general intellectual level is higher than average, they are articulate, well behaved and diligent, Mr Rosenrauch said. Not only that, Bramson ORT has worked with JTVS to provide an environment which is sensitive to and nurturing of their religious practice although the traditional Hebrew studies are conducted off campus in line with the USAs strict separation of church and state. The commitment of some of our students to their yiddishkeit [Jewish religious observance] is weaker, said the head of JTVS, Rabbi Levi Kaplan. They come from very fine families but they havent been keeping Shabbos, Kashrus. Now, on this programme, they are davening [praying] in the morning and eating kosher food. And I have to acknowledge ORTs teaching staff and their flexibility in working with the boys. They are doing everything possible to help these boys succeed. The enrolment has steadily increased over the year to nearly 30 and Rabbi Kaplan foresees that number doubling next year. The programme has done better than I expected, Rabbi Kaplan said. I didnt believe that we would still be operating by now. But not only are we here we are looking at expanding. I am receiving calls from [non-Chassidic] rabbis and they all say the same thing: well never write you a letter of recognition but well kiss your hands and feet if you provide places for our students. Many Charedi students don’t fit the typical mould, and their parents have been looking for this type of programme for years. The need is out there, and we are going to continue to give our teenagers the tools they need to succeed. Among the beneficiaries is 18-year-old Shea who did not have the option of pursuing secular studies at his Yeshiva. I really felt the need within myself to further my education, he said. I knew eventually that I would have to start a family and make something of my life and where better to start than at ORT And the programme has lived up to expectations. I am extremely happy with where I am today; I have obtained an enormous amount of knowledge and I look forward to the next semester and ultimately to getting my degree. Like Shea, Mendel has been on the programme for more than four months and finds it suits him better than full time Yeshiva. I cant sit in front of a book for hours, Mendel said. I like this programme because it has a nice balance between Hebrew studies and academic studies. I havent needed extra tutoring but some of my friends have and they said it was very helpful. He said that information about the course on the Internet had produced phenomenal feedback. They say this should have been done a long time ago because theres a great need. There are a lot of people like me who cant sit in front of Hebrew books all day. Theres a lot of positive energy in this programme. And my family is overwhelmed. They are happy because they can see that I have got exactly what I need. After the 14-hour-a-day study regime at Yeshiva, the intensive course offered by JTVS and Bramson ORT was not difficult to cope with, Mendel said. And he deeply appreciated the learning environment. This is a wonderful programme and Im excited about it, he said. And I feel that the college has a very warm and welcoming environment. The teachers are flexible and willing to deal with you; you can have a close relationship with them which makes me feel comfortable and more lively about advancing academically. Dr Ephraim Buhks, the Director of ORT Operations USA, of which Bramson ORT is a part, said the partnership with JTVS was just the first phase of reaching out to the Orthodox Jewish communities of New York. Were talking to Orthodox women from Borough Park who want to use our labs to do science courses as part of their Masters in occupational therapy, Dr Buhks said. Bramson ORT is conveniently located for them, ORT has the expertise they need in science and technology, and, like we do with the JTVS students, we can help them with tuition fees. And we make sure that their religious needs are addressed by people from within their own community.