Some of the longest-serving and most dedicated professionals in the ORT network have been recognized with a prestigious award.
Staff from ORT Ukraine and Vladimir Kritsman, Principal of the Jewish School ORT “Pri Etz Haim” in Kyrgyzstan, are the joint winners of this year’s Robert Singer Award for Outstanding Senior ORT Professionals.
This annual award recognizes those who have attained high levels of achievement for ORT, for the institutions in which they work and for their beneficiaries.
The award comes with a financial prize, which this year has been doubled in response to the urgent need for additional support in Ukraine.
The extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine in the past seven months have had a huge impact on ORT’s team, headquartered in Kyiv, with individual staff members forced to flee their homes while continuing their vital work to support our schools and programs across the country.
Some at head office in Kyiv have worked for ORT for more than 20 years. When the conflict began they immediately adapted: educators began distributing medicines (main image: ORT staff in Zaporizhzhia sort through supplies of medicines); IT support workers tackled the urgent need to get meals to children; and school buildings were modified to provide essential safety features.
Robert Singer, Chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, said: “This award is recognition of both the exceptional response of our Ukraine team to the pressures they have been under this year, and also to celebrate the long-term service and total devotion they have shown to ORT students, teachers and their families over so many years.”
Accepting the award on behalf of her team and colleagues, Mila Finkelshtein, ORT Ukraine Chief Executive, said: “Our ORT Ukraine staff – both in the office and in our schools – are all heroes.
“It has been a huge challenge to overcome the fear and uncertainty, to continue to work and support those who need our help the most.
“I thank everyone across the ORT network for their great support, which we have felt every minute since that terrifying morning on February 24. I believe we will survive, without any doubt.”
ORT “Pri Etz Haim” in Bishkek is Kyrgyzstan’s only Jewish school. Situated in the Muslim-majority country, it has around 100 full-time students and an additional 300 part-time students.
Pri Etz Haim opened in 1993 and joined the ORT network in 2004. It provides a safe and nurturing environment for Jewish children. The school has long been seen as an integral factor in the positive co-existence between the city’s Muslim and Jewish communities.
During recent months Mr Kritsman has fought efforts to evict the school from its premises. He has led the school for almost 30 years and is a key leader of the city’s Jewish community – one of the most isolated in the world.
Mr Kritsman said he was delighted but surprised to receive the award.
He said: “The year turned out to be so difficult for all of us; the world has changed beyond recognition, and the attacks against the school brought additional bitterness in addition to our regular problems. But ORT once again showed and proved that together we will always win.
“I had the honor to be at the opening of the school and part of ORT’s arrival in Kyrgyzstan. On the bookshelf in my office are two of the school’s most prized awards: the 2016 and 2020 STEM Communication Award winners’ trophies. All this creates an unshakable sense of community and interconnectedness, which cannot be overestimated. Thank you, ORT.”
Mr Singer said: “Vladimir is not only a devoted school principal, he is also a dedicated leader of the wider community in one of the most complex places in the region. His work has ensured the continuation of the school, and by extension, of the community he has served for so long.
“We are all indebted to him and I know his students, teachers and graduates will join me in thanking him for everything he has done for ORT and the Jewish people of Kyrgyzstan.”
The school celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018 with a concert for 700 people at a local theatre. Every student took part on the stage and Mr Kritsman was honored with a silver badge of honor by Bishkek City Hall.
Previous winners of the Robert Singer Award include ORT Russia National Director Mikhail Libkin and Charlotte Gruenberg, National Director of ORT Uruguay.