World ORT sticks to its principals in FSU


28 November 2008 World ORT sticks to its principals in FSU World ORTs representatives in the Former Soviet Union are working flat out to find the funds that can prevent the collapse of the ORT schools there. David Benish, the World ORT Representative in the CIS and Baltic States, is racing against time to secure whatever money he can from local private and public sources to fill the vacuum left by the Jewish Agency for Israels (JAFIs) decision to stop funding the schools social needs and teachers salaries through the Heftsiba programme. His and his colleagues work complements the efforts made by World ORT in London to find money internationally to prevent catastrophic damage being done to the extraordinary network that has been established in the region over the past 19 years. Mr Benish and his team are motivated by knowing how the ORT schools benefit Jewish communities in the region and realising how their demise would harm them. We will do everything we can not to lose the ORT school network here because theres a lot to lose, Mr Benish said. If were not able to give Jewish children a Jewish education there will be a very, very big loss for the Jewish community locally and for the Jewish People as a whole. Our jobs are less important than the system. Just what Mr Benish and his team are fighting for has been movingly depicted in passionate letters sent by the principals of ORT schools in the region to JAFI senior management. The Principal of the ORT Gesher School in Samara, Svetlana Kosareva, wrote to JAFI saying that the effect of the funding cut was devastating. Jewish Studies and Jewish extra-curricular activities would have to be cancelled and the school bus service withdrawn. With no Jewish Studies, no observance of Jewish traditions, no bus, our Jewish school can not survive, Ms Kosareva wrote. The proud principal listed the prizes that Samara students and teachers had won in various Jewish education contests. During all these difficult years, the school has been successfully developing creative traditions, attractive creative and talented staff. Through years and hardship we have earned experience and prestige among Jewish organisations in Samara and local education authorities. It is unbearable to think that our Jewish school, created by the efforts of many talented people will turn into ruins, she wrote. Olga Troupp, the Director of the hugely successful ORT Mishpateinu School in Kazan, Tatarstan, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in May, criticised JAFI for announcing the budget cut just days before the beginning of the school year. To be told when classes had already been formed, agreements with teachers and parents had been concluded and curricula had been established, discredits the system of Jewish education in the eyes of public opinion and city authorities. Moreover, the very existence of the Jewish school in Kazan now looks doubtful, Ms Troupp wrote. Without JAFI funding, the schools nine Jewish classes per week will be cut to as little as two hours per week and teachers will lose their jobs. These classes, Ms Troupp wrote, had proved to be one of the most effective means of safeguarding the future quality of Jewish life. In addition to Jewish Studies classes, JAFIs Heftsiba funding has topped up teachers salaries, provided hot meals and subsidised school transport. All these are more vital than ever as the regions industries are hit by recession with resulting job losses and wage cuts and the cost of living increases because of the declining value of the local currencies. Svetlana Klimina, the Principal of the ORT Lyceum in Kishinev, wrote to JAFI saying its action will end the schools subsidised transport meaning that children in outlying areas would not be able to attend and that this alone would reduce the student roll to an unsustainable level. In addition, teachers salaries would deteriorate, reducing the quality of teachers who could be retained. This will result in a lower level of teaching in all subjects and limit the ability of our students to compete in the adult world, Ms Klimina wrote. Without the restoration of funding, the ORT Lyceum would have to stop its noble and important mission after 17 years in operation. In whose interest would that be, colleagues she asks. And it would not just be the local Jewish communities which would suffer the closure of the ORT schools. Svetlana Manchenko, Principal of ORT Odessa, noted that many graduates of her school had made aliyah and served in the Israel Defence Forces. We have waited a long time to build something as beautiful as this school, Ms Manchenko wrote. To destroy it only takes a moment and once destroyed it cant be rebuilt.