Former students and parents of the World ORT Kadima Mada school in Kiev.
(photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
KIEV – The joyful sound of hundreds of children learning fills the air across the World ORT school in Kiev, as robotics and Hebrew classes take place simultaneously.
Dedicated to reconnecting Jews from throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU) to their roots while providing vocational training, World ORT Educational Complex no. 141 is situated in one of the poorer neighborhoods in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The Jerusalem Post visited this branch on Wednesday.
The secular Jewish day school, whose population is over 50% Jewish, aims to reconnect those with Jewish roots – meaning a Jewish parent or grandparent – with their heritage after their families lost their link to it throughout the 70 years of communism in the Soviet Union.
“Think about it. This is not just one or two generations of Jews who are disconnected... this is three or four generations,” explained World ORT regional director in the FSU David Benish. “Our main goal is to secure the future of the Jewish people. We cannot afford to lose another generation.”
“Within two years at the school, a child who knew nothing about Judaism will know all about the Pesach [Passover] Seder... Jewish and Israeli culture,” he said.
The school also includes non-Jewish students who learn Hebrew and about Jewish culture, subjects that form part of the daily curriculum.
The schedule also includes a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which is integrated with the country’s curriculum. “Ninety-four percent of the school cost is paid for by the government. We [World ORT] bring in the other 6%... That 6% is what funds STEM and makes the school what it is. It elevates the status of the school,” Benish said.
The school collaborates with the Israeli Education Ministry and the Ukrainian government “to bring everyone together,” he added.
During a tour of the school, the Post
viewed state-of-the-art technology and robotics labs and was given a demonstration of some of the incredible projects the students have created. This included remote-controlled cars built from Lego and a 3-D printer.
Children of all ages were also seen playing soccer on a large, professional-looking pitch that is surrounded by an athletics track.
Speaking to former students – several of whom have Jewish roots – all expressed how the school had made a huge impact on their daily lives.
“ORT taught me the spirit of family, it gave me the tools to cope with university,” explained Dmitriy Simonenko. “When ORT started, my Jewish and Israel knowledge was small. To understand Israel and Judaism is complicated and I was able to get a deeper understanding through the classes at school.”
Former student Margo, who is a leader at the Israel Cultural Center, said the thing that affected her life the most during her time at the World ORT School was the friendly, helpful and caring attitude that teachers had towards the students.
Pavel Akulov, another former student, said he had switched from another public school to World ORT during his high school years and noticed the difference immediately. “ORT changed my life. It made a big difference. It trained me in digital skills and helped guide me in my career choice and to where I can go in the future.”
Parents all expressed how the school had given their children the skills to cope with life’s challenges and the tools to cope with academics at university.
“There was no other choice for us. First choice for a school for our son was always ORT,” said Evgeniya Kiyanitsa. “My father is Jewish and lives in Israel... ORT has helped my son understand his roots. This school has taught him how to live, it’s taught him friendship and how to communicate with each other. ORT is like a family. As for the curriculum... the math and programming specialization and training has really helped him at university.”
The school is one of 16 World ORT schools in the FSU and currently it serves around 10,000 students.
“Schools can’t continue to be Jewish without ORT,” said World ORT CEO Avi Ganon. “We cannot do this alone – we need as much support as possible.”
World ORT was established in 1880 in St. Petersburg with the mission to improve the lives of Jews, providing education and training in practical occupations.The reporter was a guest of the organization.