Jewish high school in Buenos Aires can't meet demand

Headmaster: We have to turn 400 kids away each year because of lack of funds; school teaches 7,000 pupils.

student at ORT addresses Jewish Agency 311  (photo credit: Courtesy ORT)
student at ORT addresses Jewish Agency 311
(photo credit: Courtesy ORT)
BUENOS AIRES – Julian Berezovsky’s life was turned upside down three years ago when at age 15, his father, a Hebrew teacher at the Congregation of Reform Judaism in Orlando, Florida, died on the eve of Rosh Hashana.
He and his family had to move back to their native Buenos Aires. But for all that was happening in his life Berezovsky was happy that at least one important decision came easy: He knew exactly where he’d go to school.
“For me, when I got here, the only choice was ORT high school,” he told the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors who toured its huge complex in Buenos Aires last week. “Even when I was little before we moved to the US I knew I wanted to come here because it’s a very special school for Jewish children in Argentina.”
The ORT high schools in Buenos Aires – of which there are two – is affiliated with the World ORT network. The school which the Board of Governors toured is massive.
It has 7,000 students and covers 32,000 square meters on two separate campuses in the northern part of the Argentinean capital. You could enroll the entire Jewish community of Morocco and there’d still be room for more.
From the inside the school looks like any other. Students aged 12 to 18 frolic and banter between classes.
But there are one or two features that set it apart. For instance, the school has a special chop shop donated by the car-maker Citroen. There, young adults dissemble and reassemble old classics in a scene that brings the musical Grease to mind. It also has a state-of-the-art science lab where teachers roam around an open space teaching children advanced mechanics and chemistry.
Besides the regular curriculum, students are taught Jewish studies.
“All students regardless of race, religion or gender are required to study at least six hours of Jewish studies a week, including Hebrew, for all six years,” said Adi Drenger, a Jewish Agency emissary, who teaches at the school. “From ninth grade they study four hours of Jewish history and two more vocational options: either Hebrew or Jewish philosophy or culture.”
Drenger, 26, who is from Jerusalem, said she was pleasantly surprised by the interest many students have in Israel and their involvement in Jewish youth movements.
But not everybody who wants to can enroll at ORT.
Despite its factory-like size the school is still too small to meet demand.
“We have had to turn away 400 students this year,” said Adrian Moscovich, the executive director of ORT high school. He said several million dollars were needed to expand the school’s facilities.
The school’s reputation is so good that non-Jews are also competing to get in. According to the administration, 12 percent of the current student body is not Jewish – a figure it said has dropped to 8% among those accepted this year after the school prioritized Jewish students. One teacher, however, gave a larger estimate saying 30% were non-Jewish while the rest had at least one Jewish grandparent.
Either way, once they are enrolled distinctions between Jews and gentiles vanish and all receive the same education.
For Berezovsky, studying at ORT has changed his life.
“I’m very grateful for coming here,” he said. “Nowhere else in Argentina would I have had the opportunities I received here.”
Soon the teenager, who has been through more than someone at his age should, will graduate and he’s contemplating between applying for the Technion in Israel and a college in the United States, the country where he spent much of his teens.
“It depends on scholarships,” said the precocious 18-year-old with a large smile on his face. “I have a general idea what I want to study but it’s either political science or electrical engineering. It’s so broad, the options are so many, that I don’t know yet.”