NEW YORK, NEW YORK – September 14, 2010
Some 170 local Jewish Studies and Hebrew teachers may lose their jobs due to a fundraising shortfall in the Heftsiba program. The program, which benefits ORT schools’ Jewish Studies departments in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will be forced to close by the end of this calendar year unless the half million dollar deficit is raised to pay for teachers’ salaries.
Ironically, the warning comes amid some positive developments for Heftsiba, the name given to the program which channels financial and material support to the ORT, Or Avner and Shema Yisrael school networks to provide hot lunches, school buses and salary increases for teachers.
“Soviet policies for years left traditional Jewish life and practice in tatters. The 18 ORT schools have been playing a key role in repairing the damage for this and future generations,” said Shelley B. Fagel, National President of ORT America, in response to this dire situation.
"By providing top quality academic instruction within a safe Jewish environment we have been able to restore the link between thousands of families and their heritage that had been all but lost," Mrs. Fagel continued. "Students have been teaching their parents what it is to be Jewish, contributing greatly to a reinvigoration of communal life. It is nothing short of a tragedy to think that this process of renewal could be cut short."
“The prospect of Jewish children being left without the opportunity to learn about their heritage and develop Hebrew-language skills has cast a pall over the traditionally festive start of the new school year,” added ORT America’s National Executive Director, Alan E. Klugman. “Simply put, the financial shortfall puts the work of the past decade in jeopardy.”
The problem extends even deeper than just available monies for Jewish subjects. ORT schools have developed a reputation for providing the highest quality education in the region, allowing them to attract the best teachers and students. Cash shortages have put pressure on the schools to cut costs. Any reduction in work conditions makes it more difficult to retain quality teachers in the current competitive job market.
“This is a particular problem for our ORT schools in the CIS,” Mr. Klugman noted. “Like schools all over the world, parents are interested in high quality education, and if the finest teachers leave, the most excellent students will not be far behind.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) has followed up the $1.1 million it gave this past July to meet this year's social welfare component of Heftsiba – such as hot meals and school buses – with a commitment to meet next year's social needs, but the money necessary to pay for local Jewish Studies and Hebrew teachers is not forthcoming.
“Heftsiba has been lurching from one financial crisis to another for two years but has been repeatedly brought back from the brink of collapse by last-minute emergency funding from various sources. But there are no signs of any such funding this time. In the past, we have even borrowed money to meet shortfalls but this will no longer be possible because we don't have the resources to pay back further loans," Avi Ganon, World ORT Representative in Russia, noted.
ORT's smaller schools, such as the Jerusalem school in St. Petersburg and its high schools in Odessa and Samara, are among those likely to be hardest hit. The larger schools in Moscow and Kiev may be able to limp along but will be under even greater pressure to cut costs generally.
“The funding of Jewish education and the welfare of children, many of whom represent the future of Jewish people in the CIS – should be borne by the world Jewish community, including ORT America’s US donors ,” said Mr. Klugman.