ODESSA, Ukraine (Jun. 21)
A century-old Jewish school building that was reclaimed after the fall of the Soviet Union is again bustling with hundreds of students.
Some 400 children, 95 percent of them Jewish, are attending the ORT school in the same building where the Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training began operating a school here in 1896.
And thousands more are eager to enroll in the school, which serves children aged 7 to 17.
"We have long lines of children waiting for a vacant place in our classes," said Svetlana Manchenko, the principal of the ORT school. "Our school is considered to be one of the best in the city. The most-well-known and important people in the municipality are willing to send children to our school and it does not matter whether they are Jewish or non-Jewish."
The school, named after the American Jewish philanthropists Shirley and Milton Gralla, was dedicated at a ceremony here last month.
"The ORT Odessa school is a symbol of the total change taking place in the former Soviet Union — the reawakening and revitalization of Jewish life," said Milton Gralla.
The school was founded by a partnership between Israel’s Ministry of Education, the Municipality of Odessa and ORT.
"I can’t remember anything more moving," said Judith Factor, who attended the dedication ceremony as a representative of Women’s American ORT in New York.
"We went on a tour around the city and saw synagogues here that are in a very bad state, especially the huge one that had been a basketball court and has not yet been renovated. We saw another synagogue that is now used to house state archives.
"We came here to the school and the children singing Hebrew songs gives us a sense of their Jewishness. The connection to their heritage brings tears to our eyes."
At the heart of the revived school is a technology center — filled with computer equipment and science and technology laboratories provided by ORT.
The computers have Internet access, enabling students the opportunity to communicate with Israel and with world Jewry.
ORT plans to open at least 10 more schools in Ukraine, Moldova and Russia.
Women’s American ORT supports vocational and technical training in a Jewish environment in 60 countries, including Israel, the United States and India. Some 262,000 students worldwide are enrolled in 800 ORT schools and projects.