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Emergency grant saves ORT’s FSU schools

LONDON (JTA) — An emergency grant from a Christian-Jewish organization and the government of Israel offer hope for the future of World ORT’s schools in the former Soviet Union.

The 16 ORT schools face being absorbed into the public education system, and losing their Jewish character, following the Jewish Agency for Israel’s decision to stop funding the program which provides for Jewish studies, teachers wages and security. The program also funded hot meals and school buses.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the Israeli Ministry of Education made the $600,000 pledge in response to a frantic search for funding, led by the ORT representative in Russia, Avi Ganon. He tried to find ways to keep the schools Jewish, despite cuts in funding by the Ministry of Education and, more recently, the Jewish Agency.

However the long term future of ORT’s network of schools in the former Soviet Union is not yet secured.

"The Fellowship feels privileged to be able to help; but this is only a band-aid and there’s no solution yet to the fundamental issue," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the IFCJ. "The fundamental issue is that there is no Jewish organization that is willing or capable of assuming responsibility for the welfare of Jewish children and their future in the Former Soviet Union."

Ganon welcomed the pledge, saying that there had been a collective "huge sigh of relief" at news of the IFCJ’s willingness to help. "They are the ‘Mashiach’ in this case," he said. "Without their initiative this deal would not have come about."

World ORT Director General Robert Singer expressed gratitude to the IFCJ and its supporters, mostly North American Christians, for their offer of help.

"The Jewish education system which has been built up since the collapse of the Soviet Union was in real danger — 20 years of hard work, the realization of a great vision, may have been lost forever," Singer said. "That Christians in North America should help Jews in the Former Soviet Union is a beacon of hope for the future, helping to heal the wounds of the past and providing a welcome contrast to the resurgence of anti-Jewish feelings in many parts of the world."

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