Over 7,000 Jewish students across the FSU began the new school year in FJC’s Chabad-Lubavitch ‘Or Avner’ schools and kindergartens today.
Even though some have already had the “First Bell” openings on Thursday, for most the festive ceremony, customary in the post-Soviet education system, took place today. And in a unique Or Avner tradition, the ringing of the first bell came alongside the blowing of the shofar, highlighting the Jewish character of the schools and underlining the idea of an education aimed at excellence in both general subjects and Jewish heritage.
“The sounding of the shofar on the first day reflects the fact that Or Avner institutions are at the very heart of FJC endeavors to renew Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. They help unify their surrounding communities, teach children the meaning of living as a Jew, and often – through the child – bring Judaism back into the homes of those who were raised on the Soviet agenda of atheism and cultural homogeny,” said Chaim Friedman, FJC educational director.
Or Avner operates 125 educational institutions across 10 FSU countries, which include schools, kindergartens, afternoon and Sunday schools, as well as 6 higher education institutes. This year hundreds of the incoming first-graders are joined by many newcomers from other schools in grades 2 through 11, who have made the decision to transfer following their positive experiences at Gan Israel camps this summer, Friedman said. “Thanks to the camps, which attract a wide population, many students realized the importance of gaining a Jewish identity and expanding their role as part of the Jewish people, and made the decision to transfer to our schools in the beginning of the year.”
In schools the tuition is minimal, underwritten by the Or Avner Foundation and additional donors, which was founded by FJC President Lev Leviev; the institutions also provide two daily hot meals, which sometimes serve as the child’s only nourishment of the day. As for learning, general subjects are taught by the professional, locally trained staff, while the schools’ Hebrew, history and Judaic studies subjects are taught through Darkeinu, FJC’s Jewish studies curriculum, specifically developed for the FSU. Darkeinu provides high quality learning materials and has been created by a unique team of teachers, authors, psychologists and counselors. This year Darkeinu is also launching in kindergartens, with an interactive and engaging curriculum.
“The Or Avner institutions have created a name for themselves as providing some of the best general and Jewish studies education available in the entire FSU region, and we hope this year our students will be excited by the new horizons they discover,” said Friedman.
Or Avner schools operate in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.