Over 7,000 students in FJC’s ‘Or Avner’ Jewish education institutions across the FSU celebrated the end of the school year last week.
From kindergartens to colleges and schools in cities such as Odessa, Kiev, Minsk, Rostov, Moscow, Baku, and Tallinn – in seven countries overall – students young and old rejoiced in another year of learning achievements and marked the last days of the school year with concerts, performances, and ceremonies.
In Omsk, Siberia, the local Or Avner kindergarten celebrated its 13th successful year with an end-of-year dance for its little pupils.
In Zhytomir, Ukraine, Or Avner students welcomed the symbolic ‘Last Bell’ together with teachers and mentors in a moving ceremony. “Success of a Jewish school is measured by the Jewish pride and identity adopted by its students, above all. This we can see in every one of our students, even many years after they graduate,” said Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm about the school, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year.
Of course, academic success is also an important criteria for Or Avner institutions. In Orenburg, Russia graduating students passed their final exams with flying colors, receiving silver and gold excellence medals and being accepted into some of the best colleges and universities.
Started in 1991, today Or Avner spans 125 educational institutions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. These include schools, kindergartens, colleges, seminars, a university, as well as afternoon and Sunday schools. In most of the programs, tuition is free or minimal, underwritten by the Or Avner Foundation that is supported by FJC president Mr. Lev Leviev and his family. The institutions also provide two hot meals daily, which sometimes serve as their students’ only nourishment of the day.
In the last two decades, there have been tens of hundreds of Or Avner graduates, who are now residing all over the world. “Or Avner has played a pivotal role in turning around the mentality of shame disseminated by the Soviet regime in the FSU region. Showing Jewish children the beauty and depth of our tradition, teaching them to respect and appreciate it, yielded a new generation of young people proud and knowledgeable of their roots,’ said Mr. Daniel Gordon, FJC outreach coordinator.
The students are now off to summer vacations, many participating in FJC’s ‘Gan Israel’ summer camp network and programs. They will gather back together at the beginning of September for another achievement-filled school year.