The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, its founder and president, announced a donation of $1.1 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel to support the network of Jewish day schools in the former Soviet Union.
This comes in addition to the $400,000 in support to the school network given earlier this year by the Fellowship.
The network, known as Heftziba, consists of 43 schools with 9,000 students in grades 1 through 12 enrolled for the upcoming school year and is operated by Israel’s Ministry of Education in partnership with the Jewish Agency.
The schools span the former Soviet Union, with 15 schools in Russia, 18 in Ukraine and Moldova, 5 in Belarus and Baltic states and 5 in Central Asia.
The gift will help sustain the schools, by covering key costs, including hot meals, clothing and medicine for children from disadvantaged families as well as school busing – a critical factor in enrollment due to the great distance some students need to travel.
“Sustaining this school network is part of the Jewish Agency’s mission to build and strengthen Jewish identity,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. “We are deeply grateful to Rabbi Eckstein, and look forward to continuing to work with him and our other partners to further strengthen Jewish education in the former Soviet Union.”
Sharansky noted Eckstein’s leadership in funding programs which assist Jewish children in the former Soviet Union and for coming to the rescue of the Heftziba network last year when the economic crisis almost brought the school system to collapse.
Plans are being developed by the Jewish Agency, the government of Israel and the Fellowship to deal comprehensively with the issues of education and care for Jewish children in the former Soviet Union.
“Thanks to our many Christian and Jewish donors, the IFCJ contributes over $25 million each year to help the Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union,” Rabbi Eckstein said.
“While we feel privileged to do so, ultimately the costs of Jewish education and welfare of the children – who represent the future of Jewish peoplehood in the FSU – should be borne by the world Jewish community and we commend Mr. Sharansky and the Jewish Agency for pledging to undertake this effort.”
Enabling young Jews to 'connect with their people'The Jewish Agency partners with the government of Israel’s Ministry of Education which operates the Heftziba network, sending 50 teachers from Israel to the schools and contributing $2.8 million annually; individual schools within the network are run by Or Avner, ORT and Shema Yisrael.
Sharansky said he views Heftziba as a signature partnership program of the Fellowship and the Jewish Agency, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Or Avner, ORT and Shema Yisrael school networks.
The announcement of the new funding follows the recent adoption by the Jewish Agency of a strategic plan that calls for supporting programs like Heftziba which enable young Jews to “connect with their people, heritage and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.”
For its part, the Fellowship has raised roughly one billion dollars from Christians to help Israel and Jews in need, enabling “hundreds of thousands of Jews to escape poverty and anti-Semitism and return to their biblical homeland, and funded humanitarian assistance that has touched millions of Jews in Israel and around the world.”
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