New Building Strengthens Jewish School in Riga

The President of Latvia, Valdis Zatlers, has opened a new building in Riga for the Dubnov Jewish School, which is part of the ORT schools network in the region.

The new building has been magnificently restored thanks to nearly $2 million of public funds while World ORT has installed state-of-the-art ICT, science and robotics laboratories at the school.

Two years ago, in what was seen at the time as recognition of its achievements, President Zatlers became Latvia’s first head of state to visit the school, which in 1989 became the first new Jewish school to open in the territory of what was the Soviet Union since 1940. The opening of this new building, designed specifically as a school, will enhance the educational opportunities for Riga’s children.

“It is a good school which has been supported by ORT for more than 15 years. But its inconvenient location, poor facilities and the difficulties created by the lack of unification caused by multiple sites meant that it was struggling for survival in the face of emigration and assimilation experienced by an already small community,” said Vladimir Dribinskiy, World ORT’s Chief Program Officer.

The Riga Jewish community has steadily shrunk since 1970, from 37,000 to approximately 10,000 today. However, at the time of President Zatlers’ first visit, the school was managing to increase enrollment as World ORT, with the financial backing of the Clore Duffield Foundation and other donors, provided ICT support, educational resources and teacher training which helped it to rise up the rankings to become the 10th best school in Riga.

The high level of English and Math teaching, and the quality of the Hebrew and Jewish learning, not only made it the school of choice for Jewish families, but helped it attract the children of families who had returned to Latvia since the country joined the European Union.

“The newly renovated and centrally located school is absolutely outstanding and it will give the community another boost,” said Robert Singer, World ORT’s Director General. “Our aim is to make the school a center of excellence, to make it the best school in the country within the next few years and increase the number of students by well over 50 per cent. In so doing, there is a very good chance that the school will also become economically self-sufficient.”

The high-tech laboratories installed by World ORT have, in themselves, put the school in a league of its own.

“There is nothing even close in any other school in Latvia,” Mr Singer said. “We want to make Dubnov Jewish School a center of advanced teacher training in ICT, science and technology for teachers from across the country.”

It would, no doubt, have made Shimon Dubnov, the famed author of the World History of the Jewish People, and after whom the school is named, proud given his personal commitment to modernizing Jewish education.

Both Mr. Singer and Mr. Dribinskiy paid tribute to Riga’s dynamic young mayor, Nils Ušakovs, and the Chairman of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities, Arkady Suharenko, for their outstanding contributions to completing the project.

ORT has a long history in Latvia, beginning in 1906 with the funding of the Dvinsk Jewish trade school. In the 1920s, ORT-supported vocational schools, training courses and businesses operated in Daugavpils, Riga and Lubny. Support grew to counter the effects of the nationalist authoritarian government in the 1930s and continued until ORT institutions were nationalized by the Soviets in 1941.