Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, Director of the Merkos Education Office, and Dr. Ephraim Buhks, Director of Ort and members of Chabad's Merkos Division and Faculty of ORT.
(Lubavitch.com) Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, announced the establishment of a new Jewish vocational training school in partnership with International Bramson ORT.
Next September, these two respective leaders in Jewish education and vocational training will be piloting an innovative school. Boys, ages 16-20, will be offered the best of Jewish studies and vocational training and will graduate with the skills they need to thrive in their Torah observant life and succeed financially.
Responding to requests from parents and schools for a program of this nature, Merkos is creating a Torah studies curriculum that “will enable students to concentrate on what they are learning and feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Education Office of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch.
ORT will provide technical training at their fully equipped extension campus in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Students who complete the course will emerge with real world tools: those who do not have a high-school diploma will emerge with a GED, and all students will earn a certificate in their chosen area of concentration and an associate of arts degree. ORT’s job placement department will work to place students upon graduation.
“The majority of children who go through the Yeshiva Day School educational system are enjoying the finest schooling the Jewish community has ever provided,” said Rabbi Kaplan. “But it is clear that there is a need for vocational training opportunities for students within the yeshiva system.”
Dropping out of yeshiva, like dropping out of any high school, puts young adults in the express lane to financial instability. A Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty study found that the 30% of Jews living at or near the poverty level in New York City can be found mainly in three groups – immigrants, elderly and Orthodox.
“We thought it was very appropriate for us to start a program to try to make a change in this situation,” said Dr. Ephraim Buhks, director of Bramson ORT College and US ORT operations.
Programs that marry vocational training and Torah study are like preemies. They require intensive care to survive. Analyzing the weaknesses of past programs for this population has shaped and strengthened the new venture, according to Merkos and ORT.
Tripping up past attempts at vocational training was the reluctance of parents to entrust their children’s education to groups that had very little experience creating an environment suitable for yeshiva students. To leap over this stumbling block, Merkos will maintain complete authority over the Jewish studies, and will ensure that ORT’s trainers are sensitive to observant Jewish life and worldview.
On ORT’s end, having Merkos rabbis involved with the students and monitoring their progress will remove the burdens of discipline. With Merkos carefully overseeing the school environment, observant parents will be comfortable sending their children to the program. Freed from those distractions, ORT will be able to continue its 125-year mission to provide Jewish people with viable job skills.
Currently, ORT Operations USA directs Bramson ORT, a two-year college with facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as post-secondary technical schools in Chicago and Los Angeles. It also maintains computer centers in Miami, Cleveland, and Atlanta.
The new full-time Torah/vocational program is a first for Chabad and ORT in the United States. “Back in the 1950’s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schnnerson, of blessed memory, established several vocational training schools in Kfar Chabad, Israel, in association with ORT,” says Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.
Newly appointed to direct the program is Rabbi Levi Kaplan, who brings his experience as director of the Ivy League Torah Study Program, and as elementary school principal at the United Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Brooklyn, to his new position.
“My plan is to be involved with every aspect of the students’ progress,” he said.