ESRA's "Project of Excellence"

By Aviva Frydman and Brenda Katten

While COVID-19 has affected all, there can be no doubt that those whose lives have been disturbed the most are the schoolchildren. School is not only about being educated; it is the place where our youngsters learn how to interact with one another. The all-important social aspect has disappeared resulting in varied psychological problems experienced by many children.

Inevitably the past year has affected ESRA's programs geared, specifically, to those youngsters living in areas of deprivation. ESRA aims to improve their lives - not only by helping them with their school studies - but also by finding attractive vehicles to build their self-confidence.

This September saw the return (following a year of COVID disruption) of one of ESRA's most enterprising programs appropriately named "Project of Excellence". Initiated some ten years ago it reaches out to teenagers - with leadership potential - residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods. On offer is a weekly two-year Marine Biology Course at the Ruppin School of Marine Sciences where 8th and 9th graders, recommended by the heads of their respective schools, have fun learning about the sea's creatures, coming face to face with the turtles who are being rehabilitated at Ruppin, sailing on the sea, kayaking and team rowing, to name but a few of the activities.

The 38 participants - 50% of Ethiopian origin whilst the other 50% is made up of children from Russian and North African backgrounds - are split into two groups with each group accompanied by a scholarship student from ESRA's Students Build a Community (SBC) project.

The teens are taught the wonders of the ocean by Ruppin's post-graduate students; together with practical fun on the sea and its shores, all of which contribute towards increasing self-confidence and leadership skills.

ESRA is blessed with two outstanding SBC Students who accompany the youngsters on their journey from their respective schools each week. One of the students, Mawa, who arrived from Ethiopia in 1999 together with her parents and two siblings, put together a Chanukah quiz which was both instructive about Chanukah as well as being a fun experience.This, in itself, is quite remarkable as Jews from Ethiopia have little or no knowledge of post Torah writings and traditions (of which Chanukah is one) being strictly adherent to the written law (Torah) only.In addition, the quiz embraced questions relating to what the youngsters had learned about the sea, and what evolves from the oceans. The winning team was awarded prizes with the Ruppin Academy presenting gifts for all.

The reality is that ESRA's Project of Excellence is proving to be a win-win situation for the fortunate participants, the ESRA students and all privileged to be associated with this truly outstanding and successful venture.

While ESRA supports this project it is only made possible through the generous donations of Meira and Jack Appelbaum (over many years) together with the Elon Family whose valued generosity is in loving memory of their son Carmi.

Aviva Frydman is the ESRA Volunteer Coordinator of ESRA's Project of Excellence.