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Writing a Wrong

Isaac Ochberg ... benevolent and a successful entrepreneur (Photo: Courtesy of David Solly Sandler)

 School essay competition in memory of unsung hero who saved 173 orphans

Isaac Ochberg is an unsung hero in the history of the Jewish people and Israel. The English department at the Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon became involved in a project to right this wrong. At the initiative of Hertzel Katz*, who has been a volunteer in ESRA's English Tutoring Program (ETP) for several years, we organized a creative writing competition, the primary purpose of which was to encourage the students to do research about the deeds of Isaac Ochberg.

This benevolent man, who was a very successful entrepreneur in South Africa and had a wife and children, undertook the hazardous journey to Eastern Europe in 1921 to rescue 173 orphans from the pogroms. He brought them to orphanages in South Africa, where they prospered. Today, there are more than 4,000 descendants of the Ochberg Orphans. Furthermore, Isaac Ochberg contributed large sums of money to the Keren Kayemet Foundation in Israel. However, few people have ever heard of Isaac Ochberg. The goal of the IsaacOchberg Heritage Committee is to make people aware of the deeds of this extraordinary man.

The English staff members at Alon High School felt it was a very worthy project for a number of reasons. Firstly, we wanted to express our deep appreciation to the many ESRA ETP volunteers who have been tutoring our students for so many years in a most devoted manner. Secondly, the values and actions of Ochberg are those that we, as educators, try to instill in our students. His willingness to get involved, contribute to society, and put the needs of others before his own, are admirable. Thirdly, this competition would enable students to hone their English skills and write creative pieces.
The initiative was presented to the Headmistress of Alon High School, Ms Rivka Shemesh, and she readily accepted the proposal. The next stage was to determine the rules of the competition.

The students were asked to write a poem, essay, letter, piece of prose, or interview that explains the meaning of the saying from the Talmud "Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world", and to illustrate how it can be applied to the philanthropist, Isaac Ochberg.

The students were encouraged to work in pairs or small groups, but of course could work alone too. The Heritage Committee supplied booklets about Ochberg's life and achievements. Students also used sources on the Internet, previous articles published in the ESRA Magazine, and films about Ochberg and the Orphans on YouTube. Some even requested (and were immediately provided with) an email address of a descendant of the Ochberg Orphans to ask further questions. In many classes, teachers gave the students time to do research during the lessons. They used their laptops or cellphones or went to work in the library, in order to find out the facts before they began the writing process. In other classes, students were shown the film about Ochberg and were asked to write a response. Other students worked at home during their free time.

The students were given a period of two months to do this work. They submitted their work to the English teachers who corrected the first drafts. The students then typed up and printed out their final drafts.
The Headmistress suggested that the final date for the submission of entries be January 27, 2019, which was the International Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust. Had Ochberg not rescued the 173 orphans before Hitler's rise to power, many certainly would have ended up in the concentration camps, as did their relatives, who lived in Eastern Europe. We felt this was an appropriate choice of date.

The students were very enthusiastic about the project and the subject matter was discussed in almost every English class. A wide variety of types of creative work was submitted. In addition to the moving poems and pieces of prose written from the perspective of the Orphans, there were imaginary interviews with Ochberg, and one group created the will they imagined Ochberg might have written. Over 70 entries were submitted. The pieces were written by students in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. Even students who had completed their studies in English participated in the competition.

We, the English teachers, felt much satisfaction and are proud of our students' response and the high quality of their submissions. We certainly feel the purpose of the project has been achieved.

The Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee and the editor of The Jerusalem Report, Mr Steven Linde, made a decision about the four finalist prize winners. Book vouchers were awarded as prizes to those students whose pieces of work best convey the spirit of Ochberg's philanthropic achievements.

We held a prize-giving ceremony on April 1 at which some students read out their pieces, others set the lyrics of their work to music and performed. In addition, a message was delivered from Mr Bennie Penzik, who is a descendant of two Ochberg orphans and a Ramat HaSharon resident and Mr Steven Linde spoke at the event. Every student who participated received a certificate and a pen with Isaac Ochberg engraved on it as a gift from the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee.

It has been a great honor for our school to participate in this worthy project. I am deeply grateful to Advocate Hertzel Katz for including us in this educational initiative. I thank Mrs Rivka Shemesh, the Headmistress and the members of the English staff at Alon High School, Ramat HaSharon, for their co-operation and support regarding the project.

Furthermore, we would certainly endorse a similar project in other high schools where ESRA volunteers are tutoring,

*Hertzel Katz is the current Chairman of ESRA Ramat HaSharon and a past Chairman of ESRA (2006 – 2007).

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Monday, 21 September 2020

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