Even before the State of Israel was born in 1948, vocational training was a priority for the growing Jewish population who arrived in what was then “Palestine” to escape antisemitism and harsh conditions in their home countries. ORT was already on the radar of many newcomers, especially those who arrived from Russia, where ORT was founded in 1880 to help impoverished Jews survive in a hostile environment.
ORT School for carpentry, Tel Aviv, circa 1950.
Through the decades, the importance of building a skilled workforce in Israel grew and ORT provided much of the training for immigrants to facilitate the building of Israel’s infrastructure and industry, as well as practical trades to provide basic services. Much of this was made possible by generous donors in the United States and elsewhere. In particular, Women’s America ORT, a fundraising powerhouse, funded schools and centers and facilitated the acquisition of equipment and tools for training.
Today, World ORT Kadima Mada (WOKM), ORT’s operational arm in Israel, focuses on those communities in Israel’s under-resourced periphery through their YOUniversity programs, to level the playing field for students and provide opportunities to advance their education. In addition to acquiring knowledge and new skills, these young students build their self-esteem and confidence as they grow and succeed in life.
The impact of WOKM in Israel can be seen at the D. Dan and Betty Kahn STEAM Center in Kiryat Yam, where students acquire tech skills including 3D printing, coding, and robotics, opening their eyes to new possibilities for their future education and employment. In Dimona, a development town in Israel’s south, students have embraced the ORT-supported FIRST robotics program and have winning teams that have taken top prizes at international competitions.
Robotics program at the D. Dan and Betty Kahn STEAM Center in Kiryat Yam, Israel.
World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village is considered the “jewel in the crown” as it is owned and operated completely by ORT and has built a record of success for its students. About a third of the growing body of 1,000 students live on campus, many from challenging backgrounds, and others such as those seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine. In addition to attending classes, they receive counseling, tutoring, and other social services to help overcome any learning or emotional challenges.
WOKM also embodies the “light unto the nations” moniker attributed to the Jewish people through its training of instructors in the most challenging environments in the world. These include teaching women refugees from Syria and Afghanistan who are now in Thessaloniki, Greece, practical skills to improve their chances for employment; facilitating training and teaching of computer skills to young girls in Ghana; and teaching Beta Israel in Ethiopia basic business skills to take the first steps to procuring jobs in a modern workforce. These programs are implemented with the help of World ORT’s International Cooperation Dept. and in partnership with local NGOs.
As Israel celebrates its milestone 75th year, World ORT can be proud of the vast impact its work has and continues to have on some of the most vulnerable people in the country. ORT has helped them transform their lives, become productive members of society, and play a role in helping the country succeed for the next 75 years and beyond.
Student at Kfar Silver Youth Village.