A showcase of ORT students’ successes of the past year was the highlight of a virtual annual event attended by hundreds of supporters, professionals and leaders of the organization worldwide.
The World ORT annual Council of Representatives meeting took place on Sunday, online for the first time.
Participants heard from leaders including Dr. Conrad Giles, World ORT President; Robert Singer, Chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees; and Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO; as well as learning more about the organization’s activities in the past year through films, discussions and presentations.
One of the stars of the event was Rose Norwich, a 100-year-old South African who has volunteered her time and energy to ORT for more than 80 years. Mrs Norwich received a wonderful reception when she was introduced by Dan Green.
He said she “personifies the spirit of ORT, with her emphasis on education, a focus on helping others, and the international nature of serving other Jewish communities. Rose has provided a life of service, and her legacy is clear. It is fitting that we pay tribute to Rose’s efforts today – thank you so much for all that you have done over the past 80 years.”
The event took place against the backdrop of the violence in Israel in recent weeks. In a written message to ORT, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: “I want to take this opportunity to express my great appreciation and admiration for your most valuable and important endeavors.
“The efforts of World ORT to provide education, founded in Jewish values and innovation, each year for tens of thousands of beneficiaries around the world and, of course, here in Israel, help make a most important contribution to the future of our nation.”
Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), a leading organization supporting our work globally, was the keynote speaker. Speaking from Israel he described the difficulties being experienced by the global Jewish community at the current time, and also highlighted the impact of Covid.
Mr Fingerhut (pictured above right) said he had been inspired by ORT’s schools and by witnessing our student programs.
“We are all enormously impressed by what you are doing – we believe in the critical nature of education. The fact these young adults will grow up with great skills gained from ORT, while knowing they are part of a greater Jewish collective, bodes well for the future of the Jewish people. Thank you for all you do.”
Addressing the virtual gathering, Dan Green outlined not only ORT’s response to the global pandemic, but our plans to face the future with innovation and co-operation worldwide.
He said: “The past year was an opportunity for ORT to hit the reset button. An opportunity to take stock, review our activities, our influence, and our purpose. The resilience shown by our staff and students in adapting to this unexpected new reality was astonishing.”
He gave details of the organization’s strategic plan for the coming years, which is built around three pillars – Education for Life, the Jewish Experience, and Global Citizenship.
Among the other highlights at the event were the showcases of World ORT activities and programs benefitting students in every continent.
In a session based on the Shark Tank/Dragons’ Den television show, four teams of youngsters who are taking part in this year’s World ORT Taub Young Entrepreneurship Program (YEP) pitched their business ideas.
The team from the ORT “Dimcho Debelianov” Jewish School in Sofia, Bulgaria, which put forward a plan for assisting dementia patients and others with GPS tracking technology, was chosen as the winning entry via a live poll of the audience.
There was also an example of how our Virtual Volunteers initiative has benefited students, with a discussion between volunteer Dr. Lydia Abel, in South Africa, and beneficiary Viktoria Sirotkina from Moscow ORT Technology School #1540, in Russia.
Virtual Volunteers was launched at the start of the pandemic to provide our supporters with meaningful opportunities to help ORT students with their English language skills. Dr. Abel and Viktoria have been engaging in weekly Zoom sessions and explained how the experience had changed them both.
Dr. Abel said: “I set out to try to find things to talk about that would be topical. A lot of it focused on the differences between what we do in South Africa and what happens in Russia, the weather, the food, the clothing, what teenagers do here, what teenagers do there. But I always tried to focus in every lesson on vocabulary and introducing new words, so it’s been a real sharing of information between me and the group.”
Viktoria added: “I learnt about South African teenagers, about their culture, how their schools are different to Russian schools – it has been very interesting. I have started speaking English more fluently. It has been a very effective program.”
There were updates on the transformation of our Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel, which is being redeveloped thanks to a significant investment from the Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation and supporters around the world.
Participants also heard about ORT UK and World ORT’s ongoing mental health awareness campaign which will see thousands of books sent to schools worldwide to help children understand the importance of their emotional needs.
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology student Mercedes Voscoboinik, from Argentina, spoke about her graduation from our Anières Elite Academy and her ongoing studies on the Aerospace Engineering BSc at the prestigious university.
Rabbi Lauren Berkun, Vice-President of Rabbinic Initiatives at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, gave a Dvar Torah, and Canada’s Jacob Kincler and Argentina’s Ariel Yukelson were appointed to World ORT’s Board of Trustees.