29 April 2009 Donors dig deep for ORT America The fundraising season has well and truly opened in America with two very different but hugely successful ORT America events in Illinois and Florida. A capacity 350-strong crowd attended Lunch With A View at the Bryn Mawr Country Club near Chicago to hear authors Ariel Sabar and Sadia Shepard talk about their books which describe their personal explorations of their Jewish roots. And more than 65 guests gathered in Boca Raton for the Festive Brunch and de Gunzbourg Society Celebration, at which the 2009 de Gunzbourg Society Campaign was launched. Named in memory of ORT co-founder Baron Horace de Gunzbourg and former Womens American ORT Honorary President Baroness Pierre de Gunzbourg, the Society takes as members those who name ORT America in their estate or financial plans. Florida is the first region to undertake this ambitious national effort to create a lasting legacy of giving to ORT America. At the Florida event ORT America Planned Giving Co-Chair, Marilyn Eager, inaugurated the regions Leave a Legacy of Learning Campaign, reporting that in 2008, ORT America received more than $5 million from planned gifts. Planned giving is the rock upon which we can build the future of our organisation and ensure the ongoing support of the ORT programme, Ms Eager said. It is also the vehicle by which ORT America will be able to meet any future crisis that may arise and is an opportunity for all of our members to play an important role in making this happen. Emphasising the importance of passing on family history, traditions and values to their children and grandchildren to succeeding generations, she continued: There is something else that we also pass from generation to generation and that is wealth. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are bequeathed to those who will follow us. Even a small portion of that money guarantees that ORT America has the necessary resources to help meet the needs of the ORT program in the years to come. Ms Eager concluded: It has been said that one generation plants the trees. The next generation reclines in its shade. Come plant a tree with us so that the next generation of ORT students can recline in the shade of the tree of knowledge and life. Festive Brunch and de Gunzbourg Society Campaign Chair Shirley Sokolvsky welcomed the guests, many of whom were veteran ORT supporters. We share a common bond that has been handed down from generation to generation to ensure that we empower students today and provide for those in the future with cutting-edge education in ORT schools, colleges and international programmes throughout the world, she said. Florida Coordinator Toby Feuer outlined the regions calendar and 2009 Annual Campaign, focusing on the challenges involved in trying to complete the goal of raising $1.2 million during a recession. I am an optimist and look at a glass half full, said Ms Feuer. As loyal ORT supporters it is incumbent upon us to work together to fill that glass to the top. Through the years our dedication has preserved many lives but there are still many waiting for assistance, and we must provide funds to ensure their future. Guests were impressed by Daniel Afrahim who, armed with an honours in Computer Information Systems from New Yorks Bramson ORT College, started his own business as a freelance graphic/Web designer in 2006, three years after he had come to America with his family from Iran. His mother also graduated from Bramson in 2006 and is now employed as a medical assistant. Daniel, who is due to complete a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts at the New York Institute of Technology next year, told the gathering: Going to Bramson was the best decision of my life. I took English as a Second Language and computer classes. The teachers treated me like family and encouraged me to succeed every step of the way. Not only did I receive the best education in a warm, welcoming and Jewish environment, but I was able to receive a full scholarship and participate in the colleges work/study program. He added: I cannot express enough gratitude to Bramson ORT College for what it has done for me and my family, and I thank all of you here today for supporting such an important life-changing organisation. Similarly stirring benefits are expected by the investment of the estimated $100,000 which was raised by the ORT America Metropolitan Chicago Region event. In line with the new strategy of linking fundraising with specific ORT schools and communities and so build emotional connections between donors and beneficiaries the Chicago function was raising money for the Shikma High School in Hof Ashkelon, near the Gaza border, and the Hodayot Youth Village in the Lower Galilee. Identified by Israels Ministry of Education as a school in urgent need of assistance, Shikma is under constant threat of rocket and artillery fire from Gaza. Most of the 363 students are from low socio-economic backgrounds and there are significant Russian and Ethiopian minorities. And the Hodayot Youth Village is home to more than 200 students, mostly Ethiopian, who come from very troubled backgrounds, broken homes and extreme poverty. To help ensure the academic success of these students, the Chicago event was raising money to buy them basic necessities such as eye examinations and glasses, school uniforms, sports shoes, text books, stationery and personal laboratory equipment. Shelly Dreifuss, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Chicago Region, stressed that Yesh Tzorech there is a need that had to be met if these children were to get the chance they deserved to build a better life. Imagine sending your child to school knowing that he or she may have to drop their studies in an instant and run for cover from Qassam missiles within 15 seconds, Ms Dreifuss said. Imagine you and your child are new immigrants grappling with absorbing a new language, new customs and the basics of a Jewish way of life. Imagine your economic situation is so dire that you cannot provide your child with essential basics such as books, eye glasses or school supplies. And imagine realising that your intelligent, funny, hard-working child may not be able to succeed academically simply because he or she comes from an underprivileged household. You need help achieving success despite the obstacles and ORT is there. The Director of the Midwest Region of ORT America, Stephanie Pritzker, said it had been a fantastic event due in large part to the attractiveness of the guest speakers, Ariel Sabar and Sadia Shepard. Mr Sabar is the author of My Fathers Paradise: A Sons Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, which retraces his fathers steps from a mud hut in northern Iraq to Israel and the University of California-Los Angeles where he became an esteemed professor of Near Eastern languages. Ms Shephards book, The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories and a Sense of Home, was inspired by the discovery that her maternal grandmother was a member of Indias tiny Jewish community. While in India to make a documentary about the life and faith which her grandmother had left in order to marry a Muslim Ms Shephard volunteered at ORT in Mumbai and discovered that ORT India National Director Benjamin Isaacs is a relative of hers by marriage. Ms Pritzker said: We saw many new faces at the event and made new friends so we were able to get the message of ORT out to a wider circle. Our organisation is known locally for its warm, friendly manner so people want to get involved.