‘Education is the key to everything’ – World ORT 2020 General Assembly


ORT has marked its 140th anniversary with a virtual General Assembly session which saw the election of the organization’s lay leadership for the next four years.

Our special anniversary was due to be acknowledged by holding our quadrennial assembly in Jerusalem this week with a series of celebratory events. But the Covid-19 pandemic meant the postponement of those celebrations until a later date.

More than 300 people from dozens of countries including the United States, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, South Africa and across Europe joined the session online on Sunday.

Keynote speaker William Daroff

Keynote speaker William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the impact of Covid-19 meant global Jewry was now embarking into unchartered and unpredictable territory, with synagogues and schools closed and those who once financially supported non-profit organizations finding they are themselves in need of communal assistance.

But, Mr Daroff added, “we are adapting. Synagogues across the world are experiencing record turn-outs in their levels of engagement through video-conferencing. The ORT network knows this well, as you successfully meet the challenge of providing outstanding education, and supporting vulnerable young people, teachers, and families as they grapple with the devastating impact of the virus and beyond.

“You are incredibly well-situated to help lead our community as it grapples with providing new remote learning opportunities. As we have throughout our history as a Jewish people, we adapt, we survive, and we thrive.”

‘Our mission has never changed’

The session saw the re-election of Dr Conrad Giles as World ORT President for a second four-year term. Dr Giles, a prominent paediatric ophthalmologist based in Michigan, US, said the years since 2016 had contained “many challenges – and we have met them”.

He said: “This has been a remarkable period in the history of our organization because of the pandemic. But we have positioned ourselves to go forward with confidence and to deliver a quality educational product.

“Our mission has never changed, and for 140 years ORT has been at the heart of education around the world.”

Dan Green, World ORT Acting Director General and CEO, said: “Providing quality education to our students is great, but it means little if we are not also moulding them into good people, with strong collective values and enthusiasm to use their education for the greater good. The current crisis has only highlighted how important this is, and therefore how crucial our role is.

“We are already planning for the future and looking at the potential education and fundraising landscape, post-Covid. We will work with other organizations to develop partnerships and solutions. We will continue to strive to raise the necessary funds to continue to provide support.

“Now more than ever, young people and Jewish communities are looking to us to place the future in the hands of the next generation.”

New lay leadership team elected

Devoted ORT supporter Judy Menikoff will serve as Deputy President – she was previously Secretary.

Three new officers were elected to the top team. Robert Singer, who was World ORT Director General and CEO for 14 years prior to his most recent role as CEO of the World Jewish Congress, returns to ORT as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Mr Singer, who is the first former CEO of the organization to go on to chair its trustee board since Aharon Singalovsky in the 1940s, said: “I wanted to come back because I believe education is the key to everything, especially Jewish continuity and Jewish survival. It’s also the key to fighting antisemitism and attacks on the Jewish people.

“This year is the 140th anniversary of ORT and there are very few Jewish organizations that have existed for so long, surviving two world wars and achieving so much. We live in a world with a fast-changing job market, and this is why ORT is more relevant than ever – because we are a hub of new ideas, innovation and adaptability, preparing young people for the world of work.”

Welcome back: Robert Singer returns to ORT

Mr Singer said he wanted ORT to become the leading pedagogical authority for Jews in the Diaspora – a key messenger of “new ideas, innovation and adaptation”. He welcomed the “new faces who have joined the leadership”.

Robert Taub, an entrepreneur with more than five decades of business experience in biopharmaceutical and med-tech, will serve as Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees and as World ORT Secretary.

Lawrence Wolfe, a prominent Jewish community leader in north America, was elected Treasurer.

Dario Werthein left his position as Chair of the Board of Trustees earlier this year. Leaving the leadership team are Richard Bernstein – the former Deputy President will now chair World ORT’s Legal, Constitution and Bylaws Committee; and former Treasurer Peter Klauber.

Alon Schuster, who was appointed Israel’s new Minister of Agriculture last week, stepped down as a trustee. ORT has always been close to Alon’s heart, and we thank him for his service as he begins his new role serving the state of Israel.

Participants watched a trailer for a film which is currently in production to celebrate ORT’s 140th anniversary. It will chronicle 140 years of the power of education across the globe and is the story of an organization committed to the same vision today, yesterday, and for the future.