Exemplifying our values: Harmatz Award Winners Celebrate Success


What do socks, chess and aquatic ecosystems have in common?

Believe it or not, they have all inspired a series of meaningful student projects that have been recognized as part of World ORT’s leading social responsibility program.

The 2024 Gina and Joseph Harmatz Award winners highlight the positivity of Tikkun Olam, teamwork, a sense of belonging, forward-thinking attitudes and problem-solving skills.

For students at the ORT-affiliated King David High School Linksfield in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was a hat-trick of successes, with three teams recognized for their inspirational projects.

WATCH: The five winners of the 2024 Gina and Joseph Harmatz Award

Among the winners were twins Caleb and Judah, whose ‘Every Move Matters’ initiative distributed chess resources to those less privileged.

They secured funding and collaborated with their local authority Department of Education to support other children and provide enhanced educational opportunities through chess.

The brothers, aged 13, have already been national chess champions in four different age groups.

They said: “Chess has transformed our lives in ways we never could have imagined – the strategies, the focus, the friendships. It has been an honor to represent our country and a life-changing journey. And now we want to share this incredible game with other kids. We believe every kid should have the chance to explore the world of chess.”

The brothers at the chess club in Johannesburg

A four student team from Escola ORT in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, designed an app to raise awareness of freshwater species and promote the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. The app allows users to assess the water quality of nearby rivers and lakes, identify threatened creatures living there and access information on conservation techniques. Their ‘WaterWise’ project encourages the public to be more aware of conservation and sustainability, with the goal of creating a well-informed society.

Back at King David Linksfield, the school’s 75th anniversary was celebrated with a fundraising campaign to improve the lives of vulnerable children through the creation and sale of funky socks.

Student Gabi sourced materials, created sock designs and planned a marketing campaign as part of her efforts. In doing so she raised more than $10,000 and was invited to a reception at the British High Commission in Pretoria where she met dignitaries including Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, and South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations.

Gabi said: “I am so proud of the success of this initiative because it exemplifies my personal values of community, outreach and Tikkun Olam. Not only have Jewish children benefitted from this initiative but also the children from the Kids Haven charity and the wider South African community too.”

Gabi explaining the initiative to Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh

A group of students at the ORT Technology School in Moscow, Russia, created a social club for peers with developmental challenges and health conditions (main image). Meeting at school once a week, the club’s aim is to give children who are often isolated the opportunity to socialize, take part in specially co-ordinated quizzes and games, and to learn how to cook.

Team member Diana explained how a quiz for hearing-impaired children worked: “The kids wrote their answers on paper or showed with their hands. The main thing is not the way you speak or whether you can answer in a loud voice. What is more important are your emotions, your desire to communicate and the warmth that you are ready to share with another person.”

The final group of winners in Johannesburg created the ‘Woven Wishes’ initiative. Benjamin and Julia, a brother and sister team, sought to incentivize the knitting and donation of knitted squares from students across the city. They then partnered with an NGO which teaches unemployed women from a township new skills and roles in which they join the squares, creating blankets which can be sold for income or donated to those in need.

The siblings collected more than 200 knitted squares and have a goal of 5,000 for 2024.

Beneficiaries of the blanket project in South Africa

Other entrants in this year’s Harmatz Awards included a student from Mexico who welcomed Israeli peers into their community after the October 7 attacks, the creation of an app tackling pollution in Rio de Janeiro, a Russian flash mob project encouraging healthier lifestyles, and a boxing club in Johannesburg which promotes better mental health and physical outcomes for young people.

Prizes in the competition are awarded in memory of the late Gina and Joseph Harmatz, who played pivotal roles in ORT’s history.

Joseph Harmatz was Director General of World ORT in the 1980s and 1990s. He was a partisan who was regarded as a hero of Lithuania’s resistance movement against the Nazis.

Gina Harmatz escaped Nazi persecution in western Europe in the 1930s and 1940s before settling in Israel. She was renowned for her graciousness and the importance she placed on family relationships, and concern for the welfare of others.