From Cuba to Israel thanks to World ORT


27 June 2008 From Cuba to Israel thanks to World ORT Yehetzkel Reyes Pernas is a young man looking forward to exploiting the many opportunities that Israel offers to make a significant contribution to society and he is in no doubt that he would not be in this happy state were it not for ORT Cuba. As a teenager in the small Jewish community of Camaguey, in central Cuba, Yehetzkel knew he wanted to study computing but, as he put it, he did not even know how to switch one on let alone use it. Until, that is, he came to ORT Cuba. Yehetzkel with came into contact with ORT Cuba when he moved to Havana in 2002. The following year, after participating in a Birthright trip to Israel that ORT Cuba ran in conjunction with UIA Federations Canada, Birthright Israel, World ORT and the Joint Distribution Committee, he joined an ORT Cuba IT class before going on to study computer science at Havana University. Before long he was working at ORT Cuba, heading its research and development team and going on to lead the implementation of ORT Cubas groundbreaking national communication network, through which the islands 12 Jewish communities have been connected by intranet. He also returned to Israel on another ORT Cuba Birthright trip, this time as a madrich. Now, having made aliyah, Yehetzkel (pictured, front, on a Birthright trip) is living in Eilat with his mother and two younger brothers and going through ulpan. In October, he plans to start a pre-entry study programme for the Technion Israel Institute of Technology with the hope of completing his computer science degree at the prestigious institution. I am in a new country and its difficult, Yehetzkel said. I have to learn the language and the culture is different. But its a very good and beautiful country with many opportunities. Without ORT Cuba I would be finding things much more difficult. ORT Cuba has definitely helped me to be where I am today: they gave me my first knowledge of computers and then helped me to develop and apply the knowledge I was getting at university. Working at ORT Cuba was very good experience, particular in working with a team. When he resumes his undergraduate studies it will be an opportunity to go in a new direction. In Israel they dont do computer science like they do in Cuba, he said. Here, you combine computer science with other subjects. I want to take computer science with biology. It doesnt matter if it takes me more time to graduate, I think its very good field of study. This could see Yehetzkel learning how to apply computer skills to cutting edge medical research, designing programmes which simulate the action of proteins in the human body or generate chains of DNA. William Miller, the former Director of ORT Cuba, said: We are all very proud of Yehetzkel, both as an ORT Cuba student and staff member, he has achieved a great deal. And now he is poised to achieve even more. Mr Miller is himself in Israel studying for a Masters in Community Leadership and philanthropy studies at the Hebrew University but is still acting in a supervisory role at ORT Cuba. He plans to return to Cuba in two years and use what he has learned for the community there. I will be able to transmit the idea that other members of the Jewish community can take leadership roles by giving them the knowledge they need, Mr Miller said. Every time the Cuban community needs a professional to perform a task we have to ask an international organisation to help us. We need to have local, well-trained professional people to do it. Despite that, ORT Cuba has made huge strides in the eight years since it resumed operations in the island. In that time, it has enrolled more than 2,500 Jewish and non-Jewish students on its regular and distance learning courses from IT, languages (including English and Hebrew) and business management to a wide variety of workshops. ORT Cuba has designed and set up three websites including the islands official Jewish communitiy website, which is hosted by World ORT at , a computerised management system for the National Jewish Pharmacy and a web-based national management system for the statistical records of the Jewish community. Yehetzkel also designed practical computer programmes to meet the specific needs of ORT Cuba teachers and a programme that allows users with minimal technical know-how to generate and distribute informative and attractive email bulletins. Even with Mr Miller and Yehetzkel abroad, the by-now experienced professional team at ORT Cuba is keeping up the good work. Were working on our first on-line course, Mr Miller said, which is on the history of Israel and which will be taught to students across Cuba using our communication network. Were also developing a multi-media course to teach basic Hebrew and a leadership course via email.