From tears to cheers, World ORT’s historic Board of Representatives meeting in Berlin this week was an emotional, engaging and uplifting experience.
World ORT’s first meeting in the German capital since the war emphasised the interactive, with the 100 attendees from 23 countries sharing ORT students’ excitement in a robotics competition, enjoying question and answer sessions with, among others, the US Ambassador, and remembering the contributions and sacrifices of previous generations.
“The age of sitting passively and listening to speeches and lists of statistics has gone,”? said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer.
Not that there were not plenty of statistics to be shared, among the most impressive being those describing World ORT’s work in Israel. “By the end of the year, we will be operating a budget in Israel of over 300 million shekels. There is no doubt that we are one of the largest and most efficient third service providers,”? Mr Singer said in his presentation to the Board before examining the breakdown of how the money is used, such as the introduction of Smart Classes in under-resourced schools in peripheral districts, the implementation of the Centres of Excellence Initiative, the expansion and upgrading of the Kav Or educational programme for hospitalised children and the running of World ORT’s “Science City”? in Kiryat Yam.
World ORT was now the primary partner with the Ministry of the Development of the Galilee and Negev, Mr Singer added, which explained why its Minister, Silvan Shalom, took time out from a politically challenging week in Israel to address the Gala Dinner.
In his keynote address, Mr Shalom, who is also Vice Prime Minister and the Minister of Regional Development, said: “Together with World ORT we’re making a real revolution in the education sector of the Negev and the Galilee. Thank you for doing this; I am proud to be part of this amazing project.”?
The mass installation of Smart Classes and the institution of Centres of Excellence, which will provide help for underachieving students as well as incentives for better students so that all can reach their potential, were contributing to the raising of educational standards in the periphery.
“There is no doubt that a strong education system will help us to bring more young families to the Negev and the Galilee and help us meet the national goal of attracting 600,000 people to these regions by the end of the decade,”? Mr Shalom said.
The style of the three-day annual meeting was a reflection of the energy and initiative of World ORT’s lay leadership, whose ranks have been instrumental in enabling the organisation’s International Cooperation (IC) Department, which performs non-sectarian work in developing countries, to operate more proactively.
For the first time in the 50-year history of ORT IC, the professionals running the programmes were brought face-to-face with lay leaders to explain precisely how World ORT is pursuing the goal of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).
“Among the presenters were Gary Walker, Chief of Party of the ORT-Liberia Training and Employment Program, and Claire Vukcevic, Chief of Party of the ORT Montenegro Persons with Disabilities Initiative,”? said the Chair of World ORT’s IC Advisory Committee, David Woolf. “They were very well received because they helped everyone to understand what it is that we’re achieving. Their presence comes as our whole approach to IC is changing to become more proactive, developing our own programmes to meet needs that we have identified in cooperation with foundations and corporations’ social responsibility wings, rather than respond to tenders and be a safe pair of hands for governments.”?
The presentations became emotionally charged as the extraordinary effect of World ORT’s help for war-affected youth in Liberia, which is funded by George Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI), and for disabled people in the Balkans, funded by USAID, became apparent.
“Some people had tears in their eyes,”? said World ORT Chief Programme Officer Vladimir Dribinskiy who was himself deeply moved during Monday’s formal launch of World ORT’s Music and the Holocaust website.
“At one point during the presentation a Yiddish partisan song was played and a table of Israelis started to sing along, but in Hebrew. It was heartbreakingly poignant, even for me who’s been involved in the website project for such a long time,”? Mr Dribinskiy said.
The previous day, attendees had gone to the Berlin-Grunewald railway station to commemorate the ORT staff and students who had been deported from there to the death camps on June 10, 1943.
But the mood lifted at the ceremony in the Meistersaal, the building where the World ORT Union held its founding congress in 1921 and so became an international organisation. And the excitement could barely be contained at the next day’s robotics competition which featured teams of students supported by World ORT in Israel, Argentina, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The team from Odessa won the bout, on points rather than by a knockout. Audience members were compelled to be quiet and refrain from flash photography during the heats so as not to interfere with the robots’ sensors but burst into applause and cheering when the machines achieved their objectives.
“All four teams are winners because they all demonstrated their capacity for creative thinking by devising different approaches to solve the problems successfully,”? said ORT Russia’s Vice President, Professor Alexei Semenov, who was on the judging panel with the Chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, Mauricio Merikanskas, ORT Czech Republic lay leader Dr Radan Salomonovic, and ORT Argentina President Emeritus Dr Hector Rosenzvit.
The competition was an opportunity for Board of Representatives members to meet a few of the thousands of children World ORT helps each year and to appreciate the significance of teaching robotics.
“At a time when it’s difficult to get students excited about science and technology and when children are more interested in using technology rather than figuring out how it works, robotics bridges that gap between abstract ideas and physical reality. It opens doors to maths, engineering, science and technology and generates enthusiasm among students unheard of in a technical subject,”? said Daniel Tysman, the Head of World ORT’s Education Department.
During the Board of Representatives’ more mundane sessions, it unanimously passed 10 resolutions setting the policy directions for the year ahead. Among them was an expression of appreciation to the Jewish Federations of North America for their long-standing partnership with World ORT. The Board also stated its commitment to encourage collaboration and communication and the pooling of knowledge and expertise within World ORT’s diverse educational and training network.
While World ORT is a staunchly non-political organisation, the positive diplomatic ramifications of its work were highlighted by the US Ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy, in his address to the Board.
“The ORT tradition is to free individuals and communities from dependence by giving them the tools to be independent,”? Ambassador Murphy said.
This tradition, practised in a complicated contemporary context in which politically awakened and technologically empowered people represented an enormous potential for positive change, meant that organisations like World ORT could make a “huge difference”?, he said.
“Diplomats and development experts can indeed diffuse crises before they explode,”? the Ambassador said. “How By standing up for universal values and human rights; by creating new opportunities for economic growth; and by partnering to advance economic growth that is inclusive and prosperity-producing… In other words, governments recognise the importance of the kind of projects that World ORT has supported for years. Congratulations!”?
There were congratulations, too, for ORT Argentina Honorary President Norma de Werthein, Clive Marks OBE and World ORT Chief Operating Officer Sonia Gomes de Mesquita on becoming the inaugural recipients of an annual tribute for lay leaders and professionals who stand out for their commitment to ORT.
“ORT’s success is built on the skill and dedication of its key people “ﾓ professional staff and lay leaders. These are individuals who are focused on delivering excellence in every aspect of our work; they do not seek personal recognition but delight in a job well done and are happy to bask in the glory that is ORT,”? said World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg in presenting the awards.
Mr Marks was recognised for his enthusiasm for ORT, musical expertise and fundraising ability which together had made an “enormous contribution”?, Dr de Gunzburg said.
Mrs de Werthein, under whose four presidential terms ORT Argentina grew tremendously in size and academic stature while achieving financial stability, was “truly an example to be emulated”?.
And Ms Gomes de Mesquita was “the embodiment of the word “ﾘdedication'”?.
The Board will meet next during the World ORT General Assembly in Washington DC, June 3-5 2012.