National Directors Forum meets in Vilnius


16 June 2005 The top professionals from ORTs national organisations have met in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, for the sixth annual National Directors Forum. Twenty-nine participants from 16 countries came together to present updates on their respective operations, to discuss challenges facing ORT around the world and to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. National Directors Forum participants at the memorial to the 50,000 people, including more than 30,000 Jews, murdered by the Nazis at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuanias second largest city. This was an extremely successful meeting, said World ORT Director General Robert Singer. It enabled us to know more about ORT worldwide and to increase cooperation and understanding between the national organisations. We have been able to learn from each other and to strengthen the friendship between us. Tours to local sites of interest included a visit to land owned by ORT before the war, when it was a leading institution of the Lithuanian Jewish community. From 1920 until well into the war, when it ran a vocational school in the Kovno Ghetto, ORT educated and trained thousands of Jews. Less than two per cent of the Ghettos population survived its liquidation in July 1944. Considering the past of the place it is difficult to say that the meeting was enjoyable, Mr Singer said. But I believe all of us felt the historical importance of us to be there. Leading members of Lithuanias Jewish community and a Lithuanian government representative discussed contemporary Jewish life in the Baltic State with forum participants in a session chaired by American ORT National Director Paul Firstenberg. It was a very powerful trip, Mr Firstenberg said. We saw on the one hand the terrible history of the Holocaust and on the other the remarkable resilience of the Jewish people. ORT has a singular heritage: whenever the Jewish people have been in trouble ORT has been there, yet ORT is a modern institution running some of the worlds best secondary schools. Participating in the National Directors Forum has definitely affected my thinking about the message we have to convey in America and what message people will respond to. Mr Firstenberg joined the other National Directors on a visit to Vilniuss ORT Sholom Aleichem Jewish School the countrys only state-funded Jewish school which has 200 students. The ORT Technology Centre was opened at the school in 2002 funded by The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Dr Jean and Terry de Gunzburg and Mauricio Merikanskas. The last day of the Forum featured a briefing by the Israeli Ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania, Gari Koren. At the Forum, World ORTs top professionals gave in principle support to ORT Argentina and ORT Chile for a fundraising campaign to help them realise their goals of expanding their operations. However, such a campaign would have to wait until the end of the current Regeneration 2004 and Lvovich campaigns. In the meantime, ORT Argentina and ORT Chile are to seek ex-patriot donors in the USA, Great Britain and Canada. The success of our schools means we need more classes and teachers, said ORT Argentina National Director Baruj Zaidenknop. We are also exploring the potential for an innovative university, perhaps with courses in biotechnology, bio-engineering and agro-industries as well as in Jewish education. This is going to be one of the main issues for us over the next couple of years. The Forum also resolved to meet the stringencies of accreditation requirements being applied to schools and colleges internationally by implementing principles of full accountability, openness, internal and external evaluation and transparency throughout the ORT network. The National Directors committed themselves to setting up alumni databases, subject to national privacy laws, and resolved that next years National Directors Forum would be held in Israel and after that in Cape Town, South Africa and St Petersburg, Russia.