Omaha Federation makes its first direct investment in World ORT programs


In what is hoped to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, the Jewish Federation of Omaha has made its first direct investment in World ORT programs in Israel. As a result of the Federation’s generosity, the Merom HaGalil primary school now has four Smart Classes, fully equipped with an interactive whiteboard and laptops for students and teachers as well as wireless internet connectivity.

The equipment “モ and on-going teacher training “モ has been provided under the aegis of World ORT’s Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative. Since 2010, the Schulich Initiative, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, has installed 420 of the high-tech classrooms in schools across the Galilee. The second stage of the Initiative is already underway; it extends to communities in the Negev and will see the total number of classrooms installed rise to 1,000.

The snow blanketing much of Israel this week forced the last-minute cancellation of a visit by an Omaha Federation delegation to the beautiful but neglected Merom HaGalil region near the border with Lebanon; but they were able to see Smart Classes in operation at World ORT-affiliated Rodman High School in Kiryat Yam.

“I’m absolutely amazed at what this program is doing,”? said Zoe Riekes, a past president of the Omaha Federation who co-chairs the Western Galilee/Central Area Consortium, a group of Federations which targets assistance to the Western Galilee.

In the five years during which World ORT has been supporting Rodman, which is adjacent to the World ORT Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural & Sports Campus, the school’s matriculation rate has shot up from around 50 per cent to more than 90 per cent.

“I got to experience what other communities’ dollars did for them and I’m confident that’s what our dollars will be doing for the school we support. What we have given is an opportunity to make these kids smart. And what a great opportunity! It’s rewarding for all of us to know that they will be able to achieve so much more,”? Ms Riekes said.

With Ms Riekes were Beth Cohen, Executive Director of the Centre for Jewish Life, an agency of the Omaha Federation, and Jan Goldstein, Stateside Director of the Western Galilee/Central Area Consortium.

“The idea of cutting-edge technology, particularly in places where people would not think of finding it, was very appealing to the Omaha leadership,”? said Ms Cohen. “Smart classes are not the norm in Omaha so the idea of doing something cutting-edge like this is very exciting.”?

According to the latest assessment of the Schulich Initiative by the Henrietta Szold Institute (Israel’s National Institute for Research in the Behavioural Sciences), the attitudes of teachers and students to the use of ICT in class have become even more positive with both groups saying the technology increases motivation and interest. In addition, teachers say there is improved access to up-to-date study material and identify improved acquisition of 21st century skills by students.

However, Ms Cohen noted that the benefits of Smart Classes and internet connectivity extended beyond the mundane into situations where schools were closed because of weather or war. It was a point taken up by Mike Silverman, Omaha Federation’s CEO.

“The Jewish Federation of Omaha is so pleased to have this extraordinary opportunity to work with World ORT and help support its science and technology education initiatives in Israel. During Israel’s recent military operation, Pillar of Defence, World ORT immediately put into place its innovative distance learning technology that allowed children to continue normal routine schoolwork while living inside bomb shelters. We are proud to partner with an organization able to deliver on their mission, especially in times of national crisis and extreme peril,”? Mr Silverman said.

During their visit to Israel, the Omaha Federation delegation also visited the Western Galilee Hospital, which World ORT supports through its SASA Setton Kav Or program. In cooperation with Israel’s Ministries of Education, Health and Welfare, and the Prime Minister’s Office, and thanks to a major donation from the Swiss-based SASA Setton Foundation, World ORT has updated the educational facilities provided in public hospitals for children undergoing treatment. The sweeping modernisation includes the installation of interactive whiteboards, upgrading distance learning provision, and overhauling the Kav Or website.

“The idea that a child in hospital can enjoy a degree of normalcy helps them in their healing process,”? said Ms Cohen.

Like other Federations, Omaha supports World ORT, the Jewish Agency and the JDC in Israel and 70 nations worldwide through the Jewish Federations of North America’s Global Planning Table. But this is Omaha Federation’s first direct donation to a World ORT program. Could it be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

“I would hope so,”? said Ms Cohen. “In the little time that we have spent here I have seen all the things that I’d like to do with the Federation: making sure our donors are aware of what Israel and overseas support means and learning about individual programs. My hope is that in educating our donors they will also be inspired by the great work done by organisations like World ORT and so increase their donations and maybe that will also lead to more targeted contributions as well.”?