ORT America forges ahead at Annual Meeting


04 March 2009 ORT America forges ahead at Annual Meeting ORT America outlined its programme for short term stability and long term growth at its second Annual Meeting, held this week in Santa Monica, California. Despite the recession, the 200-plus people attending from 15 States were exhorted to be at the forefront of an ambitious 2009-2010 campaign to consolidate relationships with existing donors, seek out new supporters and increase revenue in the harshest fundraising conditions in most people’s living memory. The event was also an opportunity to formally launch the Next Generation Initiative as a national project, examine the direction of World ORT projects in Israel (in the framework of the Kadima Mada Initiative) with an expert panel moderated by CNN’s Larry King (pictured), and applaud the contributions made by Holocaust Survivor Dr Sam Goetz who was presented with ORT America’s highest honour, the Tikkun Olam Award by actor and past recipient Ed Asner. But it was ORT America Vice President Linda Kirschbaum who, in her capacity as Chair of ORT America’s National Campaign Leadership, mapped out how the ORT family’s largest fundraising organisation will negotiate the tough times ahead. ‘I believe we can and will achieve success in these challenging times,’ Ms Kirschbaum told the legislative session of the Annual Meeting. ‘We are part of an incredible chain that began in 1880 – and not only will we keep that chain whole, we will strengthen and polish it for the future. It is our responsibility because our students are counting on us. As President Obama said in his address last Tuesday, for which both sides of the aisle gave a standing ovation, ‘In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity, it is a pre-requisite.” Just as it took four legs to keep a table from toppling over, there were four pillars to ORT America’s 2009 fundraising campaign, she said. The first was to honour and value every member, contributor and leader in the organisation. The second pillar was to focus on donors who were closest to ORT and ask them to give even more than before. ‘It might be hard to get up the nerve to ask for an increased gift but just as families and true friends step up in times of need, we must step up today for our students around the world,’ she said, adding that this included the lay leaders at the Annual Meeting. ‘We are among the most devoted to this organisation and we need to do our best to set an example.’ The third pillar was to embrace the many ORT students and projects around the world, such as by joining the mission to Argentina and Uruguay planned for November. And the fourth pillar was targeted outreach to build the organisation’s supporter base, which included a New York metropolitan campaign, a concerted effort to bring back past supporters and the development of the Next Generation initiative. To emphasise the importance of generational change to the future of the organisation, the Gala Dinner was addressed by Deena Eberly and Scott Schonfeld, Chairs of ORT California’s blossoming Next Generation and Junior Co-Chairs of the Annual Meeting. Mr Schonfeld said: ‘Jewish philanthropy, including ORT America, has begun to enter uncharted territory. The active members and boards we have always relied on are ageing and Jewish charities are looking for ways to educate and engage a new generation in the importance of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. The growth and success of the next generation initiative is imperative to the survival of ORT America.’ He showed images of a hugely successful Next Generation event held in a Beverly Hills mansion the previous evening, which was on a Carnival theme to highlight the Latin America Campaign. ‘We were able to educate and engage an entirely new group of next generation on ORT’s programmes worldwide,’ he said. Ms Eberly called on those present to actively support the Next Generation initiative, saying: ‘I am asking all of you to reach out to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, whomever you think could continue your passion for ORT into the next generation.’ The Chair of ORT America’s Executive Committee, Shelley Fagel, traced the worsening experiences of 2008 by using a cinematic analogy. ‘It was like a movie double feature: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly followed by Mission Impossible,’ Ms Fagel told the legislative session. But she paid tribute to World ORT Director General & CEO Robert Singer, who has implemented a major organisational overhaul as Interim Executive Director of ORT America, and continued with the Hollywood theme for an upbeat conclusion. ‘Most action films end with the good guys riding off into the sunset. We in ORT America have a lot of work and a hard row to follow,’ Ms Fagel said. ‘But I’m certain that in the end we will be wearing our white hats and will be looking at a bright and optimistic future through the eyes of ORT students from around the world.’ ORT America President Doreen Hermelin affirmed that the organisation was now a ‘leaner, more efficiently run non-profit’. ‘I am pleased to report that we have an organisation that is safe and sound, with a strategic plan to move forward,’ Ms Hermelin said. Veteran broadcaster and interviewer Larry King was special guest at the Gala Dinner and moderated a panel discussion on ‘The State of Education in Israel and How ORT is Impacting Change.’ ‘The discussion explores ORT’s philanthropic mission to provide cutting-edge educational and vocational programmes to talented students, many from at-risk households living in the periphery of Israel. By receiving the best possible educational preparation, social services assistance and financial support, they remain in school and break the cycle of poverty. ORT’s mission is educating individuals, impacting communities and improving the world.’ The panel included Mr Singer, Professor Sidney Strauss, Emeritus Branco Weiss Professor of Research in Child Development and Education at Tel Aviv University, Robert Frimtzis, Engineering Manager of the Apollo and Surveyor lunar explorations and an ORT Switzerland alumnus, prominent philanthropist and ORT leader Patti Aaron, and Tamar Laitman, a recent graduate of Yifat High School, one of the schools participating in Kadima Mada. Ms Laitman, who is due to join the IDF intelligence corps this year, described the difference which Kadima Mada had made to her school. ‘I have so much to thank everyone at ORT for,’ she said. ‘In my first year in chemistry I used the same old equipment as my sisters who are 12 and 14 years older than me. But then Kadima Mada gave us Nova data logging equipment and Interactive White Boards. Now we have more time for lessons and to understand results When I studied chemistry only 20 students began and 10 finished. This year more than 50 students wanted to learn. And the number is rising for all the sciences.’ A highlight of the evening was Emmy award-winning actor Ed Asner presenting the Tikkun Olam Award to Dr Sam Goetz. Mr Asner recounted Dr Goetz’s personal story, how he survived the Holocaust and his role heading ORT operations in a Displaced Persons camp in Italy after the war. Having established his new home in the USA, Dr Goetz set up the first Holocaust Studies programme at a public American university and was a founding member of the US Holocaust Museum. ‘Thanks to ORT, Sam obtained an agricultural degree and obtained a visa to the USA,’ Mr Asner said. ‘He is receiving the Tikkun Olam Award for the dual concepts of tzedakah, the mitzvah of giving, and tikkun olam, repairing the world. I am deeply honoured to join with everyone here tonight to present this award to Dr Sam Goetz for sharing that delicious omelette of his with the rest of the world.’ Dr Goetz said: ‘I was privileged to be hired by ORT. What did ORT provide to the Displaced Person It provided basic skills, it provided hope, which is hard to quantify. In addition to skills and providing time to depressed DPs, ORT provided hope, hope was a very precious commodity at that time.’