ORT America holds first Annual Meeting


14 March 2008 ORT America holds first Annual Meeting From Hollywood to Hassidim ORT Americas first annual meeting since the merger of American ORT and Womens American ORT attracted a wide range of people, reflecting ORTs pragmatic approach that cuts across religious and social divides. Some 300 people attended the landmark two-day gathering in Boca Raton, Florida. Among the many highlights was the keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting Dinner, movie actor, economist and author Ben Stein, who revealed that his mother and mother-in-law had been members of Womens American ORT. Also at the dinner, Senator Ted Deutch (pictured with ORT America Executive Committee Chair Shelley Fagel) was presented with ORT Americas highest honour, the Tikkun Olam Award, for his commitment to education and the welfare of children as well as senior citizens. Also at the Annual Meeting were international guests including the Principal of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village, Rochel Sylvetsky, who praised ORT America donors for supporting Kadima Mada (Science Journey), the World ORT programme which supports science and technology education in more than 30 campuses in Israel including hers. Mrs Sylvetsky told the packed banquet hall: There is a Hassidic tale about Rabbi Zusya who told his students that when his mother stood in the corner of their broken down hut in their shtetl to pray every morning he could feel Gods presence coming down to hear her. Not to the scholars, or to the yeshiva, but to her. I always thought that it was because, like all Jewish women, she prayed not only for her children but for everyones children. You continue the tradition of Rabbi Zusyas mother. When I heard how World ORT is helping the youngsters of southern Israel who have rockets flying over their heads and gives laptops to hospitalised children in Beer Sheva so they can keep up with their schoolwork, I realised that Rabbi Zusyas mother today is all of you. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The strides that World ORT has made in Israel in partnership with the Ministry of Education and municipalities would not have been possible without the generosity of ORT Americas supporters. As Executive Director Hope Kessler told the Opening and Legislative Session of the Annual Meeting: It has been a marvellous year for ORT America, clearly reflected by the accomplishments of a new campaign with a new organisation With the successful creation of a strong brand identity presenting a single face and delivering a united message to the general public ORT America is moving into 2008 stronger than ever. Ms Kesslers optimism was shared by ORT America President Doreen Hermelin, who said her visits to ORT schools and programmes in Israel, Latin America and Europe over recent months had reconfirmed to me that our work positively affects many thousands of lives worldwide. Although the fall in the dollars international value had reduced ORTs buying power overseas, this had not overshadowed ORT Americas accomplishments over the past year. Our pledge must not be simply to sustain our successes, Mrs Hermelin added, but to grow and expand our impact. I am confident we will because education is the most powerful weapon you can use to improve the world. Among those successes was the creation of the Guardian Society to honour people whose membership of ORT in America had exceeded 25 years and those with more than 50 years commitment. Another milestone was the creation of the Greater Miami Alumni Association, established to connect ORT alumni worldwide. Its founder, ORT Argentina alumnus Esteban Koffsman, was presented with the inaugural ORT Alumni Achievement Award at the dinner. Presenting the award, ORT alumnus and member of the ORT America Board of Directors Serge Berguig recounted how Mr Koffsman had majored in design and construction at ORT in Buenos Aires, attained a Masters Degree in Architecture and currently oversaw major construction projects in Miami and taught at Florida International University. Accepting the award, Mr Koffsman said: As a group, the millions of alumni from ORT schools around the world have made significant contributions to society. Each of us was given a chance to excel and it was ORT that made it happen. Personally, my achievements are due to the courses I took in architecture during my high school years in ORT Argentina. The seeds planted then turned into a successful career. The Immediate Past President of ORT Argentina, Norma de Werthein, was also among the international guests at the Annual Meeting. Together with Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso, Mrs de Werthein attended a breakfast session where she gave an overview of ORT Argentinas activities. The education provided by ORT Argentina is second to none, Mrs de Werthein said. Our high school was the first to teach computer science, biotechnology and mass media. And for most of our students it is the first time they have ever received any Jewish education. Our schools are so popular that every year hundreds of applicants have to be turned away. But this year, thanks to ORT America supporters, a dream has come true: we are constructing a new high school building with more classrooms, laboratories and workshops that will enable us to admit as many as 750 additional students per year. At the breakfast session, ORT America supporters were able to hear from David Tal how their commitment had helped him and 500 other students at the Kfar Hassidim Youth Village, near Haifa. David, who majors in physics and computer science, said: Luckily for me, ORT donated a new computer lab to the school this year. There was no way students could have completed the matriculation exams without these computers. In fact, we didnt have any computer majors for the last two years because the computers were so outdated. In addition, the equipment that World ORT had provided Kfar Hassidim as part of the Kadima Mada programme had enabled the re-opening of the schools advanced physics programme. Thanks to ORT, students who always had the ability now have the tools to graduate from high school at a much higher level. And immigrants, like the many Ethiopians and Bnei Menashe at my school, now have a much better chance of integrating into Israeli society, he said. Mayor Sisso told the breakfast session that the children in his seaside town, most of whom come from low-income immigrant families, were being given the chance to become Israels next generation of scientists, doctors and lawyers because of ORT. In just one year, World ORT has bought us computers, installed science labs in our high schools, provided tuition assistance scholarships, organised mobile labs, brought in teachers from the Technion to expose students to the most up-to-date science and technology equipment and courses, and enabled our students to study alongside their American peers through the ORT Lipson International Studies Programme in Atlanta, Mayor Sisso said. He also looked forward to Kiryat Yam becoming the first Science Journey City with a newly equipped science centre funded by D. Dan and Betty Kahn of Michigan and in partnership with the Rashi Foundation that is expected to benefit 20,000 students in its first year. The Head of World ORTs International Liaison Department, Sonia Gomes de Mesquita, addressed the dinner and paid tribute to ORT America as a powerful force in the American Jewish community. Everywhere I look, I see ORT in the United States emerging stronger from every challenge thanks to efforts of your extraordinary lay leadership and staff We are World ORT are proud to be associated with the ORT America family and look forward to working with you individually and collectively as you continue to contribute so much to the success of our organisation and the lives of those who depend on us, Ms Gomes de Mesquita said.