ORT America mission to Cuba


05 December 2008 ORT America mission to Cuba A group of 15 leading members of ORT America has been inspired by seeing the contribution made by ORT Cuba with their support to the renaissance of the islands Jewish community. Accompanied by two ORT America staffers, the ORT supporters from Chicago, New York and Miami were moved by the gratitude shown by the Caribbean countrys small Jewish community for the international assistance which is helping them to acquire ICT, language and business skills that they might otherwise never have had access to. Our trip to Cuba was special, said mission co-chair Steve Schlosser, a member of the ORT America board and one of five members of World ORTs elite donors group, The 1880 Society, on the trip. It was special because were Jews. It was special because it showed us that initiative, ambition, sacrifice, optimism and hope exist in Cuba. It was special because were ORTists and we share the common goal of promoting educational opportunity around the world as our contribution to the Jewish obligation in life of tikun olam. ORT America had been waiting two years for a special humanitarian visa. Now that the visa, which lasts one year, had been granted and the mission had been such a success, ORT America was planning a second tour early next year, said ORT America National Executive Chair Shelley Fagel (pictured centre with, from left, Lois Hollander, Steve Schlosser, Howard Kirschbaum and Linda Kirschbaum). Going there made us appreciate what we can do for people, Ms Fagel said. It was inspiring for me to see how people are working to improve themselves there. Mission members spent an afternoon at the Patronato Jewish community centre, in which the Ana and Ben Dizik ORT Technology Centre is based. There they joined ORT English classes where they were able to speak to students. And they learned about ORT Cubas strides in serving the community since its re-establishment in 2000. In addition to the 271 subjects offered by its educational programmes, ORT Cuba has facilitated the participation of Jewish youth on Taglit-Birthright tours of Israel, connected Cubas six Jewish population centres with an intranet system that is used for distance learning, and set up the Jewish communitys first official website. The funds, expertise and equipment provided by the international ORT family had allowed all this, said ORT Cuba National Director William Miller. Their visit was very important for us, Mr Miller said. We have been waiting four years to be able to show our American friends what we have been doing with their help. Its important to receive their help but its more important to show them how were using their money. Such face to face meetings put everything on a human level something you cant do by writing reports. Mr Miller told the ORT America mission how the intranet system set up by ORT Cuba was being used to co-ordinate a communal food aid programme to help Jews left struggling by the three hurricanes which hit the island this year. The food aid appeal is not a specifically ORT initiative but ORTs involvement is indicative of the interdependence of all the organisations in a community of only 1,500 people. The ORT America mission also took in cultural tours of Havana and younger participants, members of ORT Americas Next Generation, were particularly impressed by the many teenagers they found at Shabbat synagogue services as well as the up-beat nightlife that they were introduced to.