ORT leaders gathered in Israel to celebrate the country’s 75th anniversary, joining thousands of participants for this important milestone.
Dr. Conrad Giles, World ORT President; Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO; and Barbara Birch, President and CEO of ORT America, took part in meetings and activities organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) for a special General Assembly held in conjunction with Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Dan Green said: “To be in Israel for Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom HaZikaron is always an honor – and even more so this year. It has been particularly special to be back in Israel with the JFNA for the first time in five years and to be able to celebrate in person with so many friends from across the Federation system.
“It was extremely moving to attend Yom HaZikaron memorials to remember those killed while serving in Israel’s armed forces and in acts of terror. We remember Keren Tendler z”l, an ORT graduate who was the first woman to serve in an IDF helicopter squadron. She gave her life at just 27 years old when her helicopter was shot down during the second Lebanon War in 2006.”
The JFNA four-day assembly included sessions at Tel Aviv’s Expo Center and site visits to join local Yom HaZikaron memorial services at schools, community centers and non-profit organizations across Israel.
At an opening ceremony on Sunday, the GA heard from Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, who praised the work of the JFNA and the organizations it supports and works with. He called for more extensive dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora, at a time when there are distinct differences of opinion both in the country and abroad on Israeli government policies.
On Monday, the first full day of programming, delegates had the opportunity to meet Sivan Mekonen, a World ORT Kadima Mada graduate from Kiryat Yam, a coastal town in Israel’s northern periphery, who explained the impact robotics classes at a Kadima Mada-affiliated school had on her education and career.
Sivan, whose parents made Aliyah to Israel from Ethiopia in the 1990s before she was born, described how she had become one of the first girls at Levinson High School to study electronics. After developing her interest in the topic at 15, she went on to finish school with qualifications in robotics and other technology-based subjects and now studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
She told conference-goers that she wanted to give something back, and now works part-time as an instructor, leading robotics classes for young students.
ORT Graduate and STEM instructor Sivan with Mirav Shaines
Also joining was Mirav Shaines, who manages formal and informal STEAM education programs in World ORT Kadima Mada’s YOUniversity program – mainly in the Northern region. “I see my mission in the field of technology education to make every student believe in their ability to develop and succeed,” she said.
Barbara Birch participated in a series of GA sessions related to ORT’s focus areas, such as supporting vulnerable communities in Israel’s periphery, extending educational opportunities to young people, and encouraging skills development and career preparation for students in under-resourced communities.
She said: “There is so much incredible work being done in Israel to bridge the gap between the center and Israel’s marginalized populations including Arab Israelis, Charedi communities, new immigrants from Ukraine and Ethiopia and those who are in lower socio-economic communities.
“World ORT Kadima Mada is addressing those issues by providing educational opportunities to students beginning as young as kindergarten so they will have the best chance to compete and succeed in Israel’s economy.”
Dr. Giles and Mr. Green accompanied the Jewish Federation of Cleveland Mission to the Kfar Silver Youth Village, close to the Gaza border, where the group met students and saw the impact of the support of donations from the U.S., Canada and Europe.
The most moving moment of the trip came with the annual Yom HaZikaron service at Latrun, Israel’s military memorial site. Mr. Green and Ms. Birch were among 7,000 people in attendance.
On Yom HaZikaron, participants fanned out across Israel to join communities at their memorial services. The evening transition to Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations was lively with Israeli food and dancing that lasted late into the night. The GA concluded with a trip to Neot Kedumim Biblical Park for a day of Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations including music, Israeli barbecue and dancing.
Dr. Giles said: “To be here in Israel with our friends and partners from across the Federation system has been a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary. We should all be proud of the contribution World ORT has made towards the building of the modern state.
“By training and educating tens of thousands of Israelis and giving them every opportunity to succeed in their lives and careers, we have also helped Israel itself to flourish.”