ORT makes Toulouse a winner


10 June 2009 ORT makes Toulouse a winner World ORT and ORT America are to work more closely to maximise fundraising in the USA, World ORTs Board of Trustees decided at their meeting in Paris this week before making an inspiring visit to the refurbished ORT Toulouse campus. How to weather the recession loomed large in the Trustees wide-ranging discussions, the first to be held in the French capital since the election of Dr Lucien Kalfon as President of ORT France. The issues we discussed were critical in the present crisis, said Board of Trustees Chair Mauricio Merikanskas. We were able to find a way to maintain new as well as on-going commitments around the world by agreeing a new framework in our primary fundraising country. Working very closely together, ORT America and World ORT will reach out to lapsed donors, revive chapters and increase activities in Next Generation groups. It was a very good meeting. Following the meeting, the Trustees including ORT Americas President Doreen Hermelin travelled south to see the impressive new building at ORT Toulouses high school in Colomiers. There they were feted together with local dignitaries including the Mayor of Colomiers, Bernard Sicard, and the local parliamentary representative, Francoise Imbert, who helped to secure 2 million of public money for the schools redevelopment. Among the guests was Judith Grynfogel, whose father-in-law Boaz was instrumental in setting up the ORT school. When the Jews came to France from the North African colonies they needed training and schooling, Mrs Grynfogel said. My father-in-law was then active in the Jewish community and in ORT so in 1962 he invited ORT to come to Toulouse to establish the necessary programme. And he lent a house to ORT for that purpose. Together with her late husband, Maurice, and her late brother-in-law Joseph Sanger, Mrs Grynfogel spent decades committing her energy and vision to realising the ORT mission in Toulouse. And in a case of le patron mange ici both her children benefited from ORT training and education. I have retired but still my heart belongs to ORT, she said. It is wonderful to see the school, its students and teachers they are a fantastic contribution to Jewish life. I remember the house where classes were first held and then we had temporary buildings for 40 years. Now we have a beautiful campus and we are looking forward to have a gymnasium one day. Brooklyn-born Mrs Grynfogel was stirred by the fact that today most of the schools graduates went on to college or engineering school while mature students entered the workforce rapidly but takes no credit for its success. I feel proud at what other people have done and to have been associated with them and to know that the school bears the name of my husband, she said. Inaugurated a year ago, the new 3,000-square-metre building replaces the prefabricated classrooms which had been used for 45 years instead of the originally intended 15 years. The two-storey building impressively combines form and function with four ICT laboratories, state-of-the-art physics and chemistry laboratories and ordinary classrooms. Touring this beautiful campus is a reminder of what persistence, patience and good planning can achieve, said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer. The new facilities have enabled the school to start introducing a range of post-high school BTS diploma courses. The first of these two-year vocational programmes, in banking, is already operational; the Opticians Technical Diploma is due to be introduced in September, and a BTS diploma in international marketing is due to start in 2012. All this, combined with a new metro line which links Colomiers with central Toulouse (where most of the areas 20,000 Jews live), has seen enrolment increase by approximately four per cent. We expect enrolment to continue increasing from the present 450, said Principal Rene Bendavid. We have a lot of competition from the public school in Colomiers, which is free, but we have more and more to offer our students. Although Frances public schools have a good reputation, ORT Toulouses high school has an impressive track record by any standards. Their matriculation pass rates are remarkable, said World ORT Secretary Martin Behr after touring the school. No fewer than 90 per cent pass and the rate is 100 per cent for accountancy. The school is another demonstration of the power of the ORT message: providing education which is relevant to the times for young Jews wherever they may be. And in this case, its not just Jewish students but also non-Jewish students. Its confirmation of the value of ORTs role in helping young people find a way to personal development and the ability to make their own way in life. The school has kosher boarding facilities and a synagogue which holds two prayer services each day but the proportion of Jewish students is currently at about 50 per cent. The school is looking forward to increasing the number of Jewish students but the mix is also seen as a strength. At a time when the situation is not always very good for Jews in France were very proud of the spirit of this school, said the President of the Jewish Community of Toulouse, Arie Bensemhoun. The non-Jewish students are living according to a Jewish calendar and learning with Jews, most of their teachers are Jewish. They know about Jewish culture and identity. Its the best way to counter antisemitism. The President of the ORT Toulouse Committee, Thierry Gauthier, said he was very happy to host the World ORT mission. Its very difficult to understand the complexity of ORT at a world level and the fact that ORT France is self-financing can increase our sense of isolation, so this has been a very interesting experience for us to learn about ORT programmes in other countries, Mr Gauthier said. Perhaps this visit could result in our receiving some help to build a gymnasium on campus. After the Toulouse visit, Mr Singer visited the ORT school in Marseilles and was impressed by the institution which has played an important role in the 80,000-strong communitys life since its first class in 1947 for divers, most of whom went on to make aliyah and become a core group in the newly established Israeli navy. The work that is being done by the President of ORT France, Lucien Kalfon, the National Director, Marc Timsit, and the 500 professionals working for the organisation is truly excellent and all of us in the worldwide ORT family are proud of them and salute their achievements, Mr Singer said.