ORT school joins Mexico quake relief effort


The CIM ORT community – including kindergarten and primary children – swelled the ranks of volunteers helping Mexico recover from two devastating earthquakes.

Everyone helped the relief effort – no matter how young.

Within hours of last Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude temblor, which killed at least 320 people in and around Mexico City, hundreds of students, their families and their teachers were at the Colegio Israelita de Mexico-ORT school in the unscathed west of the capital sorting, packing and delivering aid.

“I was really moved by what I saw when I arrived at the school that evening,” said Jessica Shturman, a CIM ORT alumna who now works there. “There was a giant human chain from the parking lot, from kindergarten children up, to move the donations arriving in cars and minivans. Everyone carried what they could, even if it was just a packet of rice or beans. Everyone was working hard; it was really organised, there was no messing around. I felt like I needed to cry I was so touched.”

Some 600 people, most of them from the school community but joined by many others from the local Jewish community, worked through the night preparing emergency aid packages. Nine buses were filled with aid, the first going to the devastated town of San Gregorio, where the parents of CIM ORT technology teacher Yair Xolalpa lived. Fortunately they were uninjured.

“We sought the guidance of the National Disaster and Relief Committee, Cadena, and delivered the aid into the hands of those who needed them – to survivors and also to the search and rescue teams who were working so hard in the disaster zone they had no time to prepare their own food,” Ms Shturman said.

Among those rescue teams were Israelis who were grateful recipients of the kosher food the CIM ORT community brought for them, including fresh, hot pizza.

Amelie Esquenazi, World ORT Networking Coordinator for Latin America, said CIM ORT was a model of ethics and solidarity:

“Parents are saying how the menschlichkeit at the school is unlike anything you see at any other school – all the children were helping out in whatever way they could.”

Ms Shturman put the response down to the school’s ethos of tikkun olam and the importance placed on the students completing social service. For CIM ORT Principal Avi Meir, its roots lay deep within our traditions.

“I am proud to belong to this Jewish community which works day and night to help those in need in a dedicated and loving way,” Mr Meir said. “In the coming weeks they will need more help and as a school we must look for ways with the community to reach out and help. The extent of the tragedy is still not clear and there is already a sea of need. But, as it is written in the Talmud, ‘tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah’.”

Providing kosher food for an Israeli search and rescue team.

In the hours before the collection centre was set up at CIM ORT, members of the ORT Mexico family were already doing whatever they could to contribute, from making sandwiches for search and rescue teams to shopping for food and water and buying waterproof coats to protect volunteers and survivors from the rain which had started to fall. Others, including alumni Yair Gittler and Eitan Hirsch, spent days away from home helping stricken communities in the states neighbouring Mexico City.

“Everywhere you go you could find CIM ORT people helping, part of the wider Jewish community effort coordinated by Cadena,” Ms Shturman said.

Mr Meir noted that the earthquake had been a tragedy but one which had made everyone “more united as a society and as humanity”.

Ms Shturman agreed.

“It’s been heartwarming to see our country waking up to help each other. Everyone did whatever they could do. Those who carried heavy boxes carried heavy boxes; those who could afford to buy supplies bought supplies. There was a huge response.”