ORT in Rome has taken another step forward with the first ever gathering of alumni in the courtyard of the city’s ORT Renzo Levi High School.
More than 300 former students drawn from across the school’s 60 years of operations enjoyed an evening which created camaraderie based on a shared past but focused on the future.
Since moving to its new campus in 2004, Rome’s only Jewish school, which takes students from elementary right through to high school, has gone from strength to strength and hopes are high that this first step in developing alumni’s interest in their alma mater will help to fuel further growth. The event raised €15,000, “but raising money was not our main goal,”? said ORT Italy Vice Chair and member of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, Michele Di Veroli.
“We wanted to create a sense of belonging in the hope of increasing the base of lay leaders for ORT Italy as well as raise money for Smart Classes at the School. We are very encouraged by both the number of people who came and the feedback we have had from them. Their reactions point towards increasing support for ORT operations in Italy and internationally from former students.”
Pictures and old videos from local ORT archives or gathered through Facebook from former pupils were shown. And a video which showed World ORT’s and ORT Italy’s current activities stressed the contribution of long-time ORT America lay leader and current member of World ORT’s Board of Representatives, Grace Mendelson.
In recent years, Mrs Mendelson has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in ORT Renzo Levi, money which, combined with the skill and dedication of local staff and lay leaders, has been instrumental in increasing enrolment by 65 per cent overall (nearly 300 per cent in the high school alone) by improving facilities and raising educational standards.
Among those facilities are new laboratories which have enhanced the level of science and technology education. Funding has also contributed to the building of a removable roof over the school courtyard, allowing it to be used for sports, recreation and large gatherings such as the alumni reunion.
At the reunion, former pupils who had not previously received their school files were presented with the folders full of their work, reports, marks and certifications by retired school secretary Caterina Ambrosini.
“You could see people in their 40s or 50s gather together to check long forgotten school marks like teenagers,” Mr Di Veroli said.
Among them was Rafi Rubin, who graduated in 1997 and is now the Shaliach for the Bene Akiva youth group in Rome.
“It has been such an incredibly good evening,”? Mr Rubin said. “Being able to once again savour the legendary report card has been wonderful.”?
And paediatric surgeon Antonella Nahom, who graduated in 1981, added: “My heart was beating quickly as I opened the file with my report card inside. But it was a lovely surprise to find out that my marks were better than I remembered.”
World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer congratulated ORT Italy on the landmark event.
“We have enjoyed a vigorous and productive partnership in recent years thanks to the leadership of Rome’s Jewish community and that of ORT Italy. We have been delighted to help them realize their vision of progress and higher standards and wish them every success in nurturing the beneficiaries of our partnership to create an even stronger local support base,”? Mr Singer said.
The partnership between World ORT and Milan has also been strengthening in recent years, the signing of an agreement between the organization and the city’s Jewish Community School having created a framework for expanding their academic, technical and administrative cooperation.
The result has been investment not only in the latest technological tools for the Milan school but the participation of its teachers in international training seminars to develop their skills in their effective use.
Not least among these opportunities for professional development is the Terry and Jean de Gunzburg Jewish Education Seminar, which has been held in Rome three times. The Seminar brings international expertise to Diaspora communities to build teachers’ practical knowledge of how modern technology can enhance Jewish Studies and Hebrew language lessons. These subjects are particularly important for the transmission of Jewish culture in smaller communities such as Italy.
ORT has had a significant presence in Italy since World War II. After the war, ORT trained Holocaust survivors in the Displaced Persons camps. From 1950, activities focused on the training of people in Italy’s resident Jewish communities. However, ORT programmes also benefited thousands of Soviet refugees during the 1970s and 1980s.