Top Federation philanthropists visit ORT’s school in Rome


Some of American Jewry’s most generous philanthropists were in Rome this week where they visited the city’s only Jewish school, ORT Renzo Levi. The visit by the Jewish Federations of North America’s Prime Minister’s Mission coincided with the 69th anniversary of the rounding up of more than 1,000 Jews in the city and their deportation to death camps.

The congruence was not lost on ORT Rome President Maurizio Tagliacozzo and his wife, Fiammetta Segrè, when they hosted the mission for dinner at their home the day before.

“During the war the apartment was owned by Gian Galeazzo Ciano, Mussonlini’s son-in-law and foreign minister,”? said Mrs Segrè. “It was a place to which Nazis and Fascists, people committed to excluding Jews from society, would have been invited. But as my husband said during the dinner, we are here now and they are no more; we were very proud to have such distinguished Jewish guests.”?

There have also been remarkable changes at ORT Renzo Levi, which both Mr Tagliacozzo and his wife attended before it moved to its current site in the city’s historic Ghetto in 2003, 30 years after it was founded.

At its new site the school has gone from strength to strength, its improved facilities and rising educational standards resulting in high school enrolment trebling. World ORT and its supporters, notably ORT America stalwart Grace Mendelson, have contributed to that evolution.

This is more important than ever as Italy works to emerge from a severe economic crisis. But, said ORT Italy President Roberto Jarach, the strains put on families and fundraising meant that tough choices were having to be made between implementing new educational programmes and granting financial support to families who were unable to meet tuition costs.

“We have been able to ensure good cooperation between the ORT schools in Rome and Milan which has helped to keep them going and having these schools is essential for the future of our communities,”? said Mr Jarach, who is also Vice Chairman of the Union of Jewish Communities of Italy. “Our guests were sensitive to the fact that the Italian community is vulnerable to intermarriage so if we don’t keep the schools alive there won’t be a future.”?

His predecessor as ORT Italy president, Professor Giacomo Saban, said the economic situation was the biggest challenge facing the school.

“The school is of fundamental importance to the community and current discussions to expand into another site are a sign of its success,”? Professor Saban said. “But running costs are high: every three or five years requires investment in new products which are necessary if a school is to keep up with the times. However, the majority of Jews in Rome are not in an excellent financial position and a lot of assistance is needed for students whose families are unable to afford the full tuition. So it is important for us to have international philanthropists come to see what we are doing.”?

ORT America’s Mrs Mendelson has personally invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the school, in recent years subsidising tuition for hundreds of students, but also supporting World ORT’s provision of a new science laboratory and the fitting out of a second computer laboratory in 2006. Until then, science teaching at the school had been academic with little in the way of hands-on experimentation. Now, students use portable instruments to put data from the experiments straight into the computer, increasing accuracy, saving time and allowing for straightforward graphical representation and storage.

In addition to the equipment, World ORT has provided teachers with intensive training on computer assisted teaching methods in science and technology, a workshop using the new data logging system, the use of web open source software for the dynamic teaching of science and maths, and the presentation of science experiments without the use of computers. And Interactive Whiteboards have been introduced in most classes and are used across the curriculum.

Teachers have also been accessing World ORT training programmes such as the Terry and Jean de Gunzburg Jewish Education Seminar, which was held three times in Rome, and the annual Hatter Technology Seminar in London.

“We’ve just started a robotics programme which was initiated by one of my colleagues inspired by what he’d learned at a Hatter Seminar,”? said maths teacher Viola Arduini.

“The changes we have made with World ORT’s support have made a big difference because we know that people live and learn by observing and doing experiments. So the new equipment gives us the opportunity to create group activities in which students are proactive, not just passive listeners.”?

The changes at ORT Renzo Levi mean that students can graduate with the qualifications and skills necessary for a wide array of careers. As more young people decide against traditional options of entering the family business and opt instead for real estate, law and other professions, entering university is more important than ever “モ and now some 90 per cent of students gain the scores necessary to pursue tertiary studies in Italy and abroad.

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 1960s and 1970s.