ORT House, the global headquarters of World ORT, has officially reopened with a dedication ceremony led by Britain’s Chief Rabbi.
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, fixed a mezuzah to the new front door of the office building, telling supporters and staff that the mitzvah to educate your children reflected hope for the future, and that ORT was “creating and guaranteeing a solid future for hundreds of thousands of people” at a time of great global challenges.
The organization’s legacy is so impactful, he added, that “it ranks amongst the highest of all contributions to the Jewish world that we have today”.
Lady Irene Hatter, whose late husband Sir Maurice Hatter, former World ORT President, was instrumental in the move to the original site 30 years ago; lay leaders who supported the rebuilding project, including Simon Alberga, Chair of World ORT’s Council of Representatives; and trustees of ORT UK including Chair Annette Kurer, were among the guests.
Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, said: “We think about the home as a place of safety and security, a place where people come together. The home is a place where we prepare people for life in the big, wide world outside.
“Everything we are doing here at ORT House is to support our vast network. Supporting countries who are raising money for our programs, supporting our countries operationally to ensure that there’s professional development and that we can bring students together to build Jewish identity. All of that comes from here and from our amazing staff at World ORT and ORT UK who make that happen every day.”
He recalled the history behind ORT’s homes since the organization’s foundation in Russia in 1880. Previous locations for World ORT’s head office have included Germany, France and Switzerland before the move to Britain and ORT House in the 1990s.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis told the gathering he was “beaming with enormous pride that here in the UK we have the home of this extraordinary global Jewish educational organization. ORT you are doing us proud, globally, and locally and as a Jewish community in the UK, we’re exceptionally proud of the fact your home is right here.
“You can’t have educational facilities unless there are dedicated people to fund them, to run them, to organize them. ORT succeeds in all of these respects, in guaranteeing that our young people of today will grow up to be dedicated and committed, outstanding citizens.
“Right now the focus of our attention is primarily on Israel, this tragic war, and I have been so impressed to read about your successes in Israel, through the educational programs there. The traumas that so many people in their teens are going through and the help that ORT is providing is absolutely monumental.”
Rabbi Mirvis pointed out that the Herzlia Jewish School in Cape Town, South Africa, which he attended is affiliated to the ORT network. “So I’m a graduate of ORT! Indeed some 200,000 people are benefiting today from what ORT is giving.
“When we put up the mezuzah we recognize the fact that people are coming into a Jewish home and that is what’s happening in the ORT schools and facilities around the world. People are coming into a home of Jewish values. They’re being educated in the finest principles of Jewish tradition, in order to be proud of that Judaism and also to reflect our values as outstanding citizens wherever they might be.”
The building features five floors of office space and communal meeting rooms. It is hoped that other Jewish organizations will move into ORT House to create a communal hub in the popular Camden area of north London.
Prior to Covid, World ORT’s trustees acknowledged that the space at the original ORT House was not being used to its full potential and started the process of redesigning the building. The site was split in two in mid-2021, with one part sold and the other repurposed and redesigned.
World ORT and ORT UK staff returned to the building in the second half of 2023 and have been benefitting from in-person collaboration for the past six months.