World ORT prominent in academics discussion of Jewish relief organisation


09 May 2008 World ORT prominent in academics discussion of Jewish relief organisation World ORTs contribution to the development of the ideology of Jewish relief projects featured prominently in an international conference held at New York University. Professors came from Israel, the UK, Germany, Canada, the USA and Russia for the conference, Jewish Relief Organisations in pre-World War II Europe: A Comparative Perspective. Gennady Estraikh, Rauch Professor of Yiddish Studies at NYU, presented a paper on Helping Jewish Artisans in Imperial Russia. And Alexander Ivanov, Research Fellow at the Interdepartmental Centre for Jewish Studies of the European University at St Petersburg, discussed World ORTs participation in the development of Birobidzhan and the handling of German-Jewish refugees before the war. The period examined in this conference was a time when the ideologies of relief projects were formed, Professor Estraikh said. The main idea was that of self-help rather than alms-giving. There was a campaign to make the Jewish population productive, to provide machinery and skills for independence. International cooperation in relief operations became very important. It was also at this time that various organisations found their niche in the general landscape of relief operations. He said that there was widespread scepticism about the practicality of Zionism, he added. What united them in the Diaspora were the various attempts to pursue economic nationalism, especially in Poland. It was utopian. ORT played a leading role in education. The conference stemmed, he said, from his involvement in the preparation of a new book on ORTs history which is due to be published this year. It turned out that some colleagues were interested in various aspects of the history of Jewish relief organisations and we decided it would be useful to discuss some general issues, Professor Estraikh said. The resulting conference has played a role in attempting to create a sub-field of study in Jewish NGOs. In creating a new space in scholarship the conference has paved the way for coordinating academics who, it turned out, have been involved in complementary research. It is hoped to publish a special edition of East European Jewish Affairs featuring papers presented at this years conference and to stage a follow-up conference next year focusing on Berlin as the cradle of relief organisations. Next year I will be teaching a class on the topic of this years conference as part of a Masters programme training people for managerial roles in Jewish NGOs, Professor Estraikh said. The conference, which was held at the Bronfman Centre at NYU, was co-sponsored by the NYUs Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, the American Joint Distribution Committee, World ORT and the Leonid Nevzlin Research Centre for Russian and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.