World ORT reaches out to New Yorks Russian Jews


06 May 2009 World ORT reaches out to New Yorks Russian Jews In collaboration with Project Kesher, one of the fastest growing womens organisations in the Former Soviet Union, World ORT and ORT America staged a presentation in Manhattan yesterday (Tuesday) featuring the couture hats and accessories of Russian-French designer Louda. In collaboration with Project Kesher, one of the fastest growing human rights organisations in the Former Soviet Union, World ORT staged a fashion show in the trendy Manhattan district of Chelsea Market yesterday (Tuesday) featuring the couture hats and accessories of Russian-French designer Louda. This is the first time that we have done something specifically for the Russian-Jewish community in New York, said World ORTs Deputy North American Representative, Kiev-born Valerie Khaytina (pictured, third from left with Louda, World ORT lay leader for the Russian-speaking community Suzanne Smolyar, Ilona Blank, Project Kesher Board Chair Sheila Lambert, and Iva Kaufman, President of Iva Kaufman Associates). In terms of outreach it was an outstanding success. Many of those attending knew nothing about ORTs activities. They learned about ORT, they had fun and many of them came to us at the end of the evening wanting to know about upcoming events. As immigrants, the first wave of Russian Jews was in need of assistance. Now the community is established and the younger generation, which was well represented at this event, is in a position to give assistance. There is philanthropic potential here. In particular, they learned about ORT-KesherNet, a joint project of World ORT and Project Kesher providing computer training and job skills to women especially those in vulnerable circumstances such as single mothers, the unemployed and refugees at 15 computer centres in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. A new centre is due to open in Tbilisi, Georgia this year. Keynote speaker at the event was Ilona Blank, who received training at the ORT-KesherNet Computer Centre in her hometown of Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, before serving as administrator of the ORT-KesherNet Social Enterprise Womens Programme there. She now works for an organisation in New York helping to remove barriers to employment and independent living for disadvantaged and disabled people where she uses all the knowledge and leadership skills I received from the ORT-KesherNet programme. To date, more than 14,000 people have graduated from the ORT-KesherNet programme with close to 80 per cent of them improving their economic situation and at a cost of less than $100 per student. In addition, most graduates become more engaged in improving their communities through volunteerism or philanthropy. There are a lot of computer centres in the Former Soviet Union, Ms Blank said. There are Torah classes, the teaching of tradition and Jewish education. However, ORT-KesherNet is a unique combination of Jewish tradition and the most up to date computer knowledge. We have English classes, legal assistance, Jewish history, a womens group. Weve created something alive, something new, something that leads to independence and self-sufficiency. ORT-KesherNet had changed her life, she said, and went on to describe how it had changed the lives of other women in Khmelnitsky. Galina Simonova took some computer courses at the Centre and with the assistance of her teacher, the Centres staff, and the support of other women, she applied her new skills to her work teaching children. The result was her being awarded Teacher of the Year by the City Educational Council. Another beneficiary was Yelina Sokalo, a young mother who needed to leave a physically abusive husband. She had a young son, no family in the city, had only a high school education, and no work, Ms Blank said. She did not think we would be able to help her; she thought that without her husband she was nothing. But within a few months she graduated from our Centre and we were able to get her an entry level job in a bank. She was promoted and, now able to support herself, could rent a room and take herself and her child out of the abusive environment. Before, she was always crying and depressed, not knowing how she would live tomorrow. Now she is a beautiful woman, smiling and planning for the future. She told me, I am not nothing; I am a human being, I am someone. And I can do something for myself and for my child. Karyn Gershon, the Executive Director of Project Kesher, which has 165 Jewish womens groups and more than 90 multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalitions of women, said World ORT had been a strong partner in the establishment of the ORT-KesherNet Job Training Centres. Both organisations are aligned in a mutual commitment to Jewish renewal in the countries of the Former Soviet Union and to strengthening the economic and social conditions of the Jewish community and that of wider society. With limited resources, the job training centres have literally transformed individuals and entire communities, Ms Gershon said. And Ms Khaytina paid tribute to Project Kesher for the excellent partnership it had provided in organising this weeks event in Manhattan. In these economic times such collaboration is vital when engaging new communities, she said. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer congratulated the organisers on the success of the event. We hope that this initiative will lead to the establishment of new chapters of supporters for ORT America, which is World ORTs main fundraiser in the USA, Mr Singer said.