More than $2.7 million has been pledged to World ORT’s educational work by supporters and staff at the gala dinner celebrating the organisation’s 130th anniversary.
This unprecedented evening of fundraising provides a kick-start to QUEST, (Quality and Universal Education in Science and Technology), World ORT’s new, four-year campaign for the CIS and Baltic States which was launched this week.
“A good deal of the money is targeted for the Former Soviet Union, amounting to at least a quarter of the campaign’s target,”? said World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg. “I was moved by the generosity of everyone there. People were in very good spirits and encouraged by all the support we have been getting. In spite of the difficult financial situation throughout the world ORT has never been better so we have reason to rejoice.”? Dr de Gunzburg and his predecessor, Sir Maurice Hatter, led the donations at Tuesday evening’s event which attracted some 200 people from more than 30 countries to the Great Choral Synagogue in St Petersburg, the city of ORT’s birth. But significant pledges were also made by members of the Board of Representatives, which was holding its annual meeting in St Petersburg, and by some relatives of Dr de Gunzburg who were visiting the city to learn about their family’s connection to the founding and development of ORT.
QUEST continues World ORT’s engagement with the Jewish communities of the CIS and Baltic States which had been developed through the Regeneration 2000 and Regeneration 2004 campaign. But the need is greater than ever: Russia’s state education system has improved greatly in recent years so ORT’s schools have to raise their already high standards in order to attract Jewish students and so continue to provide the communal hubs which post-Soviet Jewry needs.
At the same time, the future of ORT’s 18 schools in the region hangs in the balance because of a dramatic cut in the level of funding for Jewish education through the Heftsiba system, which traditionally has channelled funds from Israeli government departments, the Jewish Agency for Israel and others.
Funding cuts were on the agenda of the Board of Representatives, which is chaired by Dr de Gunzburg, namely the decision by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to reduce the amount of its overseas core aid funds for ORT programmes.
The Board released a statement expressing World ORT’s concern for the drop in core funding and the “disappointing process which led to this decision”?.
“World ORT calls for the immediate convening of a meeting between the leadership of the two organisations to openly discuss the future allocation to World ORT and the ongoing and future relationship between World ORT and the American Jewish Federations,”? the Board stated.
Dr de Gunzburg said World ORT’s voice had not been heard in the run-up to the JFNA’s decision.
“If there is to be a re-evaluation of overseas funding arrangements the let’s do it fairly and in a dialogue,”? he said. “We’ve been partners with the JFNA for over 60 years and we’re happy to continue to be partners. We’re saying, “ﾘWe treat you as a partner so please treat us as a partner.'”?
World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer added: “World ORT is not just a partner for the Federations we are a valuable partner which can help them to raise more funds. Most, if not all, of our supporters in the United States also contribute to their local Federation. We’re looking forward to an open and productive, face-to-face dialogue between the senior leadership of the Federations and of World ORT.”?
However, the focus of the three-day Board meeting, which included a tour of the city’s prestigious ORT de Gunzburg High School, was on World ORT’s achievements over 130 years of operations, during which time it had “remained faithful to its mission to provide Jewish communities, wherever they are, with the skills and knowledge necessary to cope with the complexity and uncertainties of their environment and to foster economic self-sufficiency, mobility and Jewish identity”?.
The Board resolved to “continue to deliver world-class education and training, making full use of state-of-the-art technology to ensure that its programmes remain up-to-date and relevant to the needs of its beneficiaries”?.
The Board also reaffirmed World ORT’s commitment to the State of Israel and pledged to continue to support its growth and development by promoting and delivering excellence in education for all sectors of its society through its Kadima Mada initiative.
And it expressed its gratitude for the letters received congratulating World ORT on its anniversary.
Among the letters was one written by the aid to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Dr Alexander Dvorkovich.
“ORT students transcend national borders and languages to create a global community of future engineers, scientists and managers,”? Dr Dvorkovich wrote. “ORT’s return to Russia and to other countries of eastern and central Europe is one of the steps on the complicated but efficient route for our integration into the global economy.”?
The former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, wrote: “In today’s world education plays a key role by uniting nations, bringing up new generations in the spirit of humanity and intercultural understanding. World ORT’s activities in this field inspire respect and deserve high praise.”?
Mr Gorbachev continued: “In carrying out projects in Russia and former Soviet countries you render valuable assistance to people learning new professions. In keeping with tradition you lay the groundwork for a better future. It raises hope in the huge potential of modern education to lead society towards humanity and justice.”?
The Governor of St Petersburg, Valentina Matveenko, wrote: “We are proud that World ORT has not forgotten its birthplace, St Petersburg. Thanks to World ORT’s support and its president, Dr de Gunzburg, three St Petersburg schools receive financial and pedagogical support and thanks to this support teachers can improve their skills and pupils participate in a variety of educational projects.”?
And the Secretary of the Russian Academy of Science, Academician Velechov, lauded World ORT for establishing “schools in Russia of which any country would be proud”?.
During the Board of Representatives meeting tribute was paid to World ORT Deputy President Eugene Ribakoff, who died recently.
“During his all too short tenure of office he proved to be a source of inspiration and guidance, bringing to the organisation the benefit of his wisdom and experience,”? the Board stated.