It’s both humbling and elevating to look back on the staying power of our organization for more than a century. As we begin this new year, I reflect on this 143rd year since our founding and the elements that have permitted ORT to provide educational services to the Jewish world since 1880, while expanding and deepening our work.
From an initial mandate to assist Russian Jews out of poverty through vocational training, ORT has evolved into a sophisticated global network that provides high-quality, technology-rich education for thousands of young people in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Europe, Africa and other countries.
I often wonder what is the secret of our organization that has enabled it to survive and even thrive through the vicissitudes of modern history that have been punctuated by the rise and fall of governments, two world wars, the fall of the Iron Curtain, a global pandemic, worldwide terror, rising antisemitism and the war in Ukraine.
How to stay relevant?
The question we ask ourselves is how we stay relevant at a time when we are witnessing the closing of many legacy businesses and organizations. The answer to that question, I believe, is what will also sustain the organization moving forward.
ORT has consistently demonstrated the ability to pivot with the times, while never losing focus of the mission: providing educational excellence that is appropriate and responding to current needs. In doing so, ORT has emerged as one of the world’s biggest, most prestigious Jewish education networks, serving thousands of students in 40 countries and taking care of individual needs.
To ensure students’ success in this era of high-tech and digital learning, ORT is constantly striving to update and improve the educational experience while also developing teaching skills and nurturing potential leaders. Curricula are evaluated and re-evaluated, and innovative ideas are broached with the purpose of enriching students and sparking their interest in an array of advanced fields connected to modern industries that offer the promise of future employment, such as cybersecurity, robotics and artificial intelligence.
In addition to instilling technical skills, ORT prioritizes the well-being of young people at a time when many are suffering, especially in the wake of the pandemic and war in our Ukrainian communities. Our teachers are trained in the best practices to effectively relate to these situations and build student self-esteem and confidence.
Our global network facilitates the exchange of ideas, enabling educators from different countries to share their approach to these issues with their colleagues – a great advantage when interacting with students from difficult backgrounds and resource-poor communities.
Jewish values have always been embedded in all ORT programs and over the years, academic studies have been supplemented with a rich Jewish experience. As part of our curriculum in all countries, we memorialize the Holocaust annually, making certain that our students understand the significance of antisemitism and the Holocaust.
And we also share the positive side of Jewish culture, celebrations, holidays and the miracle of Israel. In these days of rising antisemitism, young people receive a historic perspective and cultural background, instilling them with Jewish pride.
Just as every Jew is responsible for other Jews, ORT and other organizations in the field are taking charge of the practical application of education for the next generation. We are fortunate enough to be in a position to change lives for the better. We need a maximum commitment to our fellow Jews, one that can be fulfilled only through support on a continuing basis.
Over the decades, each with its distinctive challenges, calamities and chaos, ORT’s educators, leaders and volunteers have worked in tandem to provide students with the vital resources that they otherwise might never have received.
The need to provide education for people to achieve their potential is clear today and we will continue with renewed energy to remain active, engaged and involved in 2023 and beyond.
The writer has served as the World ORT president since 2016 and has demonstrated his commitment and dedication to strengthening Jewish life through his many leadership roles in national organizations. Professionally, he practices pediatric ophthalmology in Detroit.