World ORT is the coordinating body of separate ORT National Organisations in 58 countries. ORT's global budget exceeds US$250 million annually. ORT's work is heavily supported by governments and agencies around the world, and charitable funds raised by national organisations is supplemented on a matching funding basis at a ratio of approximately 20:1.
Israel is the area of ORT's largest operation, with 90,000 students educated or trained at ORT’s 159 schools, colleges and institutions in 2003. ORT is Israel’s leader in technological and scientific education, whose graduates comprise 25% of Israel’s hi-tech workforce.
The annexation of Poland had resulted in a sharp increase in the number of Jews in Russia and in 1794, it was decreed that the majority of them would henceforth be restricted to living and working in the Pale of Settlement. The Jews were not allowed to leave the Pale or own land outside it. They were removed from their homes and villages and once resettled, barred from all but a handful of professions. The crowded conditions and legal barriers to self-sufficiency led to deepening poverty for the Pale's four million inhabitants.
After the reforms of Tsar Alexander II, the situation improved for some Jews but those in the Pale remained trapped by economic hardship and dismal conditions. Leading members of Jewish society knew that something had to be done and in 1880, three of them - Samuel Poliakov, Horace de Gunzburg and Nikolai Bakst - petitioned Tsar Alexander II for permission to start an assistance fund which would improve the lives of the millions of Russian Jews then living in poverty. The fund would provide education and training in practical occupations like handicrafts and agricultural skills and would help people to help themselves - providing in that way, not only a livelihood, dignity as well.
Permission was granted and the appeal was sent out, signed by Poliakov and de Gunzburg as well as Abram Zak, Leon Rosenthal and Meer Fridland and was an immediate success. That success led the Russian authorities to create the Общество ремесленного и земледельческого труда среди евреев в России (Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor among the Jews in Russia). Though over the decades it has stood for many things, it is from this original name that the term "ORT" is derived.
In its first 25 years, ORT had raised educational standards and provided training to 25,000 Jews across the Russian Empire. People trained as artisans in glass-blowing, learned sewing and gardening, trained as mechanics, cabinetmakers, and furniture designers.
After World War I, ORT’s focus went global. Beginning in Europe, they opened vocational and agricultural schools, providing the tools, training - even the seeds - to encourage agricultural expansion. The organization itself was expanding as well. The headquarters moved - first to Berlin, then to France and finally to Geneva. Local groups - such as American ORT and Women's American ORT, ORT Canada and British ORT - were formed to support the growing network of programs and the ORT family grew. In 1938 however, Stalinist purges forced the closure of ORT programs in the Soviet Union. It would be almost 60 years before the orgainzation was able to return.
During World War II, ORT continued to serve Jewish communities - including those under Nazi occupation as well. In the Warsaw Ghetto, the German authorities gave ORT permission to open vocational training courses. Those courses continued throughout the war and until the liquidation of the Ghetto. They served as a template for similar ORT programs in other Jewish centers like Lodz and Kovna.
After the end of World War II, the extent of the Nazi atrocities became clear and again, ORT adapted to meet the needs of its community. Rehabilitation programs were established for the survivors, vocational training centers were set up in 78 DP (Displaced Persons) Camps and nearly 85,000 people acquired professions and the tools they would need to rebuild their lives.
When the State of Israel was established in May 1948, ORT operations were started in Jaffa and Jerusalem and though the Iron Curtain had resulted in the closure of ORT’s activities in Eastern Europe, around the rest of the world - including Western Europe, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Iran and India - ORT's activities intensified.
During the second half of the 20th century, ORT continued to provide education and relief services to Jewish communities in Israel, Africa and Asia while at the same time opening new programs to serve the Latin American Jewish communities in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. ORT students in all these places were trained to meet the demands of the modern workplace with a state-of-the-art education in technology and academics. In the early 1990s, ORT returned to the former Soviet Union and the Baltic States and now serves 27,000 students in 58 schools and educational institutions every year.
In 2000, World ORT celebrated its 120th anniversary. The educational services provided through their network continues and has now been supplemented by programs intended to deliver basic nutrition, clothing, books and school supplies, counseling and other services designed to meet the growing emotional needs of students as well.
CIS and Baltic States