World ORT

World ORT is a non-governmental organization whose mission is the advancement of Jewish people through training and education, with past and present activities in over 100 countries.

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.

ORT's current operations are in Africa, Asia–Pacific, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Baltic States, Israel, Latin America, North America and Western Europe.

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.

Origins of World ORT

The origins of what later became World ORT can be found by examining the conditions for the Jewish population of Russia at the end of the 18th century.

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.

History of World ORT

The first programs created by ORT - and the organizational framework that continues to this day - were dictated by the demand of the market. In 1909, the industrialization in Russia created a need for artisans - so that is what ORT trained people to do. They developed courses for electricians in Vilna where electric streetcars were being introduced. They offered automotive courses in St. Petersburg when the automobile began taking root there in 1910. ORT’s training programs varied to meet the needs of Jews depending on where they lived and what the gaps in the workforce were. That flexibility and diversity meant that ORT became as established educational leader in many fields within only its first few decades of existence.

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.

Current and Ongoing Programs

In addition to providing ongoing technical and financial support for its network of schools and programs in 60 countries around the world, World ORT's has developed additional campaigns intended to respond to some areas in greatest need. These projects include (but are not limited to):

  • The Latin America Campaign: In 2006-7, ORT began a major program of new projects intended to create a sense of unity and connection throughout the region and meeting the highly individual and specific needs of each community. This campaign is active in small Jewish communities as well as larger ones. For example, the two ORT high schools in Buenos Aires are overcrowded and a new high school is being planned to accommodate the students there. At the same time, the Jewish community in Montevideo (where ORT operates a four year university), is getting much needed scholarship funds and while the community in Mexico city wil soon benefit from the new new digital media center being built.
  • Science Journey in Israel: Science Journey is a new $7.4 million program that delivers electronic, science and computer labs as well as technology education to students in more than 30 schools throughout Israel, most of which are in northern Israel, and suffered the brunt of last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and in those in areas which are prone to rocket attack from Gaza. The new computer labs provide a new opportunity for students. The program works with local authorities, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and marks a new phase in ORT’s 59-year-long commitment to bring the best practical education available to the Jewish State.
  • ORT Renzo Levi school: A new virtual laboratory was recently installed in the Renzo Levi school in Rome where students can now conduct computer-based experiments using state of the art data-loggers and sensors. These instruments allow students to put data straight into the computer, increasing accuracy, saving time and allowing for straightforward graphical representation and storage.

External links

World ORT


Latin America

Western Europe

CIS and Baltic States

North America


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