In 1940, Isaac Shalom formed the Committee for the Forgotten Millions, the aim of which was to improve the cultural and educational level of the Jews of Asia and Africa. In 1945, together with Joseph Shamah and Ezra Teubal, he founded Ozar Hatorah as a non-profit organization in Jerusalem under the chairmanship of Joseph Shamah. Life in the wake of the Holocaust, when the communities of Eastern Europe were wiped out. They hoped to rectify this by establishing schools, teaching both religious and secular subjects. Ozar Hatorah began to fulfill its mission by opening 29 schools in the British Mandate of Palestine. After the establishment of the State of Israel, its government assumed full responsibility for most primary school education with Chinuch Atzmai taking care of the religious schooling. At this point, Ozar Hatorah ceased its operations in Israel and began opening schools throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The first foreign country in which Ozar Hatorah set up schools was Iran. The society established a network of 40 schools there in which 8,600 students were enrolled. An arrangement was also made with the Alliance Israélite Universelle whereby Ozar Hatorah would provide ten hours per week of Jewish education in all Alliance primary schools and would be fully responsible for the religious part of the curriculum. In addition to teaching, the society offers free lunches and medical care provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Subsequently, Ozar Hatorah made a move to Syria. In Aleppo, it helped two existing Jewish schools which were experiencing difficulties, by providing them with funding and adding two advanced classes in one of them. In Damascus, Ozar Hatorah opened up a school which soon had an enrollment of 350 students. In 1971, the Syrian government singled out the Damascus school as the one with the highest grades in the country.
The scope of Ozar Hatorah activities declined substantially alongside the size of the Jewish communities in the Arab countries following the Jewish exodus from Arab lands. In Libya, the society had been active for only a few years, as the entire Libyan Jewish community emigrated to Israel in 1950-1951. In Morocco, the enrollment of Ozar Hatorah schools reached 17,000 within a few years after the establishment of the first school, but the current number of students is only 500.
By 1970, Ozar Hatorah was running 23 schools and a summer camp in Morocco, 41 schools and a summer camp in Iran, two elementary schools in Syria, and an elementary school in Lyon, France, with a total enrollment of 13,610 students.
Because many Jews from North Africa emigrated to France, Ozar Hatorah extended its network to include France too. The society first moved in France in 1961, when it opened a school in Lyon. In 1971, Ozar Hatorah opened schools in two suburbs of Paris— Creteil and Sarcelles. Now each of these schools has an enrollment of some 1,000 students and forced to turn away applicants for lack of space. Subsequently, schools were also set up in Antony, Toulouse, and Marseille, bringing the total number of Ozar Hatorah schools in France to 20. Current plans include building a new school for 1,000 students.
The society has been financed by private individuals, local communities, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
$8 Million to Build Jewish Schools in France; Sen. Inouye Promoted Project to Aid North Africans Over State Department Objections
Dec 29, 1987; A little-known Jewish organization will receive $8 million from the United States next year to build schools in France thanks to...