This article first appeared in the Times of Israel blog and the Jewish News print edition in the UK. You can read it on their site here. It is based on Dan Green’s address at our 2020 General Assembly, which you can read or watch here.
A crisis, even one as substantial as the coronavirus pandemic, can also be an opportunity. In Hebrew, the term for a birthing stool is an even mashber – a crisis stone. The rabbis linked the danger of birth to the opportunities created by new life.
This is the approach we have tried to take over the past three months at ORT – the global education network driven by Jewish values. We reach 300,000 people a year in more than 30 countries, so the impact of Covid-19 on our global operations has been huge. All our schools, universities and institutions closed their doors in March, with classes and courses moving online with remote learning initiatives practically overnight.
But as the world begins to recover and reset itself, it will be big charities with a large reach that have the capacity to enforce the changes that are required. This is not a moment for timidity of vision, strategy or programme.
We are not alone among Jewish organisations in rethinking our approach. The virus is likely to accelerate momentum that has been building for some time, owing to the generational transition of wealth and the social impact focus of a new generation of donors.
We must combine creativity with bravery and hard work to reach new donors and alternative sources of funding while the philanthropic world is in a state of flux.
Our fundraising partners around the globe are all redefining how to raise money as events are cancelled, how to engage with donors online and how to effectively communicate the new needs of our organisation.
For ORT, this has included supporting distance learning measures to ensure no student goes without a computer or laptop to study at home, and supporting families struggling to pay school tuition fees after being impacted economically by the virus.
So many charities in the Jewish community have been severely tested in so many ways. I am so proud of how our network has come together, adapted into new realities and ensured no student is left behind.
Our students have shown innovation and ingenuity, alongside compassion and selflessness, in countless examples of helping their peers and the wider world.
As our former and much-missed late World ORT president, Sir Maurice Hatter, used to say, we are helping to prepare mensches.
Our pride in these actions taken during Covid-19 epitomises the spirit of ORT and shows the essence of our organisation: a clear example of resilience and Jewish continuity formed over 140 years of poverty, pogroms and persecution.
The coronavirus is a new challenge, for us all, but we have the fortitude – built on our experience, our expertise and our global support – to succeed and also to light the way, and lead the way, for other Jewish charities.
Today, after health, education is the most fundamental requirement to free ourselves of the blights of poverty, ignorance and hate. This is why ORT will always be relevant.
As we celebrate 140 years since our foundation in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1880, it is worth considering the gematriaof that number. The number 100 corresponds to the Hebrew letter kuf, and the number 40 to the Hebrew letter mem. Together those two letters make the word kum – meaning ‘to arise, to get up, to awaken’.
On ORT’s 140th anniversary, along with other Jewish organisations around the world, we should be striving to pick ourselves up to face this challenge, to rise up and to seize the day with an exciting and dynamic future ahead for us all.