As the curtain falls on 2020, a year of unparalleled uncertainty and upheaval for so many around the world, it also signals the conclusion of ORT’s 140th anniversary.
For the past 12 months we have been marking ORT’s foundation in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1880.
Teachers, students and staff around our global network had anticipated individual celebratory events in dozens of schools, an awards ceremony for outstanding students at ORT’s quadrennial General Assembly in Jerusalem in May, and many other highlights to acknowledge the countless lives transformed by an ORT education.
As those plans and preparations evolved throughout 2019 it was impossible to imagine that a global pandemic would derail so many of our physical activities.
But what Covid-19 could not do was disrupt the spirit of ORT and our hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.
“For 140 years our network has developed the skills to adapt to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in,” said Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, “and rarely has that flexibility been on show as clearly as in 2020.”
Even as schools and colleges closed their doors in response to the disease in March, our students continued their preparations for the annual ORT Day celebration (Pictured above: ORT students celebrate in Russia). With the help of their teachers they quickly switched to online activities, remotely working in teams to organize postcard exchanges and to join a global quiz.
It provided a perfect student-led example of what could be done in spite of the circumstances, and laid the foundations for May’s first-ever virtual General Assembly.
More than 300 people from dozens of countries including the United States, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, South Africa and across Europe joined the session, which saw the election of the organization’s lay leadership for the next four years.
Dr Conrad Giles, World ORT President, told the online gathering: “This has been a remarkable period in the history of our organization because of the pandemic. But we have positioned ourselves to go forward with confidence and to deliver a quality educational product.”
The event, rather than dwell on what might have been had we met in person in Jerusalem, served as an inspirational boost for the remainder of the year thanks to the ability to include even more participants virtually than might have been possible in person.
The GA also offered the first viewing of the trailer of the film produced as part of the anniversary celebration.
‘The ORT Story’ would get its premiere in September, as participants around the world joined together to watch a screening of the 40-minute documentary which follows the stories of five current and former ORT students from schools and programs.
As the 140 activities continued, acknowledgement of ORT’s achievements was received by national directors and leaders in many countries.
Among those paying tribute was Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, who wrote to Robert Singer, Chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, to convey his recognition and support of our work.
“Throughout its existence, your organization has comprehensively contributed to the preserving of the unique traditions of the Jewish people – putting a lot of effort into unleashing the potential of talented, vibrant and professional growth-oriented young people,” wrote Mr Lavrov.
“It is gratifying that today you are implementing many educational projects in Russia. Such efforts, which promote strengthening of mutual understanding, inter-ethnic peace and concord, maintaining diversity in culture and civilization, deserve respect and support.”
For Dan Green, despite the challenges thrown at the organization this year, ORT ends 2020 stronger than it began.
He said: “We are buoyed by the countless examples over the past months of the adaptability of our teachers, students and professional staff.
“There has been so much to enjoy thanks to the 140th anniversary. We were inspired by the stories of our alumni on show in The ORT Story film; our hearts were lifted by the volunteers who gave their time to support our students remotely during lockdown; and our operations continued thanks to the generosity of our donors worldwide.
“This is the ORT spirit in action – it has been on display since 1880, in the ghettoes of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, in the foundation of the State of Israel, and once again now as the world rallies to defeat an invisible virus that has taken so many lives and threatened billions more.
“We will carry this positivity into 2021, with our new strategic vision and enhanced collaboration among our national organizations, and I am confident that ORT’s next 140 years will continue to reflect our position at the heart of education worldwide.”