ORT leaders from around the world have completed a fascinating program of events as part of the 2019 Board of Representatives meeting in London.
Sessions ranged from expert presentations on the importance of student mental health and wellbeing to demonstrations from ORT students and alumni, and procedural discussions about the organization’s work.
A gala dinner in honour of Sir Maurice Hatter, former World ORT president, and his wife Lady Irene, was the highlight of the three-day event.
Delegates attended from countries including Chile, Estonia, South Africa and Uruguay.
Keynote speaker René Carayol gave a masterful insight into the new age of leadership and the challenges facing boardrooms today.
A renowned executive coach and speaker, Mr Carayol said it was essential for directors to consider themselves as “stewards of the culture” of an organization, and implored leaders to focus on culture more than strategy while making sure “every voice must be heard”.
“Leadership is about collaboration, people, relationships… and why do we do what we do?” he said.
On the first day of the event on Sunday, delegates heard an update from Avi Ganon, World ORT Director General and CEO, who informed them about developments across the global network.
The Robert Singer Award for Outstanding Senior ORT Professionals was presented to Vladimir Dribinskiy, World ORT’s Chief Program Officer, and Emmanuel Kalles, national executive director of ORT Canada.
Vladimir has been working for ORT for more than 25 years, starting as Director of ORT Saint Petersburg, and becoming central to ORT’s return to the former Soviet Union. He now oversees the entire network’s educational programs and projects.
Avi Ganon said Vladimir had always offered “wise advice and thoughtful solutions” and praised his dedication to the organization.
Emmanuel is preparing to retire after a quarter of a century with ORT, supporting schools in Russia, Israel, Cuba, and elsewhere. He has backed engineering and arts programs, raised funds, helped set up centers of excellence and raised ORT’s profile across Canada.
Avi Ganon said ORT would feel the loss of his work throughout the network and thanked Manny for his passionate leadership and enthusiasm.
“I speak for thousands of students when I say to you Manny, ‘thank you for everything’.”
Conrad Wolfram, one of the world’s leaders in transforming maths computations, debated with Dr Jorge Grunberg, rector of ORT Uruguay University, and Professor Alexei Semenov, co-chair of the World ORT Academic Advisory Council, how we can rethink education for the artificial intelligence age.
With a spellbinding display of his own computer skills, Mr Wolfram considered how ubiquitous computation was affecting the world, as Dr Grunberg pointed out that people are “scared they will be replaced by robots”.
In a new initiative, the first ORT Talk took place. Intended as a series of short presentations by local experts, each speaking on an area of educational interest which highlights the focuses and beliefs across the ORT network, the inaugural talk was by Alastair Falk, one of Britain’s leading education experts.
The founding headteacher of King Solomon High School in Essex, Mr Falk told delegates about his global experiences of Jewish schools, pedagogy techniques, and issues relating to social mobility and changes in education.
In a fast-paced, lively talk, he advocated one of ORT’s key approaches to education – the importance of teaching skills for life in order to prepare students for life after school.
In a series of student showcases, delegates were given demonstrations of the ways in which ORT encourages young people to unleash their potential.
Fashion design students from the ORT school in Strasbourg, France, explained how their designs had reached Paris Fashion Week, while robotics enthusiasts from the award-winning Team 2096 Roboactive engineering team in Dimona, Israel, explained how their Kadima Mada robotics program had helped them to victory in the World Championships in Detroit, United States, last week.
Round-table discussions with ORT alumni from Israel, Britain and the former Soviet Union provided an opportunity to hear about the impact an ORT education can have.
Michael Freeman, Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London, captivated the ORT representatives with his lecture on the rise of antisemitism and ways to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum delved into the Talmud to consider how Jewish education can respond to the scientific and technological advancements of the 21st century. The pace of change meant, he said, that teachers were now “digital immigrants, planning for a world we don’t understand”.
But he also warned that “live interaction with a human being cannot be replaced solely with technology” and also highlighted the need to continue learning new skills to use the technology being created.
Another ORT Talk featured Joanne Greenaway, chief executive of the London School of Jewish Studies, discussing the role of women in Jewish education.
“Teachers are the future,” she told the audience as she advocated having more female role models in the education system. “It matters who our students look up to and it matters that they can see themselves represented in the people they look up to.”
By involving women at the higher levels of the education establishment, Ms Greenaway said, it would allow them to be celebrated as role models.
“It’s my wish that in 2020 we really think about this and tap into the potential of women.”
Indeed she said one of her own role models was Rachel Fink, headteacher of JFS, Europe’s largest school, who gave the final ORT Talk of the representatives meeting.
Describing the importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools, she highlighted that one in three students now suffers from a mental health issue such as stress or anxiety.
She said it was important to find a “range of ways to support people” while encouraging balance in the lives of young people. To combat concerns and promote wellbeing, she urged teachers and staff to adopt a ‘GREAT’ strategy: Give something back; Relate to other people; Exercise your body; Appreciate your world; Try something new.
Avi Ganon said the Board of Representatives had “inspired” him.
“Showcases from current and former ORT students reminded us just how our support is helping brilliant young minds to fulfil their potential. We learned about subjects pertinent to our roles as Jewish leaders today, from the issue of antisemitism and BDS to cyber-security to AI to the challenges of 21st century Jewish education.”
He said the sessions had “encapsulated ORT: a virtuous circle of professionals, lay leaders, donors and of course beneficiaries, ensuring the organization’s continued success and, with it, guaranteeing that our students will continue to benefit for years to come”.