Shirley Gralla a”h, 1929 – 2016

Shirley Gralla, who passed away last week, was a legendary philanthropist committed to strengthening Jewish life. That commitment found a lasting expression in the extraordinary support she gave World ORT.

Together with her late husband, Milton, she played an integral part in ORT’s history of supporting vulnerable Jewish communities.

The couple led – and generously supported – World ORT’s Regeneration 2000 campaign to rebuild Jewish identity in the Former Soviet Union. They personally made possible the founding of the Kiev ORT Technology Lyceum, the Odessa ORT Specialised School and the ORT Technology Centre in the Marc Chagall Institute at the National University of Belarus as well as the growth of the Moscow ORT Technology School and of ORT Mishpahteinu, the largest non-religious Jewish school in Tatarstan.

Students standing by the plaque installed in 1997 that commemorates the opening of the Shirley and Milton Gralla ORT Odessa Educational Complex.

Students standing by the plaque installed in 1997 that commemorates the opening of the Shirley and Milton Gralla ORT Odessa Educational Complex.

Educate or evaporate

The campaign’s goal was to attract youth on the margins of the Jewish community into Jewish education by providing a gold standard in technology education. As Milton Gralla famously put it, “It’s educate or evaporate. If we don’t educate upcoming Russian Jews we will have lost them forever.”

The four-year Regeneration 2000 Campaign, together with the subsequent Regeneration 2004 Campaign, revitalised Jewish communities across the region.

A generation of Jewish children in 16 cities across the region owe their knowledge of, and love for, their Jewish heritage to Shirley and Milton Gralla. World ORT continues to teach more than 8,000 children in these schools each year.

As Congressman Gary Ackerman said in a 1998 tribute in the House of Representatives, Shirley Gralla filled the lives of countless people with love, hope and stability. It was an achievement which lives on with each generation of students at schools which World ORT supports in the Former Soviet Union.