Friday, September 28, 1919
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
ORT Started With an Appeal 100 Years Ago
By SIDNEY E. LEIWANT
President, American ORT Federation
Was there ever really a time when the pen was mightier than the sword, or was that
merely a poet's exaggeration? In 1880 a pen wrote — and 100 years later the lives of more
than 100,000 men, women and young people are being changed by it. As the lives of
'almost two million others have already been changed in the intervening years.
It started with a letter. The five men who wrote and signed it were Russian Jews, and
the letter was a blunt appeal for funds. The response could not have been more extraordi-
nary. In two months, nearly 12,500 donors in 40 Russian towns and villages had sent in
more than 200,000 rubles. Even today that's a lot of kopeks; in those days it was an
enormous sum — much of it from people who had little enough themselves. Eventually,
there were some 30,000 contributors, and the fund totaled half a million rubles.
What was there about the letter which struck so responsive a chord? It was the need
— and an idea. In an era and in a country where the great majority of Jews were still,
living inside the Pale of Settlement most eking out the barest living as peddlers and
small traders, the five "undersigned" declared that "nothing in fact could better amelior-
ate the position of the mass of our co-religionists than a thorough and systematic
_•_tievelopment among that mass of artisanal and agricultural occupations."
To administer the funds which had come in, the five letter-writers were
equally no-nonsense about a name. They wanted to be sure they covered all the
• bases, so they dubbed their new group the "Society for the Provision of Handic-
rafts, Industry and Agriculture among Jews." In the original Russian it was a
mouthful too: "Obschestvo Remeslenovo i zemledelcheskovo Trouda."
. Therefore the new society came to be known by its Russian initials — ORT. Those
initials have done yeoman service for 100 years, in scores of countries, and in many
languages — but with that same single purpose. The English name which was fitted to
.the initials — Organization for Rehabilitation through Training — is no less expressive
of the founders' intent than the original.
Why are those initials so powerful, so important, almost 100 years after they were
first penned? Because its purpose has been constant and unchanging, while its methods
and programs have sharply mirrored a changing world, changing needs.
In 1880, "productivizing" peddlers and traders, people who lived from hand to mouth,
meant training them for what was then the "job-market," farming, dressmaking, tailor-
ing; then as opportunity arose, other trades were added: metalworking, carpentry, the
Today all of these skills are still taught — you can still make a good living as a
carpenter or a tailor. But ORT is also teaching skills and professions for which
there weren't even names in 1880 — computer technology, electronics, tele-
communications, automation, word-processing — skills just coming into their
own, but which will really flourish in the next century.
ORT had to change in even more important ways, however, as the map of the Jewish
world changed. Emigration, war, Nazism, anti-Semitism' and above all the creation of
Israel did that.
It is therefore no accident that in 1979 nearly half of ORT's efforts are focused on
Israel; in today's world that's where ORT's kind of education and vocational training are
And not only in Israel, but worldwide: ORT continues to assist and to serve
thousands of others in France, and in tiny, isolated communities in North Africa and
Asia, and in Rome, where in conjunction with the United HIAS Service — OIT classes
.j are helping to prepare thousands of Jewish migrants for new lives in new lands.
It started with a letter 100 years ago. How many organizations of the 1880 era still
exist today, and in fact help more people than ever? The commitment is still to help men
and women achieve independence and self-support, to live in dignity as well as freedom.
The support which the American ORT Federation derives from its own
organizational activities reflects this; as does the funds which it receives from the
Joint Distribution Committee, a member agency of hte United Jewish Appeal
which is supported by local Jewish federations and welfare funds.
The budget adopted by the American ORT Federation for 1979 for the world-wide
ORT services is $78,110,000, the largest ever. Even more significant, the numbers to be
aided by the international Jewish vocational training and technical education organiza-
tion are also the largest in its history; for the first time ORT will be aiding 100,000 men,
women and young people in a single year.
Much of the increase in the budget is the result of worldwide inflation and the drop in
the value of the dollar. But a major factor is the necessity to expand ORT activities and
programs td meet increased Jewish needs in ORT's 700 facilities in 24 countries on four
An outstanding example of ORT's "newest look" — a look which continues to change
as it reflects the integration of occupational opportunity and technological innovation
with Jewish needs at each period of history — is the ORT School of Engineering on the
campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In Israel, ORT programs budgeted at $38,726,900 for 1979 — the largest
expenditure in any country and nearly half of ORT's worldwide operations —
encompass more than 90 schools with more than 60,000 students.
David Ben-Gurion once declared that to provide for its people and achieve true
independence, Israel must become "a working nation," helping to bridge the "social gap"
between various newcomer groups in the Jewish state. Two-thirds of ORT students in
Israel are of Asian-African origin.
ORT was founded in Russia in 1880 to aid Russian Jews to escape poverty and
discrimination. It has now come full circle in a way. One major ORT program is its aid to
Russian Jewish migrants in Rome on their way to new lives in the United States.
Supplementing the basic assistance provided to the migrants by HIAS (Hebrew Immig-
rant Aid Society), ORT English-language and orientation programs often provide the
first basic preparation many of the refugees receive for their new lives in their new
homeland. In addition, classes for children and youngsters provide a whole-family ap-
proach which is both sensitive to their needs and innovative in its approach.
In 1978, some 14,000 Russian Jews passed through Rome on their way to the U.S.
and other Western nations; the early indication is that the number of Jewish migrants
ORT Dinner to Honor Haber
Dr. William Haber of the University of Michigan, president of the
American ORT Federation from 1950 to 1975, will be the honoree Oct. 15 at a
special anniversary dinner at Cong. Shaarey Zedek marking ORT's cen-
tennial. Dr. Abram Sachar, chancellor of Brandies University, will be the
dinner speaker. The event is being co-chaired by Irving Nusbaum and
David Hermelin. For information and reservations, call Jessie Stern, 832-
from the Soviet Union is likely to be even greater in 1979 — and so, therfore, is the
number of those requiring — and receiving — ORT help. Small numbers of Russian
Jews and other newcomers are also trained in ORT's Bramson Training Center in New
Once identified almost entirely with assisting Jews in Eastern Europe, ORT
has — especially since the end of World War II — developed programs according
to a more urgent type of geography, the map of Jewish need. Many of those now
receiving ORT training in Israel, migrants, refugees, survivors of World War TI
and Nazism, are the children and grandchildren of others who were aides
tween the two World Wars in Eastern Europe. But ORT activity also reaches hiLo
other communities in need.
ORT's programs on behalf of Russian Jewish migrants in Rome, as well as its efforts
in other countries, are closely monitored by the American Jewish community; the
American ORT Federation, in addition to its own organizational activities, derives its
funds from the Joint Distribution Committee, a member agency of the United Jewish
Appeal, which is supported by local Jewish federations and welfare funds.
Today ORT's second-largest program is in France, budgeted at $22,093,500 for the
current year. Some 80 percent of the students in ORT vocational high schools in France
are of North African origin.
ORT also supports programs on behalf of Jewish communities in India, Morocco, and
Latin America. Though Jewish communities in India and Morocco are declining, there is
still a continued, often a critical need for ORT services.
In Latin America, ORT's largest program is on behalf of the Jewish commu-
nity of Argentina, where ORT has assumed increased responsibilities in existing
community schools as well as considerably enlarged facilities in the high-leve
Buenos Aires ORT complex.
It is no more than a coincidence, but historically appropriate, that in 1979 ORT
should be aiding 100,000 needy Jews for the first time in a single year.For 1979 initiates
ORT's Hundredth Anniversary Year, to be capped off, most suitably, with a World
Congress next year in Jerusalem.