ORT from page 19
Shai Lowensohn, the director of organi-
zational development and foreign relations
at ORT Israel, said, "All students don't nec-
essarily fit into regular theoretical stud-
ies. We need a special model for special
The Tel Nof school accepts students who
fail in regular schools and seek a voca-
Yakir Menachim, an 11th-grader from
Holon studying mechatronics, said he
didn't fit into the traditional high school,
but he is happy at Tel Nof. "This gives me
a profession. I have to do something in the
future for myself and my family."
Yakir and other students spend part of
their time outside the classroom in the
base's aircraft hangers, working with sol-
diers to repair F-16 warplanes and Black
Hawk and Apache helicopters.
A lieutenant colonel (who under IDF
policy must remain anonymous) com-
mands a helicopter hanger. One of 500,000
ORT graduates in Israel since 1949, he
said, "The kids are part of the unit. We
find students who might not have found a
way to learn to be part of society through
the Israeli Air Force."
In the past, ORT schools were synony-
mous with a lowly technical and vocation-
al education comparable to the various
schools you might see advertised on U.S.
television, such as the Aviation Institute
of Maintenance. Just as American Jews are
encouraged to become doctors, lawyers
and scientists, getting a practical educa-
tion in Israel was not seen as particularly
honorable. There was a big gap in the
perception about those earning technical
degrees and those earning traditional sci-
While ORT is still focused on training
the practical engineers needed to fill the
thousands of jobs in the army and indus-
try, it also seeks to expand its reach and
curriculum into high science.
Professor Kenneth Preiss of Ben-Gurion
University, an expert on international
industrial competitiveness, said that
although in the past technology was con-
sidered blue-collar work and science white-
collar work, today the two blend together.
Professionals at ORT Israel have worked
with leaders at aerospace and biotechnolo-
gy companies, two of Israel's most impor-
tant industries, to design tracks within
high schools that enable students to study
math, physics and related topics at a high
level early in their lives.
"This school provides me with more
opportunities to be excellent:' said Eugeny
Kiner, a 12th-grader at an ORT school in
the Givat Ram suburb of Jerusalem. Kiner
won second place in a national young-
scientist contest and a prestigious prize
from the Weizmann Institute, a renowned
center of science in Israel, for his work
relating to silencing gene treatments in
Some students who do well in school
get special permission to defer their army
service to continue their academics at one
of Israel's universities. Once they com-
plete their studies, they must return to
the IDF for compulsory service, but with
a bachelor's degree and a unique skill set.
ORT officials said these students are in
high demand and can get special jobs in
Students also are studying robotics and
gearing up for careers in high tech. Two
student groups at the ORT high school in
Givat Ram showed off the small robots
they built. One pair of robots, built from
Legos, wood and what appeared to be
complicated circuitry, could play soccer.
One robot was designed to play offense
and the other played goalie.
As the offensive robot rolled forward,
tapping the ball ahead, the goalie-bot's
sensors picked up the movement and went
out to block the ball.
Those robots won a national competi-
tion in Israel, and their student creators
recently came to Atlanta to compete
against students from all over the world in
the annual Robocup competition. The ORT
kids took fourth place among 50 contend-
ers in their category.
Despite ORT Israel's successes in teaching
and in developing a seamless transition
from school to society, the educational sys-
tem in Israel is far from perfect.
Rabbi Melchior laid out several of the
problems: secular Israeli education being
"totally cleansed" of any Jewish perspec-
Minimal Impact From Rift
ORT America continues its Israel programs.
which remain part of ORT Israel.
Working closely with Israel's Ministry
of Education, local municipalities and
he rift between ORT Israel and schools, ORT America has launched
World ORT, which includes ORT new teacher training in science and
America and ORT programs technology instruction. It has a new
around the world, shouldn't have much
flexibility to meet needs as they arise.
impact on the work of ORT America,
"We've been able to respond immedi-
says Doreen Hermelin of Franklin, who
ately to the needs in Sderot," Hermelin
has been national president of the
says of the Israeli community that has
organization since May. Her late hus-
been under almost constant rocket fire
band, Ambassador David Hermelin, had
from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
served as president of World ORT.
"We've provided laptop computers to
"The money we give that goes to
kids who can't be in their classrooms
Israel will still go to Israeli programs,"
because they need to be in bomb shel-
Hermelin says. "We are still supporting
students in Israel."
Hermelin says ORT America request-
Hermelin says ORT America is pro-
ed a list of the 100 neediest schools in
viding support to 10,000 Israeli stu-
Israel and it chose the bottom 36 to
dents through the new Science Journey receive services. "At this point, we're
and other projects that remain focused
reaching more people," she says.
on science and technology; this support
ORT America's work outside of Israel
is now provided outside of the tradi-
continues as before, reaching to 53
tional Israeli network of ORT schools,
countries. While donors want to sup-
Special to the Jewish News
August 16 • 2007
port quality projects in Israel, "people
who support ORT have always been
very caring about the world network,"
Hermelin says. "We've haven't seen any
decline in the support we receive."
"ORT America Michigan Region con-
tributors have remained committed to
ORT students everywhere they are, this
year doubling our support of worldwide
ORT," says Linda Sahn of Orchard Lake,
who is Michigan Region co-president
with Randy Wertheimer of Birmingham.
"The Science Journey Project in
Israel has resulted in the opening
of dozens of new technology cen-
ters enabling students and teachers
with resources they have never had
before," Sahn said.
tive; a growing disparity between the
education afforded children from wealthy
homes and those from poor families, who
generally live in peripheral towns; and
inequalities in the education offered to
ORT became the center of its own
controversy late in 2006 when ORT Israel
decided to sever its relationship with its
parent organization, World ORT. ORT
America is part of World ORT; ORT
Michigan Region is part of ORT America.
ORT Israel's Lowensohn cited a lack of
"transparency on decision-making and
budgeting processes for countries."
With an annual budget of $225 million,
ORT Israel receives 95 percent of its fund-
ing from the Israeli government, 2.5 per-
cent from donations raised in Israel and
abroad, and 2.5 percent from tuition.
Sarina Roffe, ORT America's communi-
cations director, agreed that the split was
over transparency, but she faulted ORT
"We didn't think they were being trans-
parent:' Roffe said, adding that U.S. donors
demand to know where their money is
going. "We have to be transparent."
She said ORT America was raising
money for Israeli projects and wanted to
report to donors about the nature of the
programs. It wasn't an audit, she said, but
a report to donors. ORT Israel, however,
was not forthcoming with the requested
information, Roffe said.
Lowensohn expressed ORT Israel's
Wertheimer shares Sahn's enthusi-
asm for the local and international pro-
grams that the local chapters support.
"Here in Michigan, the Hermelin
ORT Resource Center Better Job
Opportunities Project is reaching out
to Metro Detroiters from all walks of
life, providing them with hope for a
better life through technology educa-
tion," Wertheimer says. "And the first
ORT Student Ambassador Program
will begin in the fall when a student
from ORT Moscow attends the Frankel
Jewish Academy of Metropolitan
Detroit for a semester."
The next community-wide local ORT
event will be WINGO (Women's Only
Bingo) on Nov. 9 at Congregation
Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. To
learn more about local ORT efforts,
contact Michelle Passon, director of
the ORT America Michigan Region,
at (248) 723-8860 or visit www.
ortmichigan.org . Information on ORT
America is available at