Science and technology student in Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel, assisted by World ORT. 

More than 300 people from the United States, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, South Africa and across Europe joined an online session that marked the 140th anniversary of World ORT, the global education network, and saw the election of its lay leadership for the next four years.

A General Assembly celebrating the milestone was planned for this week in Jerusalem, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The organization, which transforms lives through education, now reaches 300,000 people in more than 30 countries every year. ORT combines high-level science and technology education with strengthened Jewish identity, bridging the gap between ability and opportunity.

Keynote speaker William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the assembly that the impact of COVID-19 means global Jewry is now embarking into unchartered and unpredictable territory, with synagogues and schools closed, and those who once financially supported nonprofit organizations finding themselves in need of communal assistance.

Still, he said, “we are adapting. Synagogues across the world are experiencing record turnouts in their levels of engagement through video conferencing. The ORT network knows this well, as you successfully meet the challenge of providing outstanding education and supporting vulnerable young people, teachers and families as they grapple with the devastating impact of the virus and beyond.

“You are incredibly well-situated to help lead our community,” he continued, as it provides new remote learning opportunities. “As we have throughout our history as a Jewish people, we adapt, we survive and we thrive.”

Participants watched a trailer for a film currently in production to celebrate ORT’s milestone. The story of an organization committed to an ongoing vision that links past, present and future, it will chronicle 140 years of the power of education across the globe.

Dr. Conrad Giles was re-elected as president of World ORT for a second four-year term. Giles, a pediatric ophthalmologist based in Michigan, said the years since 2016 had contained “many challenges — and we have met them.”

“This has been a remarkable period in the history of our organization because of the pandemic,” he said. “But we have positioned ourselves to go forward with confidence and to deliver a quality educational product. Our mission has never changed, and for 140 years ORT has been at the heart of education around the world.” JN

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