ORT (initials of Rus. Obshestvo Remeslenofo zemledelcheskofo Truda , originally meaning "The Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural Work"), organization for the promotion and development by vocational training of skilled trades and agriculture among Jews. It was initiated by a "private letter" sent out in April 1880 to the Jews of the towns of Russia. It was signed by S.S. *Poliakov, Baron Horace *Guenzberg, A.J. Zak, L.M. *Rosenthal, and M.F. Friedland, and concerned the permission granted by Czar Alexander ii "to collect a fund for a philanthropic purpose…" The Jewish population in all parts of the country was called upon to contribute to the fund, which was intended "to support and develop the existing vocational schools for Jews, to help open new schools, to help the Jewish agricultural colonies, model farms, and agricultural schools." Response to the letter was widespread. A capital of 204,000 rubles was quickly collected. Over 25 years (1880–1905), ort raised the sum of one million rubles. The interest from this sum and the dues paid by its wealthy members supported ort in that period. The sum was lost in the 1917 Revolution. During this initial period ort's legal status was uncertain. It was not until 1906 that it received regular legal authorization.
The 125-year history of ort can be divided into five (principal) periods:
At first ort functioned in Russia only, on a small scale. One of its aims in this period was to assist craftsmen by transferring them from the *Pale of Settlement to the Russian interior. The committee of ort decided upon the establishment of small workshops for trades such as tailoring, shoemaking, or carpentry within a talmud torah or orphanage, or settled requests from needy persons. A large-scale campaign "Help Through Work" was launched between 1914 and 1916, helping needy Jews who had been driven out of their homes in wartime to find employment in the new places where they settled.
In 1921 ort was established in Berlin as an international organization with the name World ort Union. From a purely philanthropic organization it increasingly became a basic social movement in Jewish life. Subsequently ort was active in the areas formerly within the Russian Empire – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Bessarabia – as well as in Germany, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. This work by ort had a considerable influence not only on the masses most directly involved but also on Jewish communities of the so-called "helping countries," which had been invited to join the ort movement, to support it financially and to help it expand and consolidate its activities. Between the two wars, ort's global work was directed by an international committee headed by Leon *Bramson, former member of the *Duma, with the help of David *Lvovich and Aaron *Syngalowski. The latter inspired the ideology of ort and spread the idea of manual work among Jews, stressing the need for a change in the economic structure of Jewish life. The committee established ort organizations in the United States, South Africa, Canada, South America, and many other places.
Until 1938, the Soviet Union was also an important area of ort activity. ort was the first organization in the Soviet Union to assist (from 1922) in the rehabilitation of Jewish farmers in the Ukraine, who had suffered severe losses, both in lives and to their farms, during World War i and the Civil War. ort then cooperated with Komzet (see *Russia, under the Soviet regime). It assisted in the transference of many Jews in Belorussia to occupation in agriculture. Assistance to Jewish settlers was provided in Bessarabia, where ort's activities in 1928 extended to 604 families in 37 agricultural settlements. By this year ort had aided a total of 141 settlements with 4,737 families (c. 20,000 persons) cultivating agricultural land amounting to approximately 40,000 dessiatine (c. 108,000 acres), as shown by Table: ort Aid.
A report of 1934 shows that in the Soviet Union ort operated 67 agricultural colonies, with 3,100 families or almost 10,000 persons, 47 factories and cooperatives in cities and kolkhozes, employing more than 5,000 persons, as well as many adult courses and workshops. In Poland there were 49 schools for adolescents and adult courses with over 2,000 students in addition to 12 agricultural colonies. There was also an ort network in Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, France, and Germany.
One of the problems which ort tackled was to help working Jewish youth and craftsmen to integrate into the industrialization especially affecting the Eastern European countries after World War i. ort also undertook to provide specialist training for certain professions in which, under the legislation approved by the countries of Eastern Europe (as in Poland in 1927), it was necessary to pass an examination. In the Soviet Union assistance was given to Jews who, as a result of the changed Soviet economic structure, were deprived of their occupational status (lishentsi) and were compelled to turn to new sources of livelihood, especially crafts.
An important sphere of ort activity was to provide Jewish craftsmen with necessary implements. In 1920–23 ort established a central buying agency for providing implements and machines to craftsmen who had lost them during and after World War i, as well as new materials. In 1924 a similar institution to replace the buying agency was opened in London named the ort Tool Supply Corporation, with branches in Warsaw, Kovno (Kaunas), Riga, and Czernowitz (Chernovtsy), and in the Soviet Union.
This was a difficult period for World ort. The deepening world economic crisis reduced its income from the West, and the organization faced increasing antisemitic discrimination in almost every country in which it operated. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Berlin headquarters no longer seemed safe. In October 1933 the office was transferred to Paris, which had become a refugee center for thousands of German Jews. World ort soon organized vocational retraining programs to help refugees integrate into French society or prepare for careers in other countries.
Most of World ort's programs continued throughout 1939 and beyond the start of World War ii. This included the transfer of most of the Berlin ort School to Leeds, England, just days before the war. As the war progressed, communication between World ort and its European operations was frequently cut, but individual schools and programs continued to operate in isolation, often with former ort directors and teachers working within their camps and ghettos. In Kovno, Lithuania, for example, the ort training workshop continued to function until 1944, when the ghetto was destroyed and the surviving occupants deported. Similar activities took place in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vilna.
In occupied France, ort was permitted to continue working until 1942–43. Courses originally set up for German refugees were now serving French Jews. ort ran programs in 20 cities throughout the country and provided tools, materials, and training to a number of internment camps. Eventually World ort's headquarters had to move from France to neutral Switzerland, where it established many training programs for the thousands of Jewish refugees who managed to escape there.
The movement of Jewish refugees also led to the development of ort programs beyond Europe. Some of these new operations were temporary – such as that in Shanghai, China (1941–1950) – but many laid the foundations for continuing programs, especially in South America. During the 1930s and early 1940s many thousands of refugees from Europe arrived in South America, many of them en route to the United States. Communities were formed in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, and other countries of the region. ort rapidly established operations throughout the subcontinent to provide vital training courses that would help the newcomers to rebuild their lives.
The programmatic and, in particular, the geographical changes which ort experienced during these 15 years were a result of the constantly changing economic and political situation, and especially the migration affecting the Jewish communities in various countries. In accompanying the masses of Jewish refugees and emigrants to the countries where they found new homes, ort entered into yet more Jewish communities in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
World ort's largest refugee program took place at the war's end, training tens of thousands of survivors and displaced persons (dps) from the Jewish communities of Europe. Working with unrra (the un Relief and Refugee Agency), ort became the recognized vocational agency for the camps, working throughout Europe to support Jewish survivors. This work was completed by the mid-1950s, when most of the dp programs were closed. It is estimated that a quarter of all Jewish dps – some 80,000 people – had passed through ort's vocational centers, many on their way to the new State of Israel.
In addition to its work in the dp camps, ort ran programs for survivors in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and, especially, France. Most of these West European operations were created as temporary responses to prevailing needs, closing in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The work in France, however, continued, forming the basis of today's flourishing ort France school system.
After World War ii, ort turned its attention to the needs of "forgotten" Jewish communities in North Africa, Iran, and India and, somewhat later, Ethiopia. Jews in these countries earned a meager living as peddlers and semi-skilled artisans, but had no way of acquiring the necessary skills to improve their situation. Many faced harsh conditions, with widespread poverty and disease. World ort set up vocational courses and schools, teaching a range of skills that allowed young people–for the first time – to seek and obtain gainful employment. Political changes and civil unrest in North Africa (late 1950s and early 1960s) and Iran (late 1970s) made life too difficult for the local Jewish populations. Most immigrated to Israel, France, and other Western countries, marking an end to ort's activities in these countries.
In France, ort's main efforts in the immediate post-war years were devoted to helping Holocaust survivors from all over Europe rebuild their lives. In the late 1950s and early 1960s this program drew to a close and a new one began as thousands of Jewish families began to arrive from the newly independent and now unsafe Muslim countries of North Africa. Their children needed to be educated and prepared for their adult lives. ort mobilized its resources and accepted many hundreds of these children into its schools. All the schools were enlarged during this period, and several added dormitory blocks to accommodate students. Between 1950 and 1970, ort France student numbers rose from 1,700 to more than 5,000.
Israel was the only country where the ort idea of manual work did not need to be propagated, as it was deeply rooted there by the pioneers of the First and Second Aliyah, as well as by the halutzim who arrived in Erez Israel between the two wars. The establishment of ort in Israel followed rapidly after the creation of the state, but former students of ort had been settling in Palestine from the 1920s. A Tool and Supply Corporation, which provided machinery and tools to new immigrants, kibbutzim and kevuẓot, was set up as early as 1946. Workshop equipment from dp camps was transported to Palestine following the dps' immigration there. In 1949, ort opened vocational courses for new immigrants in Pardes Ḥannah, manual-training workshops in the children's village of *Ben Shemen, and the first vocational school sections in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Reḥovot, Ramleh, Jaffa, and the yeshivah in Kefar Avraham.
From the beginning ort paid special attention to the needs of disadvantaged communities, bringing them high-quality education and training programs that gave them a foothold on the ladder to self-sufficiency and growth. Thus, apart from its schools in the main conurbations, ort has always worked in deprived areas, in development towns and with successive waves of immigrants from North Africa, Ethiopia, and the former Soviet Union.
Today, ort Israel is the country's largest vocational training organization, operating some 150 schools and technological colleges. Supported by development teams, teacher training programs, and its own publishing house, ort offers vocational, technological, and academic training to almost 100,000 students aged between 5 and 80. In modern Israel there are over half a million ort graduates who are making a vital contribution to their nation's industry and economy.
The basic idea and aims of ort had remained unchanged in the years between the 1920s and the 1950s. Minor changes occurred in form and work methods, varying with the standard of living and technical development in the countries of operation and, to an even larger extent, with the economic condition and mentality of the Jewish communities there. In those years ort carried out an important educational task. It spread its principles of work among the Jews of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Iran, helping to convince them that learning a trade was the surest means to acquire economic independence.
In 1960, the ancient *Bene Israel community of India appealed to World ort for help. Depleted by immigration to Israel in the 1950s, the Bombay-based community was poor and unskilled. A health and welfare program was established in 1961 and then, in 1962, a Polytechnic was created on the campus of a Jewish school. The impact of ort's work was quickly felt, and its operations continue today.
ort's work of enlightenment, and the ever-improving situation of the qualified tradesman, as well as the good reputation achieved by ort schools, made vocational training for youth accepted even in the most distant Jewish communities. By the mid-1950s there were so many applications for admission to ort vocational schools that there were not enough vacancies.
The late 1960s saw ort Israel beginning to move away from trade training for manual labor to a more comprehensive education network, providing general academic education as well as vocational training. Increasingly, following the demands of the local economy and employment market, science and technology education was being introduced into more and more schools. Subjects such as electronics, automation, pneumatics, hydraulics, and plastics technology became very popular. The Harmatz School of Engineering, which opened in Jerusalem in 1976, typifies this shift. It was ort's first school to provide post-secondary technical education leading to a practical engineering degree.
To enable the change in its programs ort Israel developed its own teacher training scheme in dedicated institutions alongside its schools. One such institution was the ort Moshinsky Center in Tel Aviv, where teaching materials and methodology were developed and teachers were trained in the application of new technologies. Textbooks and learning aids were produced for both teachers and students. These were then translated for use across the entire World ort network.
During the 1980s ort schools around the world continued to grow – especially so in Israel and Latin America. In 1988 ort Israel opened its next purpose-built, flagship institution, the ort Braude College of Engineering. Like the Harmatz School of Engineering before it, this was a direct result of a dedicated fundraising campaign. Following ort Israel's example, schools in France and Latin America introduced advanced courses of study that would lead to university entrance and employment at the higher levels of engineering and technology. In France, new adult training programs were added and junior colleges established. The schools of ort Argentina were acknowledged to be among the best in the country, while in Uruguay the ort Montevideo school became a degree-conferring university in 1988.
In addition to the training programs for Jews, in 1960 World ort was asked by the U.S. Agency for International Development (usaid) to undertake technical training programs in Africa. Seeing this as an integral part of its mission, World ort took up the challenge, and so began a new phase of humanitarian activities, outside the Jewish community.
Since that time, ort has carried out over 350 economic and social development projects in more than 90 countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
These projects bring basic life-skills to urban and rural populations in developing and emerging countries, helping these communities to achieve independence and self-sufficiency. The range of subjects that has been covered includes health and nutrition, transportation, mother and child care, rural development, agriculture, forestry, democracy development, and information technology. Literally millions of people in some of the most disadvantaged regions of the world have benefited from these projects.
In each project that it undertakes, ort consultant teams evaluate the needs of the local community, devise specific training programs, and implement them "on the ground." All ort's International Cooperation projects are designed to become self-sustaining, with local staff learning how to continue the operation once ort has withdrawn. Funding for all these projects is provided by international agencies and private foundations.
In the 1990s ort was among the first to perceive the advantages of Information Technology. The World ort it department established its first Internet connection in 1992 and the ort.org domain name was registered in 1994. By 1998 all ort schools had an Internet connection, and many had their own websites. ort's curricula reflected the changing needs of a modern technological society, providing high-tech courses as well as general, Jewish, science and management programs. ort began to develop projects that would link communities across continents and provide general and Jewish knowledge and resources to people everywhere. In 1996 it launched Navigating the Bible, an online Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor. This was followed by several other projects, including: do i.t., an online foundation course in Information Technology; English Space, an interactive and collaborative English as a second language tutor; Learning about the Holocaust through Art, a unique resource for those teaching and wanting to learn about the Holocaust through art; and Yizkor, a *yahrzeit reminder service and memorial website. ort continues to develop online resources that benefit large numbers of people worldwide.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and East European communism enabled the return of ort to these areas. In 1991, after an enforced absence of 53 years, ort was able to return to the country of its birth. The political changes ushered in a new market-driven economy for the region, and ort's first task was to provide computer and technology courses for the local community to enable them to prepare for employment in the new conditions. To facilitate its work, ort established relationships at the highest level with the Russian authorities – and later, with each of the new independent states – gaining their recognition and their trust. In 1993, ort signed a collaboration agreement with the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. In 1995, the ort Technology School in Moscow was inaugurated. This was quickly followed by other agreements and the opening of ort schools and centers throughout the cis and Baltic States.
By 2005, there were 58 ort schools and educational institutions in the cis and Baltic States serving more than 25,000 students each year and considered by the local authorities to include the finest educational establishments available in the region.
While many Jews remained in the cis and Baltic States following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, a great number chose to immigrate to Israel. At the same time Operation Solomon brought the second, larger wave of immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel. ort Israel opened thousands of high-school places to accommodate the new arrivals. It also created courses for adults, providing the necessary knowledge and skills to obtain employment.
In 2005, More than 90,000 students – Jews, Israeli Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, and new immigrants–are educated at ort Israel schools, colleges, and institutions. ort graduates comprise 25 percent of Israel's high-tech workforce.
In Latin America ort continued to expand, offering its expertise to both the Jewish and the wider community. In Brazil, two new schools, specializing in life sciences and technology were opened during the 1990s. In Mexico, a state-of-the art technology and science resource center opened in 1998. While providing courses in computer programming, biotechnology, and business administration in its schools and centers throughout the region, ort also addressed the needs of poorer local communities. Vocational training and Mother and Child projects were undertaken by ort's International Cooperation department in several Latin American countries.
By 2005 ort Argentina has become ort's third largest operation, with over 7,300 students enrolled in its institutions. Across Latin America ort provides Jewish communities the high standard of education they require in the 21st century.
ort has been active in more than 100 countries past and present with current operations in Israel, the cis and Baltic States, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. It has a student body of some 270,000 each year worldwide and offers its experience on a non-sectarian basis. Since its inception in 1880, more than 3,000,000 people have graduated from ort programs worldwide. In 2000 ort changed its name from World ort Union to World ort.
The World ort administrative office moved from Geneva to London in 1979, but the headquarters remain in Geneva. In 2005 Robert Singer was director general, Sir Maurice Hatter (U.K.) was president, Jean de Gunzburg (France) was deputy president, Mauricio Merikanskas (Mexico) was chairman of the Executive Committee, and Robert Sill (U.S.A.) was chairman of the Board of Directors.
80 Years of ort, Historical Materials, Documents and Reports (1960); J. Rader, By the Skill of their Hands, the Story of ort (1970). add. bibliography: L. Shapiro, The History of ort, A Jewish Movement for Social Change (1980); Facing the Future: ort 1880–2000 (2000).
[Vladimir Seev Halperin /
Rachel Bracha and
Judah Harstein (2nd ed.)]