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History of ORT: Roots, History & Growth

history of ORTIn 1880 a group of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to start a fund to assist Jewish trade schools and establish new colonies, agricultural schools and model farms in order to help lift Russia's five million Jews out of crushing poverty.  The success of the appeal led Russian authorities to create the "Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor," for Jews of Russia. It is from this original name—Obschestvo Remeslenovo i. Zemledelcheskovo Trouda—that the word ORT is derived.

Farming, tool and industrial cooperatives were formed. Jews were trained as artisans in everything from sewing and handweaving to  mechanics and furniture design. ORT became a pioneer in teaching, using new techniques to raise standards, while always giving attention to those with the greatest need. In its first 25 years, ORT provided training to 25,000 Jews in 350 towns within the Russian Empire, vastly improving their quality of life. .

As time marched on, ORT’s training programs evolved to meet the changing needs of Jews as reflected by politics, war and industrialization. After World War I, ORT’s character and focus shifted from Russian Jewry to an organization that linked Jews from across the globe—first in Europe and later on other continents. ORT opened vocational and agricultural schools and encouraged industrial expansion by providing tools and training. 

In 1921, the World ORT Union was formally established, followed by the founding of the American ORT Society (forerunner of American ORT) in 1922. As a new chapter began with the proclamation of the State of Israel (May 1948), the country’s gates flung open to Jewish refugees, now immigrants. ORT began operations and created workshops in Jaffa and Jerusalem to rehabilitate and train this influx.

During the second half of the 20th century, American ORT (formed in 1922) and Women’s American ORT (formed in 1927) were established to provide fundraising, and became a vital resource to ORT schools and training programs. Established in 2007, ORT America (a North American affiliate to World ORT) was created through a merger of the two former entities, and collectively raise funds for ORT schools and programs in the United States and around the world.

Today, ORT Works to offer skills and training and to some of the world’s most impoverished communities. With the assistance of its supporters, ORT helps communities meet the demands of a competitive job landscape - now and in the future - through its global network of educational institutions that deliver state-of-the-art education in technology, science and more.

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