Written by Jane Lawrence Saturday, 19 October 2013 00:00
Access to quality education is a right that most Americans do not think twice about. A free, public education is available to all and numerous opportunities exist for higher education in technical or academic areas. Yet, throughout the world today, as well as in the past, this is not always the case.
The Nassau County Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove recently partnered with ORT America/Long Island to showcase the ORT commitment to providing relevant education throughout the years to those who might not otherwise have had such access.
“We are proud to partner with ORT America/Long Island,” said Jennifer Carpenter Low, director of development for HMTC. “We stand together to represent the shared values of human rights and access to education which are the fundamental principles of a democratic society.”
Originally started in 1880, ORT trade schools first focused on lifting five million Russian Jews out of poverty by providing vocational training programs. Today ORT programs enroll more than 300,000 students every day of the year on five continents.
The current exhibit at HMTC highlights 18 people whose lives have been saved and enriched by ORT. A reception in their honor was held at the center on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Lore Oppenheimer, originally from Germany and now residing in Rego Park, Queens, was among those honored who benefited from an ORT education during the war. At 15, she and her family were deported to Latvia and were later fortunate to be liberated by the Russians in 1945. She eventually landed in Amsterdam where she attended an ORT school and learned how to sew and craft her own patterns. In 1947, she and her mother settled in Maine. There were no clothing factories in Maine, but Oppenheimer quickly found work sewing shoes in a shoe factory and also worked as a custom dressmaker from her home. “The sewing came in very handy,” said Oppenheimer. “We didn’t have a penny to our names, but ORT had given me a profession. I could sew.”
For John Heller, ORT did more than just provide him with life-long vocational skills. It literally saved his life. After the Nazis forced the Jewish youth of Berlin to drop out of school, 15-year-old Heller enrolled in an ORT school where he studied metal trades, among other things. After Kristallnacht, the Berlin ORT school was being transferred to England. When the Nazis would not allow the equipment out of the country, Heller recalls the parents saying, “If you cannot save the equipment, at least save our children.” ORT did just that, managing to bring 106 young boys to England. “We were living in a refugee camp,” said Heller, “but my ORT education was able to continue.” Heller credits the training he received from ORT to be “so comprehensive that wherever I worked, I had more chances of advancing than the average worker. There was never anybody who could do as many diverse things as I could do.”
Today, the ORT legacy continues. Twenty-four-year-old Marina Baltaeva, who was born in Uzbekistan, is the 2012 valedictorian from the Bramson ORT College in Queens. She was 21 and studying at the Financial Economic University of Moscow when her family immigrated to the United States.
“I wanted to continue my studies, but my speaking and writing skills in English were very, very low,” said Baltaeva. “It was also an eye-opener, having to adjust to life in New York City.” At Bramson ORT College, she was shown how to navigate in a new country and took classes in English as a Second Language as well as business management. Today Baltaeva is enrolled in Baruch College studying finance and expects to graduate in 2014. She loves this country and loves the people here. Her long range plans include earning a master’s degree and working as a financial analyst for a large company or bank in New York City. “Without Bramson ORT I would not be able to do any of this. They helped me 100 percent and more,” said Baltaeva.
Further information about ORT’s programs is available on their website: www.ortamerica.org. For more information about on-going exhibits and upcoming special events at HMTC, go to: www.holocaust-nassau.org.