Special to the JTA Ethiopian Jews Learning Trades at Ort Schools in Israel
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Special to the JTA Ethiopian Jews Learning Trades at Ort Schools in Israel

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ORT, which for five years operated technical assistance programs helping Ethiopian Jews in remote villages such as Ambober, Teddah and Wollega in that country’s Goodor province, has been operating intensive training and re-training courses for Ethiopian Jews at ORT schools in Natanya and Kiryat Gat in Israel throughout the last year, according to Alvia G### president of the American ORT Federation.

The new arrivals have been receiving vocational training in fields such as accounting, biology, drawing, metalwork, and dressmaking, and receiving orientation in Israeli industry practices. These ORT courses are slated to be expanded to a weekly curriculum of 130-150 hours in the coming months, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and the Jewish Agency.

“ORT’s courses for Ethiopian Jews in Israel have been quietly operating for some time,” noted Gray, “but we avoided publicizing the fact in line with the policy of not drawing undue attention to the fact that scores of Ethiopian Jews have been brought to Israel in recent years and thousands more have arrived in recent weeks. Now that the story has broken in the press, we can point with pride to ORT’s work on their behalf now and in the past.”


ORT first began operations helping Ethiopian Jews in 1976 in an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee-ORT program, constructing and operating schools, medical clinics, and wells for the village communities of Gondor province in north-western Ethiopia where the bulk of the Jewish population was located.

ORT’s substantial program operated for five years serving the total population of the area, employing some 200 teachers and administrators in Gondor and aiding thousands until 1981 when the Ethiopian government closed the program.

ORT taught courses in basic crafts such as carpentry, sewing, pottery making, metalwork and welding, as well as in agriculture and Hebrew. To counter the ravages of diseases caused by polluted water, ORT constructed and maintained wells and systems of pumps, pipes and taps.

Prior to the ORT project, the infant mortality rate among Ethiopian Jews was running as high as 40 percent due largely to water borne diseases. ORT water projects in 75 villages, combined with improvements in sanitation and hygiene, decisvely lowered the mortality rate.

According to the census taken by ORT in 1977, some 28,000 Jews lived in Ethiopia. In 1979 ORT assisted 2,000 Ethiopian Jewish families in Gondor province with aid in the form of oxen, tools, seed, fertilizer and agricultural and crafts training. In 1980 an additional 900 families received such aid and matzot were distributed to the Jews of Gondor province, the first such distribution ever performed by an organization.

ORT projects included building and operating 22 ORT schools, and two clinics, one in Ambober and one in Teddah. ORT also built a road, a flour mill, 25 synagogues and promoted cottage industries.

“ORT continues to aid Ethiopian Jews today, after their arrival in Israel,” said Gray, “with courses and training programs geared to meeting their special needs. What ORT has done, is doing and will do for Ethiopian Jews is in keeping with ORT’s 105-year-old policy of helping Jewish communities, wherever in the world they may be.”

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