It all started in tsarist Russia at the end of the 19th century…


At that time, Jews were strongly discriminated against. On the one hand, they were not allowed to own land outside the “settlement zone” where the vast majority of them were confined. On the other hand, they were only allowed to practice a limited number of professions such as innkeepers, brewers, peddlers or coachmen. Jewish merchants were taxed twice as heavily as non-Jews. Young boys were drafted into the army, sometimes as young as twelve years old, for excessively long periods.


140 years ago …


Faced with the poverty and despair of their people, three visionaries, Nicolai Bakst, Samuel Poliakov and Horace de Gunzburg, decided to help the community. Intimately convinced that knowledge offers freedom and work offers dignity, they decided to create an organization that would allow everyone to receive an education and training in technical trades, as society at that time needed workers, and thus allow everyone to earn a decent living and support their families.

On March 22, 1880, following their petition to Tsar Alexander II, a letter to the Ministry of the Interior gave them permission to collect funds for their association. In record time, 18 days later, an appeal was made to the entire Russian Jewish community to support a solidarity fund. Nearly 13,000 donors, many of them of modest means, heard the appeal and raised over 200,000 rubles. This is how the Organization for Training in Crafts and Agriculture was born.

In a short period of time, the ORT philosophy was deployed. In addition to the schools created, ORT has helped by providing loans to artisans, granting scholarships to students, and purchasing plots of land to settle poor families.

Through the ups and downs of history, ORT has always adapted to new needs and new challenges in life. This ability to adapt is, among other things, what has made this organization incredibly successful. The solidarity, involvement and generosity of its members has enabled its deployment throughout the world.

During the First World War, the ORT set up cooperative workshops, soup kitchens and credit offices which saved thousands of people from starvation. The ORT also set up a “rehabilitation through work” program for displaced Jews.

Also, during the Second World War, the ORT schools, the only schools under English and not German rule, opened their doors to all children in the area, regardless of their origin, nationality or religion. Many children were saved in this way.

The love of ORT, its philosophy and legacy, spreads from person to person. Sometimes, by chance, as when Vladimir Halperin and Aaron Singalowski met on a train. Through this simple discussion between two passengers on the same train, the love of ORT passed. So much so that Aaron Singalowski was at the origin of the creation of ORT in the United States, South Africa and Israel, became Director of ORT Worldwide and created, with Vladimir Halperin, the ORT Anières Institute.

The enormous success of this magnificent organization is due to all its generous donors, all its presidents, all its representatives, all its teachers and all its students. Over the years all these people have changed but the goal has remained the same. Inheritance is passed on from one generation to the next, from one person to the next.

Education is unfortunately not a human right. There are still too many places on earth where it is not accessible or even simply forbidden because of gender, race, religion or nationality. ORT’s mission is to make education accessible to all, regardless of these considerations, and to promote excellence.

The world has changed somewhat since the days when crafts and agriculture were sought-after job skills, but the basic principles of ORT have remained unchanged since 1880. Today, ORT’s programs are oriented according to the demand of the countries and meet the requirements of the world of work of today and especially of tomorrow.

That is why we are proud and happy to be part, in our modest measure, of this wonderful history. A story so exceptional that it is told like a legend. We are touched by all the accomplishments of the ORT and by all the people who have contributed to it since 1880 by knowing how to keep this heritage intact, driven by the desire to give, to simply share.

We believe that when Nicolai Bakst, Samuel Poliakov and Horace de Gunzburg founded ORT, they could not have imagined that their work would make such a significant and lasting contribution to improving the lot of so many people and thus the world in general.

All this has been, is and will be possible only thanks to you, our precious and faithful supporters, friends and sympathizers.

We would like to thank each and every person who, from near or far, by their love, vision, dedication, support, time or presence, participates and contributes to our wonderful adventure.

Education is everyone’s business, together we change lives.

The Committee

Association ORT Switzerland 1, rue de Varembé CH – 1202 Geneva