The following essay was written and submitted by my longtime friend, Brad Kolar. He is an inspiration to me and to so many others, I simply HAD to post it on my blog.
Why I choose to be an “ORT man”
Written and submitted by Brad Kolar
ORT was a big part of my mom’s life. By extension, it also became a big part of my life. When you were the child of an ORT lady, you really had no choice. Whether it was packing lox boxes at the All Star bowling lane in Skokie, delivering Passover flowers, or stacking and organizing chips for Las Vegas Night, her involvement became our involvement.
But ORT wasn’t just about getting schlepped to events. Most of my mom’s friends were also ORT ladies. And they weren’t just ORT ladies, they were her ORT ladies. They were a close knit social group. To this day, many of my mom’s best friends are those same ORT ladies. As a result, these ladies also became a part of my life. They knew everything that was going on in my life . (It was a Jewish organization after all). They attended my Bar Mitzvah. They sent me gifts when I graduated high school and college. Some attended my wedding while others sent gifts when I had my own children. And a few, after being a part of my life for over forty years, attended my son’s Bar Mitzvah. Their kids became my friends. We all grew up together under the umbrella of ORT.
What’s funny is that it was many years before I even knew what ORT stood for. But that didn’t matter. Regardless of what those letters represented, I knew from early on that ORT was something special. ORT was about community. At the time I only saw the small socially-based community of my mother and her friends. As I grew older, I began to see the broader communities that ORT helped to build.
ORT empowers people to learn and grow. And when people grow, so do communities. When Orthodox Jewish Women in Skokie gain access to vocational training, they improve the well-being of themselves, their families and their communities. When Jewish, Christian and Muslim children learn together in ORT schools in Israel, they break down social and cultural barriers and form a community.
ORT helps people improve themselves. In doing so, they improve communities. These communities come together to improve cities, states and countries. And slowly, one person at a time, one city at a time and one country at a time, we improve the world. We are living in times in which physical, social and cultural walls separate neighbors and people around the world. Through education and empowerment, ORT replaces these walls with bridges.
The label, “ORT lady,” might have fallen out of fashion over the past few generations. Some might even say it’s antiquated. I disagree.
For the past century, ORT ladies have stood for the ideals and principles that many are just discovering today. They were empowered women who took it upon themselves to drive change. They focused on social justice and repairing the world long before it became a popular fad. They knew that a well-educated, trained and connected population led to a more peaceful, productive and stable world.
As a result, I am proud to take the mantle and become an “ORT man.” My experiences will undoubtedly differ greatly from those of my mom. There is no longer a chapter structure at ORT, however, ORT’s sense of community and purpose still resides in the hearts and minds of its members. More importantly, the impact that ORT has on education and empowerment around the world is stronger than ever.
The Talmud says that to save a life is to save the world. I believe that to educate a person is to educate a world. I am proud to stand on the shoulders of the “ORT ladies” who forged a path of progress and Tikkun Olam.