Priti Patel, the Secretary of State for International Development, told attendees at Ort UK’s annual dinner that the organisation was the “jewel in the crown” of the Jewish community’s educational tradition.
Although Ort provides education and skills training in 37 countries, the focus of this year’s event, held on Tuesday night, was on its projects in Israel.
Ms Patel began her speech by quoting from the Shema prayer:
“And you shall teach your children, when you sit in your house, and when you walk on your way and when you lie down and when you get up,” she said.
“For centuries you have recited these words twice a day in your most famous prayer, the Shema. But the Jewish community does not just recite these words. You enact them and have done throughout your history. And of course Ort is a jewel in the crown of that educational tradition.”
She praised Israel, describing how during her time as Secretary of State at the Department of International Development, she had seen the bringing of “Israeli solar technology to remote villages in Africa, to produce clean running water and electricity.
“This desire and responsibility to want to help others, coupled with that wonderful can-do attitude that is so central to the Jewish community and the heart of Israel, is… precisely the sort of Jewish homeland that was dreamt by Herzl, and was of course supported by that historic letter, the Balfour Declaration, a letter sent 100 years ago,” she continued.
“Britain is proud of our important contribution to the creation of the state of Israel, and we continue to believe in Israel’s people, the right to self-determination, and the future prosperity of Israel.”
However, Adam Overlander-Kaye, Ort UK’s chief executive, warned the crowd that Israel’s educational situation was not quite as rosy as it might appear.
“We know Israel as the start-up nation, providing the world with cutting-edge medical devices, developing artificial intelligence systems that will enable farmers to produce more sustainable crops, and leading the way in cyber-security and hi-tech innovation and research”, he said.
“So you might be surprised to hear that levels of education in Israel have fallen in recent years, so much so that Israel’s Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, recently declared a national state of emergency in the fields of medicine and science.”
He told the 250-strong gathering at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge that ORT’s response had been “to devise a new programme in conjunction with the [Israeli] Ministry of Education and Google” to provide maths and robotics classes, with Simon Alberga, chairman of Ort UK, describing the charity’s “network of over 40 schools, youth villages and technological colleges, serving peripheral communities in the north and south… focussing on science and technology education.”
The event raised £450,000 for Ort.