Big donor tells all to Ort dinner


Self-made billionaire Natie Kirsh told Ort UK's dinner that his charitable activities had been inspired by Maimonides.

The South African native, who has contributed to many of the education charity's programmes in 59 countries, was a guest of honour at Tuesday's dinner, held at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. Attended by more than 300 supporters, it raised in excess of £500,000.

His wider charity work has helped 14,000 people in Swaziland to start their own business and he has provided the funding for 700 start-ups in Israel.

"I came across a saying by Maimonides, which I placed in my wallet 40 years ago, that the highest form of tzedakah is to make a person self-reliant," the 83-year-old recalled. "It inspired me to give people fishing rods rather than fish."

He criticised religious institutions for not preparing students for life in the technological age, adding that Ort's Derech programme did just that. "Yeshivah education which only focuses on religious studies is not enough. Those who enter yeshivot at a young age and leave as young adults are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the modern, computer-dominated world.

"This motivated me to initiate a programme which we called Derech to bring computers and technical training to yeshivot."

The other special guest was actor Simon Callow, who told the JC that Ort was "a very noble cause". Any organisation that "teaches people how to think, how to read, teaches them skills and teaches them the possibility of getting a grip on their own lives must be encouraged".

He "very strongly" condemned cultural boycotts against Israel, saying: "I am very anxious about the many manifestations of antisemitism that we see around us. And I'm particularly dismayed that some members of my own profession have banned theatre companies and so on simply because they have a certain amount of subsidy from the Israeli government."

Addressing guests, Mr Callow said "the food has been miraculous. I shall be eating kosher for the rest of my life.

"I always weep when I hear songs from Fiddler on the Roof. I'm making a case here for a special relationship. I'm deeply Jewish in every way - apart from actually being Jewish."

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