This summer a group of World ORT alumni gathered together for the first time.
From Argentina to Israel, Uruguay to Canada, they came together to reunite as graduates of ORT schools.
Established in 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia, ORT is the largest Jewish vocational and training organization. Currently ORT operates in 37 countries with approximately 300,000 students.
Pablo Reich, himself a graduate of an ORT school in Argentina hosted the event at his home in north Toronto.
He says, “Going to university wasn’t an option for many Jewish children so the ORT environment provided a technical education. Now ORT Argentina is a popular school offering STEM training to both Jewish and non-Jewish students.”
Elly Gotz is a prominent Toronto businessman, ORT alumnus from Kovno, Lithuania and a Holocaust survivor.
As Elly explains, there were no schools to attend in the ghetto. The Jewish management asked permission from the Nazis to start a trade school.
He learned metalwork while others were trained in locksmithing, welding, cutting and drilling.
“I loved it,” he says. “I didn’t have to think about how I was going to die, I was busy and at 15 years old I was made a teacher and training other students.”
After the war, Elly attended an ORT school to learn electronics, which eventually led him to become an electrical engineer.
He says that some of his fellow ORT students and classmates have gone on to illustrious careers including a professor, dental technician and acclaimed businessman. All credit ORT for their success.
According to Lindy Meshwork, Executive Director of ORT Toronto, next steps for ORT in Canada are fundraising as well as raising awareness for their programs.
On October 19 a Battle of the Air Bands will be held at the MOD Club in downtown Toronto, while in the spring of 2019 a large gala will be held to raise funds for ORT as well as Jewish day schools.
For more information on ORT, please visit www.ort-toronto.org
Elly Gotz with Pablo Reich
Yesterday, I left my Hannah Bea far away to be an adult in a different province again.
Too far away to draw on her back when she can't sleep, give her hugs when she needs her daily dose and cook for her when she is too lazy. All normal mom things that I engaged in for the vast majority of my own adult life.
Last year was her first year away and was incredibly hard. I lost 2 of my babies at once, as Lily Michaela Tova went in the opposite direction to start her new adult life at school, in an apartment with strangers who have since become her new family.
This is what I wanted: happy, excited, confident, resilient kids who have become happy, excited, confident, resilient young adults.
Who now know the merits of taking the garbage out themselves, paying a little more on quality paper towels, checking the price tags on groceries before buying staples and knowing the great pleasure of indulging a little on some days and gifting themselves a treat.
And yet, yesterday as I left Montreal, I was so sad and didn't stop crying until at least Cornwall.
"Oh mom, you're so dramatic", Hannah said when she called to check on me.
Raising kids for 20 years and leaving them to be their own real-life standalone individuals in charge of their own hydro bills and expiration dates IS dramatic. It's not just a very important transition for them but, in its second year, it has a finality about it that is both sad and incredibly liberating.
I did it, I raised kids who can survive if left to their own devices. Granted, UberEats might be part of their survival strategy, but so be it. Times have changed. Just not on my card, please.
The problem with sometimes struggling with depression is that you second guess your own responses to normal life experiences. Is my sadness warranted and normal, or is it a foreboding of the uncontrollable darkness that can sometimes descend for no reason and no clear endpoint?
But, yes, I cried and I might cry again today and tomorrow and maybe a few specific moments next month when I miss you, baby Hannah, and my Lily Bean. And confront parenting a wanna-be 16 year old rapper who merely grunts at me most of the time in the absence of his sister-allies.
This IS normal sadness and happiness and all the feelings that fall between. It is a good sign -- one of a mom who was connected and committed to being a mom and who is happy/sad to see their successes and my own.
Successes that mean they move away from me and onto their own lives and I become a little more of a peripheral player.
So to that, I proudly raise my tear-stained face, take a deep breath and continue to work on my happy, excited, confident, resilient self I forgot about whilst raising my kids.
Happy/sad back to school to all the parents sending off their kids. You done good.
When I meet Elly at a café close to his home, it doesn’t take long for him to tell me a joke.
“A priest, a minister and a rabbi discuss when life begins.”
It’s a joke from a bygone era but it immediately sets the tone for our chat.
At 90 years old, Elly is a tall handsome man, with thick white hair and a wide welcoming smile.
“I love to tell jokes,” he says.
It’s the perfect paradox to our serious discussion about his teen years before and after the Second World War. His time in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, later separated from his mother and barely surviving with his father in the Dachau concentration camp.
Growing up in Lithuania, Elly experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.
“I was 17 years old when I came out of Dachau,” says Elly. “When we were freed I spent six months in hospital” gaining weight back and rebuilding his strength.
Even though he was later deemed physically well, he admits that emotionally he was not and sought revenge on all Germans.
He came to the self-realization that it was unproductive to hold on to his anger.
“You can’t accuse a whole nation of being murderers,” he says. “I had to give up hate.”
By coming to terms with his past, Elly was able to build a future for himself and his family.
From childhood he dreamed of becoming an engineer and a pilot. During his time in the ghetto, he received skilled trades training from a worldwide organization called ORT and later attended university to earn a degree as a professional engineer.
In Canada he fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot and flying his own plane.
He coined the phrase, ‘to do something well has healing properties’. The skills he learned in the ghetto gave him the opportunities that would build him a life.
Having run several successful businesses, he now volunteers for numerous charities including ORT Toronto, as well as Miles For Millions and his synagogue.
In addition, Elly continues to speak to over 100 schools a year about the Holocaust and the power of giving up hate and following your dreams.
“Its a good life. Don’t feel too bitter about difficulties, just deal with them the best you can.”
Elly Gotz (center), age 15, teaching metalwork at ORT school in Lithuania
Susan has led a life that seems like a Hollywood movie.
She fell in love with her best friend, got pregnant, married and miscarried their only child. Later she discovered that her husband was homosexual with multiple partners, and ultimately died of AIDS.
I met Susan when she reached out to me on Twitter. Her story was so unique that I had to learn where she found her resilience.
Susan and her husband Jeffrey met in Grade 5. Their close friendship turned into a love that would last a lifetime.
“I always say that I had a friendship from heaven and a marriage from hell,” she tells me over the phone from Florida.
She compared their partnership to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as they were always a team and there for each other.
When Jeffrey came out as being gay, she said that God spoke to her to keep her vow “till death do us part.” She never considered leaving him.
In 1981 Susan was watching the news when a story came on about a disease that was killing gay men. In 1991 Jeffrey showed symptoms of having HIV.
He was hospitalized for pneumonia in 1992 and at that point Susan hit rock bottom. With the stigma associated with AIDS at the time, Jeffrey was put in isolation.
To help herself cope she kept a journal, filling 15 books. Twenty-four years ago Jeffrey passed away. Since his death, Susan hasn’t stopped campaigning for HIV and AIDS testing.
“Jewish people love to tell stories,” she says. “I am a storyteller.” She published a book titled, “Committed To Love”.
At 72 years of age she shows no signs of slowing down.
She is a tireless advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness as well as hospice care, has written two books, runs a website, campaigns for her story to be made into a movie, and speaks to groups regularly on the importance of early detection, knowing your status and treatment options.
“Adversity pushes you to purpose and makes you determined,” she says as we wrap up. “I have lived by the message of triumph over tragedy. You can’t escape the tragedy, but it’s what you do with it.”
Tara was like many expectant mothers today. She regularly posted photos about her pregnancy to social media, eagerly anticipating the birth of her baby. They would name her Reid, but call her by her nickname, Pip.
Within a few days of her daughter’s arrival, Tara and her husband got the news that Pip was born with Down Syndrome,congenital cataracts and numerous heart defects.
They were in total shock since there was no indication during her pregnancy.
Tara went dark on social media and from the world around her.
“I was grieving the child that she was supposed to be and who I thought I wanted her to be,” says Tara while speaking with me on the phone.
One night while laying Pip in her crib, Tara crouched down sobbing on the floor beside her.
“I couldn’t remember how long I was there, it could have been minutes or hours.”
She looked up to see a sign that she had painted and hung above the crib which read, ‘Life is more beautiful because you are here.’
Tara got up and returned to her computer to post her raw feelings through a blog, announcing that her daughter had Down Syndrome.
That same night, she received replies from around the world from other parents of special needs children.
The days and weeks that followed, Tara continued to post and gather a bigger circle of support around her. Social media had become her therapy and listening ear.
She named her page, The Happy Soul Project and it now has over 26,000 followers on Instagram, and over 32,000 on Facebook.
“I gathered an army to support us,” says Tara. “We’ve been uplifted by people worldwide.”
By creating the blog, Tara and her family learned to focus on the magic that is in Pip. At five years old, she has undergone 20 operations but does so with humour, grace and always a sense of playfulness.
Tara’s posts focus on their family life including videos of their morning routine, going for walks and talking with one another, bedtime stories and family outings.
All with the aim of making Pip front and centre while showing the normalcy and fun in raising a child with special needs.
Some of the other projects that Tara is spearheading include the #differentisbeautiful campaign featuring children with special needs. In addition, there is the Happy Soul Project shop which is managed by adults with special needs, a school program, a Queen’s University Club with hundreds of students and community events.
“I wanted to somehow make a dent in the universe,” she says. “Initially I did the blog for me, but now it’s become my purpose to help others.”
Photography: Genevieve Simon
Jana is a teacher, a mother and the creator of a successful non-for-profit group.
She provides a solution to the challenges that the homeless face, when they get their period, through The Period Purse.
With her army of volunteers, they collect tampons and pads along with wellness items, packed in purses, and deliver them to homeless shelters across Ontario.
The Period Purse started in a very organic and modern way.
In 2017 Jana had menstrual items that she wanted to donate to people experiencing homelessness, but nothing to put them in. She posted a request to a local Facebook group looking for a purse.
Before she knew it, she had dozens dropped off on her back porch. By the end of the month, she collected over 300 purses.
With the attention she received on social media, only a week later she appeared on CBC Radio’s popular radio show, Metro Morning.
She never ran a business before and the rapid growth that The Period Purse received in a short amount of time was overwhelming to her.
“I didn’t think it would explode the way that it did,” she says.
It’s a massive effort, but with its overwhelming response and simple method of spreading kindness, she told me that it would be hard for her to stop now.
I met Jana at a west Toronto church where dozens of volunteers were sorting, organizing and stuffing purses.
A motivational note like this one, “You are strong, you are powerful. What you are going through today doesn’t have to be your forever” is included in each bag.
Jana did not plan on The Period Purse becoming a full-time operation, on top of her career as a teacher. Currently there are 8 chapters across Ontario and in Toronto alone she helps 12 shelters, servicing 530 women and transgender men.
Running it involves managing donations, recruiting and organizing volunteers including school groups, maintaining the website, posting to social media, corresponding with the chapters, as well as storing and delivering product.
“There were things like governance and accounting that I did not know and had to learn quickly,” she says. “I asked a lot of questions, set-up a Board of Directors and struck a partnership with some large corporations.”
Even with a lack of staff and only so many hours in a day, Jana is focused on growth and helping more individuals so that no one is left behind.
“It’s important for people to know that someone is listening to them and cares.”
Her advice for anyone looking to start something similar would be to, “delegate, take breaks and holidays, and take all of the help that you can get.”
The Period Purse has launched the Support A Menstruator program. To find out more, visit www.theperiodpurse.com
photo: Emily D Photography
Lucinda has an interesting hobby. It’s been called stunt climbing, thrill seeking and urban exploring.
We met at a New York City joint called, The Adventure Café. A cute little spot in the East Village, perfectly named for our talk.
“We’re all confined by barriers,” she says. “I’m going outside of the box turning the urban jungle into my jungle.”
With her camera in hand, she has climbed and roamed dozens of abandoned and forbidden landmarks around the world.
Notre Dame in Paris, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, hidden sewer passages in Berlin, and Kings Reach Tower in London to name a few.
This is not considered to be a safe sideline, but the rewards far outnumber the anxiety that she feels when she reaches her goal.
Lucinda has stood on the eagles at the top of the Chrysler Building twice and scaled the Manhattan Bridge, all while being mindful of not getting spotted by security helicopters.
And summiting to the top of the great pyramid in Giza meant averting jail time. With views of sandy desert and the lights of Cairo in the distance, the descent was like a gradual reintroduction into the world below.
She is part of a unique group of adventurers who climb famous bridges, roam tunnels beneath our feet and perch themselves on buildings high above the streets and sidewalks.
At 12 years of age she had her first taste of adventure at a local quarry. Soon after she was climbing large bridges.
“The first time was the hardest,” she says. “But it taught me that I could do something more dangerous the next time.”
The more she did, the more rewarding it became for her. Although she does not urge others to do what she does, she encourages everyone to look and explore life outside of their comfort zone.
“Camping on rooftops is a great way to connect with your city, where the city lights become your stars.”
She wants people to look at their environment differently.
Going to the end of the subway platform and looking down the tracks to imagine what else is there, or visiting the roof of your office building.
Lucinda feels that by doing these micro adventures, people will get a more personal connection to their surroundings.
“Turn fear or curiosity into excitement and appreciate the views and feelings that come with it.”
And maybe the next time, you will venture down, up or in.
Lucinda Grange will be showing in a new exhibition, “Almost Green” at the Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery in New York City. It opens at the end of June 2018.
Britney and her cousin Mikey are both 24 years old and have been close their entire lives.
Mikey has spent his life in and out of hospitals. He was born with serious heart defects, Down syndrome, and has experienced severe seizures, which have caused his condition to worsen over time.
There were many times, more than she would like to remember, that Britney and her family were faced with the reality that Mikey may not come home from the hospital.
“My aunt, uncle and cousins live on an emotional roller coaster,” she says. “I see the heartbreak firsthand that so many families experience.”
Thanks to nurses along with his mother, father and brothers, Mikey now receives full-time care and the love of his family at home.
Witnessing what comes with having a seriously ill child and the toll that it takes on a family, Britney channelled her energy into helping other children and their families.
In 2015, she began fundraising for two Toronto charities that were close to her heart, The Hospital for Sick Children and Ronald McDonald House. Mikey spent much of his life at Sick Kids, as did his family.
She called her campaign, LivingstrongMD, incorporating Mikey’s initials into the name.
“What Mikey is doing is living strong, he is really the resilient one,” she says. “I wanted to name it for how we all look at him.”
In her first year, she raised $8,000, and the following year $9,000. In 2017, she collected $10,000.
Her goal is to establish LivingstrongMD as a charity, and raise $20,000 by this Christmas.
The money has been used to purchase items for the Sick Kids “Sponsor A Family” program, SickKids VS campaign, and to give toys to children on Christmas morning and to stock new ones in the pre-operative care units.
Knowing that her campaign has allowed children to play, and made life a little easier for their families, brings joy to Britney.
Since her campaign began, she was also able to pay for 20 families to stay at Ronald McDonald House each year during the holidays. A home away from home for families to stay close to their children who are receiving care in a hospital.
Britney’s aunt has told her how proud Mikey is of everything that she has done.
Britney appreciates all of the support that she has received to do her good deeds through the strength that she receives from her cousin.
She says, “there are days that are rough, but hope is all we need, and I will never stop believing in that for Mikey.”
Meet Cindy. On September 10, 2001 she was in New York City with her husband for a getaway weekend.
Dave was there for work, and at five months pregnant, Cindy accompanied him.
On the morning of September 11th, she kissed her husband goodbye as he left their Times Square hotel room, to attend a meeting downtown.
Cindy was catching a flight that afternoon to return home to her toddler son, and planned on spending the morning in SOHO, a trendy neighbourhood in the lower part of the island.
In the taxi ride downtown she could see smoke, billowing in the air, in the distance.
She got out of the car and entered a drugstore that had a radio playing the news. The White House had been evacuated, and planes flew into the Pentagon as well as both World Trade Center buildings, located just down the street from where she was standing.
More and more people poured on to the streets in sheer panic and fear. Cindy made her way back to her hotel, to wait for her husband.
He did not return that day.
The next morning, Times Square was so quiet that it felt surreal to her. This is an area of midtown known for it’s brightly lit signs, along with hoards of pedestrians and traffic.
She received a call from one of her husband’s co-workers back home. With cell towers located on top of the World Trade Center buildings, sending and receiving phone calls was a challenge.
He told her that he received an email from Dave, the day before, telling him that he was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre and to get help.
His building was the second to go down.
It has now been nearly 17 years since that horrific day that changed the lives of so many around the world.
The following January, Cindy gave birth to a boy, naming him after his father.
On the anniversary of 9/11, she has returned to New York every year with her boys to join other families for a memorial service, or volunteer back home for the National Day Of Service.
“Every year that passed”, she says, “I was seeing New York heal as I was healing.”
She became involved with organizations like The Victims Of Crime and Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism.
In her husband’s honour, she established The David Barkway Memorial Scholarship, with funds raised from an annual golf tournament, one of Dave’s favourite activities.
Initiatives like this have helped Cindy and her family to find happiness and peace.
“It’s a process that comes one day at a time,” she says. “But, I can still see that there are a lot of good things in this life.”
Leanne is a lawyer and life coach.
She consults her male and female clients on separation, divorce, child support, and criminal charges.
When Leanne was 19 years old, her mother passed away. Her parents were divorced at the time, and Leanne was left to manage the household on her own.
Going to school, working, and raising her younger brother, she received finances from her father, but little emotional support.
Following law school, she rose to become an Assistant Crown Attorney, specializing in domestic violence.
She got married and had 2 children, but was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and divorced 10 years later.
By day, Leanne was a tireless advocate for women. By night, she was stressed, lonely and suffering from low self-esteem.
The support that she would provide to her clients was lacking in her own life, and Leanne recognized that she was not going in a positive direction.
She found help in professional therapy and life coaching.
“Finding the right therapist turned my life around,” she says. “I started to believe in myself again and this made me want to help others rediscover who they are and empower themselves.”
Being a family lawyer, Leanne is a coach by nature, and she realized that having this as a professional skill could help her clients as well.
Many women are lost when their marriage falls apart. Not only does she help with their divorce settlements, but she also helps in rebuilding their lives.
Some women have been out of the workforce for many years and need guidance in designing a resume, or dating again and creating an on-line profile.
“Once I opened my own practice, I could focus on helping women overcome the stigma associated with divorce,” she says.
Part of her message is in telling women that it’s okay to fall, pick yourself up and rebuild.
“It’s a slow process,” she says. “But once you see change start to happen, you feel better and stronger.”
Even with her own life, she realizes that she has grown so much from the bad.
“Everyone is dealt cards in life,” she says. “To fulfill your potential you have to deal with them, and believe in yourself.”