The Society for Handicrafts (ORT). The history of creation
The Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural Work among Jews of Russia was set up on the initiative of well-known scientist Nikolay Bakst. He proposed that major Jewish businessmen Samuel Polyakov and Horace Gunzburg[*] establish a fund for supporting such a Society. In early 1880 Samuel Polyakov, on behalf of a group of high-ranking Jews of St. Petersburg, petitioned the Interior Ministry for approval of the Jewish charitable fund project in honor of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the reign of . Thanks to the efforts of Baron Horace Gunzburg, the project won the favor of the authorities.
Permission to set up the Temporary Committee of the Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural Work among Jews in Russia (ORT) was obtained on March 22, 1880. The Temporary Committee included the most prominent Jewish businessmen, the rabbi and a number of Jewish intellectuals of St. Petersburg. However, in less than a year Alexander II was succeeded by a new emperor who rejected all Jewish initiatives and ORT had to operate as the "Temporary Committee" for as long as 27 years. Thanks to the tact and energy of the ORT leadership, the activities of this society were able to develop successfully throughout Russia despite these conditions.*
During its first years, ORT headquarters were located in the house of its chairman Samuel Polyakov, just as the OPE headquarters had been in the house of its chairman Evzel Gunzburg. These organizations were neighbors. Like OPE, ORT was supported by donations. Samuel Polyakov and Horace Gunzburg each donated 25 thousand rubles in bank-notes and securities. But while OPE was basically supported by only a few donors, ORT drew its support from the entire Jewish population of Russia.
ORT aimed to organize vocational training of Jews, and provide assistance to craftsmen in acquiring tools, materials, opening workshops and moving to areas where their labor was needed. This activity attracted the attention of nearly all Jewish periodicals, especially those which expressed the ideas of the . In practice, ORT did not confine its activities only to education and thus won over a wide circle of the Jewish population.*
As stated in the list of donations to ORT from April 30th to November 1st, 1880, in order to effectively attain its objectives, the society "...needed rather large funds. Relocation of at least one hundred craftsmen with their families - thus saving some 500 persons from the depredations of hunger and poverty - requires about 20,000 rubles..."
The reports of the ORT Temporary Committee allow us to see the popularity of the ORT idea. Funds were raised not only within the but outside it as well: from Akkerman to Yalutorovsk alphabetically, from Warsaw to Khabarovsk west to east, from Arkhangelsk to Sevastopol north to south, and from 30 kopecks to 25 thousand rubles in money amounts. This popularity was quite explainable: the craftsman's certificate made it possible to leave the overpopulated Pale where competition among craftsmen was keen.*
No.3, Galernaya street, in which the first headquarters of ORT was located