In 1880, a small number of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to establish a fund to aid needy Jews.

The fledgling program was called the Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts and Agriculture Among the Jews. More than 1 million rubles were raised and 12,000 students trained in manual skills between 1881 and 1906.Renamed the Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training (ORT), the group operated soup kitchens, workshops and credit offices that saved thousands from starvation during World War I. By 1921, a World ORT Union was formed that included 54 affiliate groups in Eastern Europe, nine in Western Europe and one in the United States. The American Women's ORT was organized in Brooklyn in 1927 and became the largest fund-raising arm of the worldwide organization.

Before World War II, ORT served more than 400,000 people. It trained more than 80,000 displaced persons between 1946 and 1951. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, ORT ISRAEL began and is now the largest network of ORT schools. Israel is considered the leader in the field of vocational/technical training with an annual budget of $70 million.

ORT's 16 industrial schools combine school with work experience. The Israel Aircraft Industry works in conjunction with an ORT school whose students maintain and equip planes at the Lod airport near Tel Aviv.

Members of the Salt Lake City chapter of American Women's ORT met Sunday with Vera Stein, ORT Pacific Northwest Field Committee, to hear an update on ORT's activities. Stein told the group gathered at the home of Ann and Sander Dolowitz that Dolowitz is the grandson of one of the founders of American Women's ORT. The late Florence Dolowitz was one of five women who met in New York to form the women's division of ORT in America.

Today there are 145,000 members in more than 1,250 chapters, located in every city of more than 25,000 Jewish population. The program supports 158,000 students worldwide.

Stein said that unlike the U.S. educational system, 60 percent of Israeli students aged 14 to 16 study vocational education. "This trend is considered a healthy sign of the times since technology-based education has become the keystone of future developments for all nations." She reported one estimate that by the year 2000, 85 percent of the jobs will not need a college education.

ORT has established a School of Engineering on the campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Students and teachers recently designed an electronic voting system that is now being used in the Knesset.

In the Galilee region of Israel a new ORT facility will open in September 1988. The Braude International Institute is being constructed on the hillside in Karmiel, Israel's Silicon Valley. The Institute will provide high-level technological education in computers, electronics, robotics, energy studies and electro-optics. Women's American ORT has pledged 5 million to build this school.

Other ORT operations are in Algeria, Morocco, Tunis, Iran, France, Latin America, India and England. The Bramson ORT Technical Institute in New York City offers associate degrees and diploma programs in accounting and business management, computer programming, secretarial skills and ophthalmics as well as other subjects.