A Quarter Decade of Inclusion: OROT Program Celebrates 25 Years

OROT students learn. Courtesy of OROT

When Gail Norry’s son Ben was 3, he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition on the autism spectrum. Norry and her husband Elliot were worried about his educational future.

Having both attended Jewish day schools, with their older daughter enrolled in one at the time, they were unsure if their son would have the same success in a traditional learning environment.

That’s when Norry and her husband decided to found OROT, a program that operates within Jewish day schools to provide individualized support for students with various types of disabilities. Their son was one of the first two children to enroll in the program when it launched in April 1999.

Twenty-five years later, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, OROT supports more than 70 students across five Jewish day schools in the Greater Philadelphia region: the Forman and Stern campuses of the Perelman Jewish Day School, Caskey Torah Academy, Politz Hebrew Academy and the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

“It is an incredible feeling that so many children and families have benefited from OROT,” said Norry, the immediate past board co-chair of the Jewish Federation. “We believed that we were fulfilling a need that was lacking in the community, but we had no idea at that time how significant it was. Twenty-five years is a fantastic milestone, and we are so proud of how the program has grown and been able to sustain itself.”

OROT’s mission is to offer personalized support by addressing students’ academic, social and behavioral needs. Among other resources, OROT trains special education teachers who are placed at all the partner schools besides Barrack, which consults with OROT but does not have its teachers in-house. OROT teachers create learning plans adjacent to the mainstream curriculum for secular and religious classes to help their students reach their fullest potential.

“I am so incredibly proud of the amount of students we’ve had go through the day school system and go out into the world to become successful human beings,” said Jaime Alter, OROT’s director of education. “We create mensches.”

One mensch who inspired Alter was Ben Norry, the reason why OROT was created.
“Watching Ben’s growth and seeing what OROT was able to do for him was incredible, and I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since then,” said Alter, who babysat Ben when he was a child.

Ben Norry is just one of the many students empowered by OROT.

“OROT holds a special place in our family’s hearts as it has been a constant source of support and care for our child,” explained Ivonne Mosquera, whose daughter attends Perelman. “OROT’s teachers exhibit a remarkable understanding of her abilities and provide compassionate guidance that has profoundly impacted our family. We are filled with gratitude for OROT’s continuous support as they walk alongside us in our family’s journey.”

The Jewish Federation supports OROT through three avenues: donor-directed gift; its Jewish Community Fund, the organization’s annual campaign and main source of unrestricted dollars that go toward areas of greatest need; and its partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools, which directs individual and business state tax credits through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program to provide scholarships for students at Jewish day schools and preschools.

“As the parent of children who experienced early learning issues, I am acutely aware of the need and value of educational programming designed specifically for their individual needs,” said Ellen Horowitz Matz, the Jewish Federation’s EITC director. “Judaism teaches us of our obligation to ensure that all people have access to full participation in learning, as well as in other aspects of life. OROT ensures that all students have the opportunity to learn in a way that helps them achieve success.”

Last year, OROT received more than $361,000 from the Jewish Federation. As just one of its sources of support, EITC funding has equated to approximately $3 million in the last 10 years.

“Without the Jewish Federation’s backing, OROT would have never succeeded,” Norry noted. “The Jewish Federation’s consistent support sends the message that kids with learning disabilities are just as entitled to a Jewish education as anyone else. Disability inclusion is something that everyone should care about because we are taught that ‘Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze B’zeh’ – that each of us is responsible for one another.”


OROT will mark its 25th anniversary with a celebration on May 8 honoring past chair Steve Katz, board member Robin Katz, current chair Jill Rosen and her husband Brian, and featuring OROT students and alumni. You can register for the event by visiting jewishphilly.org/OROT25.

You can support programs like OROT and other disability inclusion-focused organizations by donating to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia at jewishphilly.org/donate.


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