Andrea Terley always installed her friends' stereos and frequently repaired their telephones. And if someone told her what part to get, she could usually repair her automobile.
Terley, 41, of Van Nuys had looked for courses to cultivate her mechanical ability, but rejected many because they took too long or cost too much.
At Last an Answer
About a year after the death of her husband, she found a program that would work.
She enrolled in the nine-month computer technology course that started this fall when the Los Angeles ORT Technical Institute at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple opened.
Also offering majors in computer programming and secretarial skills, the institute provides what sponsors say is a breakthrough in Jewish education.
"American Jews, long an upwardly mobile community, have created a 'stereotype' for themselves that their children, to be successful, must become doctors, lawyers, CPA's or dentists," said Alan Viterbi, executive director of the Pacific Southwest Division of the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training, which sponsors the institute.
Challenging the Image
"ORT is challenging that self-image. We believe that it is OK for Jewish youth to become auto mechanics, farmers, or in the case of the Los Angeles Institute, computer technicians, programmers and secretaries."
It is not only OK for Jews to enter these fields--it is necessary because that is where the jobs are, said Arthur Cherdack, institute director. Cherdack said government statistics show that computer technician, computer programmer and secretary are among the nation's fastest growing occupations.
Immigrants, the Jewish poor, recent high school graduates and workers needing retraining are among groups that can benefit from the institute, said Cherdack, a former vice president at Los Angeles Southwest College.
About 35,000 Los Angeles Jews earn less than $15,915 for a family of four, according to a study by Steven Huberman of the Jewish Federation-Council of Greater Los Angeles.
The institute continues a tradition begun 105 years ago when ORT provided vocational training to Jews barred from Russian schools.
Today ORT sponsors 800 vocational-technical schools in Jewish communities worldwide. It had offered only one post-secondary program in the United States, however, until a survey four years ago revealed the need for a technical institute in Los Angeles.
After raising $3 million to start the school, officials spent $500,000 to equip seven carpeted, well-lighted classrooms with computers, typewriters, calculators and oscilloscopes.
On a recent Wednesday, Terley and about 15 other students consulted manuals to assemble digital multimeters, which measure voltage, current and resistance in circuits.
With oscilloscopes before them, the students worked at a long bench as Israeli-American students spoke in Hebrew around the room.
Across the hall a computer programming class sat behind intricate calculators and discussed ways to solve problems.
Religious Studies Also
About 50 students take courses such as these five hours a day, five days a week. They must also complete an hour a day of Jewish studies, although the institute accepts non-Jews. Cherdack hopes enrollment will reach 100 by June.
Tuition for the nine-month course is $3,000, but many students are on full or partial scholarships and/or loans.
One student, Leigh Gudeman, 42, of Los Angeles sold cars for 20 years when a fall at his workplace injured his back and neck and disabled him for 16 months.
After the injury, Gudeman said he felt uncomfortable about continuing in the business. He wanted to enter computer technology but couldn't afford the education.
When he applied to the Technical Institute, it offered a $2,500 scholarship and a $900 loan, which he could pay off at $50 a month.
Anna Benji, 21, who arrived in Los Angeles from Iran in 1979, said she learned more in 10 days at the Technical Institute than in two courses she took at a community college.
"I was always afraid to ask questions in the classroom. I never had my hand up," said Benji, who is studying computer programming. Because of the encouraging attitude of the Technical Institute faculty, she said, "Here I have my hand up all the time."
Celia R. Nadel of Los Angeles, who migrated from Argentina 16 years ago, helped her husband in his upholstery shop until he decided to enter a new business.
She decided to work elsewhere and when her son Danny, 21, signed up at the Technical Institute, she enrolled in the secretarial-office automation course.
"Everybody makes you feel like a family," she said.
" . . . The teacher helps us to make notes. They never told me that before. They give you the basics on how to improve yourself."