October 17, 2018

Reinventing education in Israel

After launching a successful bilingual law degree program geared toward English-speaking Israelis four years ago, the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan wanted to create an undergraduate program that would attract English-speaking students from abroad.

The college, which calls itself “a nonprofit self-supporting institution,” asked Shlomo “Momo” Lifshitz, an Israeli businessman who helped turn the word “Birthright” into a household name, to come up with a unique program and then market it.

“Nobody else in Israel offers these services as well as he does,” explained Moshe Cohen-Eliya, president of the College of Law and Business. “He’s extremely well-connected and knows the Jewish communities abroad
inside out.”

When it comes to recruiting foreign students, “Momo is never patronizing,” Cohen-Eliya said. “He tells students, ‘I know you’re trying to figure out your next steps in life and the world is in your hands. Why not take advantage of it and study in Israel?’ He helps them figure out what’s best for them.”

During his long career, Lifshitz, the founder of Oranim Educational Initiatives (once the largest organizer of Birthright tours), brought more than 50,000 participants on 1,200 Birthright tours before selling the firm to the national Egged Bus company five years ago. 

Unwilling to retire even though he could, Lifshitz, now 59, created Lirom Global Education — Study in Israel LLC, a company that helps create and promote more than 20 Israel-based degree- and non-degree programs (universityinisrael.com) earmarked for English speakers from abroad.

Lifshitz helped launch a one-year master of arts degree program in Jewish education at Hebrew University’s Melton Centre for Jewish Education in March, the first distance-learning program of its kind at the university. Students take about four online courses during each of two semesters, from anywhere in the world, and spend six weeks of intensive summer study on the university’s Jerusalem campus. The total price is $16,250. 

In light of the program’s initial success and because of the flexibility of the distance-learning component, the Melton Centre will offer additional starting dates in October and next March. 

This autumn, the College of Law and Business will launch a three-year business degree program that focuses on globalization and commercial law. During the first two years, students will study in Israel, and in the final year at Long Island University at the Brooklyn campus’ School of Business. Taught entirely in English, the program is intended to offer opportunities for students around the world looking to graduate with two degrees — an American university degree and an Israeli degree — while gaining international perspective and experience. Annual tuition in Israel is $10,000, while the Long Island University portion costs $34,000. 

In October, the College of Law and Business also will launch a four-year, dual-track law program that will provide students with a bachelor’s of law and a bachelor’s in business. The courses take place in Israel, and graduates are eligible to take the New York state and Israeli bar exams. 

The business courses are taught entirely in English, while half of the law courses are taught in Hebrew and half in English. The college promises to provide support for English-speaking students in Hebrew-taught courses, including allowing them to submit assignments and exams in English. During the first year, which is taught in English, students take an intensive legal Hebrew ulpan.

The program provides internships and workshops in such places as Harvard, Oxford and the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, plus study tours in China to provide professional international experiences and perspectives. The price is $12,000 per year for the dual track, study tours and international internships.

Starting next March, there also will be a “Study & Intern” option (which provides academic credits through Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) to spend nearly five months in Eilat on a program offering an academic internship in hotel management and hospitality. The program consists of six days of activities per week, with two days dedicated to academic studies and four days to professional internships.

A second “Study & Intern” track, also starting next March and also through Ben-Gurion University’s Eilat campus, will offer culinary students and recent graduates the opportunity to learn how to prepare Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine in a kosher environment. The entire cost of the five-month internship programs, including tours of Israel, accommodations, three meals a day and in-country transportation, is $1,500.

Lifshitz, a proud Zionist, views his work as a Zionist enterprise. He also receives a commission when he successfully recruits students.

“I decided I couldn’t allow my passion and drive to be wasted [in retirement] without doing something I feel is so important — to provide students the opportunity to get an education in Israel.

“I understood the cost of higher education in America and some other places and want to tell people loud and clear: There are options other than paying $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 per year for a bachelor’s degree, especially when we know a bachelor’s isn’t enough in today’s world. You need to go to grad school, and people are carrying debt till the age of 50. Guys, open your eyes.”

Lifshitz’s initial goal is to bring 5,000 foreign students to Israel for long- and short-term programs.

“It can be for a summer course, a semester, a bachelor’s or master’s. We’re a one-stop shop for many study opportunities in Israel.”

The education maven says the Hebrew University Jewish Education master’s will enable busy educators to get a master’s degree at the Melton Centre almost entirely online.

“Let’s say you’re an American educator or working in a Jewish organization or a JCC or a Hillel. You can work while you’re doing it.”

The Hebrew University program, Lifshitz said, “is ‘Israel Inside.’ There’s a lot of focus on how to teach Israel” in the curriculum.

Lifshitz hopes Jewish organizations and institutions in the U.S. will help their employees with the tuition costs. (Some scholarship funds may be available, as well, and Jewish students can explore scholarships through Masa Israel.)

“They’ll get a better employee. Hebrew U. is a top university,” he said.

Marcelo Dorfsman, director of the master’s in Jewish Education program, said the master’s is intended “to help Jewish communities around the world” train top-notch Jewish educators “in an open, pluralistic environment.”

Educators from all streams of Judaism are expected to take the course and spend six weeks in Jerusalem in the same classroom. 

While overseas programs bring much-needed revenue to Israel’s cash-strapped universities, Lifshitz said, they also are an opportunity to share Israel’s innovation and expertise with Jewish and non-Jewish students who might otherwise never get to know Israel and its people. 

“We have the greatest minds, the greatest scientists, the greatest high- tech. They don’t call us the ‘startup nation’ for nothing.”