Israeli combat soldiers to receive full college scholarships

Israeli combat soldiers will receive full scholarships from the military to pursue a university degree or professional certification.

The scholarships will be funded by the Israel Defense Forces, as well as the Friends of the IDF and the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, the Israeli Hebrew daily Yediot Acharonot reported.

In a recent meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gadi Eisenkot asked Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to help him find the funds to offer such scholarships to only to combat soldiers, but to all soldiers after their service, according to Ynet, the English-language sister publication of Yediot.

Soldiers who are new immigrants, minorities or from disadvantaged families also will receive scholarships for higher education, according to the report.

The scholarships for combat soldiers are expected to cost about $60 million a year, and an additional $130 million a year if all released soldiers are included, according to the report.

Innovating the Israeli classroom

Imagine a revolutionary classroom for kids with attention and learning disorders: bouncy chairs made from yoga balls, distraction-free décor, walled-off cubicles, desks on wheels and a touch of the outdoors.

Only there’s no need to imagine it, now that the unique “Yes I Can!” classroom opened this year at Darca High School in Kiryat Malachi (literally “City of Angels,” named for the Los Angeles Jewish community that helped develop the Israeli town). If it proves to be a good working model, the Darca network will implement this Israeli innovation in its 24 other high schools serving the socioeconomic periphery of the country.

“The students already report that it is much easier for them to study and concentrate in the new classroom, thanks to the clean design — no notice boards, posters, accessories, decorations, etc. — [than it is] in a regular classroom,” Principal Michal Hazan said. “This helps to create a calm atmosphere and minimize distractions. The three enclosed workstations for individual study also help in isolating students from the noise made by their classmates, as well as from visual interferences.”

Architect Lior Ben-Sheetrit, 32, chose the design details and furnishings for the 645-square-foot room after extensively observing the 55 students and talking with them and their teachers about the difficulties they experience in a standard setting.

“For example, the students explained that it is very hard for them to sit on regular chairs and concentrate, while the teachers said that the students keep moving and shifting during classes,” Hazan said. “Thus, the chairs made of yoga balls within a frame were designed to channel the students’ energy and give it an outlet.”

Inspired by watching some of the kids play the popular video game Minecraft — in which players break and build with blocks to create imaginative structures — the architect decided to incorporate simple geometric shapes and a “green wall” of vegetation to resemble the game’s environment.

Ben-Sheetrit was working with a nearly $13,000 budget provided by donors, including Israel-based insurance and finance company Harel, Kol Israel Haverim and the Rashi Foundation. The Darca network was established five years ago by the Rashi Foundation and KIAH with the support of the Education Ministry, and was joined in 2014 by the United States-based Youth Renewal Fund.

“As a network, Darca joined forces in this project with Kol Israel Haverim and Harel insurance company to experiment with different ways of dealing with challenges teachers face,” Darca CEO Gil Pereg said.

He explained that Darca takes over poorly performing schools and brings in new management and leadership from excellent schools throughout Israel to work with the existing staff. The 700-student junior-senior high school in Kiryat Malachi became part of the network two years ago.

“In Kiryat Malachi, we also built the kids a new library, and we’ve added more teaching hours and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] instruction, and new innovations like the Yes I Can! classroom,” Pereg said.

“Some of these ideas we find from other places around the globe because we see ourselves as a laboratory for experimental solutions to the challenges of education in the 21st century. The [Yes I Can!] classroom is an example of Israeli design innovation, and in our Ashkelon and Bat Yam schools we’ve done something similar in the English language classrooms.”

However, he said, “In the end, it’s not about computers and walls, but about changing the way these kids see themselves,” noting that Darca schools are experiencing a huge rise in the number of students earning academic diplomas and considering higher education.

Pereg added that Darca emphasizes involving parents in the educational journey. “What we do with the kids often has a direct effect on [the] functioning of the entire family,” he said.

Hazan said parents of kids with ADHD and learning disabilities are “very excited both about the idea of creating a special class and about its beautiful realization.”

But nobody is as excited as the students themselves, Hazan added. 

“They greatly appreciate the efforts that were made for their benefit, and feel that the concept was developed with much respect for their needs and wishes and with the aim of creating a welcoming and aesthetic learning environment.”

Program teaches parents to raise curious kids – Israeli style

Idis Arugeta used to come home from a long day of work and stick her toddler in front of the TV. But she said an Israeli-created home visitation program has changed the way she parents.

Now Arugeta said she sets aside one-on-one time to do things like read with her daughter — and it has paid off.

Her daughter has become “the best student,” Arugeta reported. “She knows everything.”

HIPPY, or Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, is designed to help low-income parents prepare their 3- to 5-year-old children to start school. Parents receive a weekly curriculum. They are given books on a schedule — every week or every other week — including a new book that teaches them how to become their child’s first teacher.

The program was started in Israel in 1969 to help immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East prepare for life in their new country. HIPPY, which still operates in its native country, came to the United States in 1980 via the National Council for Jewish Women’s Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Today there are 140 HIPPY sites in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Locally, HIPPY partners with the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia, Enterprise Community Partners in Baltimore, and the Perry School Community Services Center and the Family Place, both in the District of Columbia.

More than 125 parents participate in HIPPY at the Family Place. The majority are Spanish speakers with little formal education in their native country, according to Haley Wiggins, executive director of the nonprofit.

“Lots of parents say, ‘I send my child to school to learn,’” Wiggins said.

HIPPY works to change that mindset, she said. Parents are shown how to make their children lifelong, eager students.

“We really work with the parents. We empower them to be role models,” Wiggins said.

While the curriculum emphasizes reading and math, there is also a week dedicated to germs and why showering and teeth brushing are important.

A typical HIPPY session happens in the parent’s home, though libraries and other public places are options as well. The home visitor explains the week’s curriculum and shows the parent what to do. During the hourlong visit, the home visitor also tells the parent about other services available. Many clients, said Wiggins, have no idea how many programs exist on the local and federal level to help people deal with the challenges of poverty.

HIPPY also sponsors monthly meetings for parents to get to know each other while learning. Some topics during recent meetings have included bullying, tax preparation and domestic violence prevention. The program is provided free to the families, with most of the funding coming from the federal government’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

Linda Frank, chair of HIPPY USA’s board of trustees, spoke about the program like a proud parent.

“It really has become a passion for me,” she said.

To her, HIPPY is about much more than handing out books. Frank said parents learn the importance of being in contact with teachers, attending back-to-school nights and staying engaged with their child’s education.

Other skills that are taught to parents include how to get children to pay attention, take turns and sit quietly, she said.

Sonia Sorto, a HIPPY home visitor, said the program truly makes a difference. The parents often start out wary, she said, but quickly “most parents become really involved.”

Israel’s Christian schools reopen after month of strike

On Sept. 28, one of the longest academic strikes in Israel’s history finally came to an amicable close when students enrolled in Israel’s Christian school system belatedly began their school year after 27 days of protests by teachers, administrators, parents and students.

The 33,000 students, mostly Christian Arabs, attending 47 institutions across Israel returned to school one day after an agreement was inked between church leaders who administer ecclesiastical academics and Israel’s Ministry of Education. The deal reinstated $13.8 million that had been cut from the Christian school system’s allocation from the Israeli government last year, established a joint committee to set future government contributions and barred the schools from striking during the next two years.

While communication between government officials and school leaders remained open and positive throughout the closure, according to negotiators in the Joint Arab List who sat in on the discussions, some in the Christian community had hoped to ensure state funding for future years.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Yousef Jabareen, a representative with the Joint Arab List, the Arab alliance in the Knesset, and a father of three enrolled in Christian schools. Jabareen was among the thousands of parents left scrambling to find child care during the four weeks of the strike — many of them carted their children to their workplaces. During those weeks, Jabareen brought his youngest son with him to work at the Knesset, while another son assisted at a relative’s clothing store and spent “a lot of time on Facebook and watching television, unfortunately, nothing meaningful,” Jabareen said.

“On one hand, I appreciate the struggle the schools have initiated, and I appreciate their courage to keep the strike for almost one month. On the other hand, I feel some disappointment because I thought we could get a better agreement.”

Jabareen and other parents active on the strike committee had hoped the government would come up with a fixed amount for state contributions in the coming years. Under the new agreement, the amount will be determined jointly by school officials and the Ministry of Education over the next six months.

“I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, praising the compromise reached by the schools and state.

“I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year,” he added.

Days before classes were due to begin last month, the church-run schools announced that, in protest of budget cuts, they would not open their doors. School officials said the Ministry of Education had reduced state contributions from 64 percent of their operating cost to 29 percent over the past two years, and the schools no longer had the resources to educate. Because Israel’s Christian schools are a public-private enterprise, called “recognized non-official,” they are capped at receiving 75 percent of their budget from the state. The remainder of their funding comes from parent contributions, ranging from $650 to $1,300 per pupil annually.

Church leaders had originally asked the government for a total of $52.6 million. They said that amount would cover the full 75 percent maximum benefit from the state, and would match the grants given to recognized nonofficial Jewish schools.

“I look at myself, I am a hardworking person, I pay taxes,” said Leila Haddad, a gynecologist and mother with two daughters enrolled in a Christian school in Haifa, where more than 60 percent of Arab students attend Christian schools.

“I think that everyone is looking for equality and not more. We know that these are sort-of private schools, so we are not looking for 100 percent funding, but the same that other schools in our category receive,” she added.

“This 50 million NIS [$13.8 million] hardly does anything when you divide it by 33,000 students,” said Wissam Asmar, a graduate of the same school Haddad’s children attend, which was founded in the mid-1800s. Asmar is a lawyer and a father of three children who were out of school during the strike. “This is something that we will not accept. This will not solve the problem.”

Church officials who oversee the schools hail from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sects. Even so, the curriculums are often secular and noted for an emphasis on culture and civics. “They also exercise values and democracy, community, forgiveness, respecting the other, and being involved, being a caring citizen,” Jabareen said, adding, “I definitely credit my school for my career development.” In addition to serving as an elected official, Jabareen also holds a doctorate in law from Georgetown University.

In fact, Christian schools are regarded as outstanding performers in Israel’s fractured education system, serving, in addition to the Arab-Christian community, a number of Muslim and some Jewish children. Sixty-nine percent of students in Christian schools matriculate, compared to 27 percent of students from government-run Arab schools.

Four percent of Israel’s students are registered at Christian schools, yet among Arab students studying at Israeli universities, 39 percent graduated from the Christian system. What’s more, many graduates of these schools go on to become leaders in Israel’s professional class; alumni include doctors, lawyers and a staggering 89 percent of Arabs in the high-tech industry.

“I had the best education, I think. My school was one of the top schools in Israel,” said Aida Touma-Sliman, another Knesset member and graduate of a Christian school, also in Nazareth. “It’s not by chance that six our of 13 members of the Knesset [from the Joint Arab List] graduated from these schools.”

Ohr Moshe: Where students with special needs feel welcome

Daniel Lewkowicz travels more than an hour each way from his home on a moshav to the Ohr Moshe School in Beit Shemesh, almost 20 miles west of Jerusalem, but he doesn’t mind the commute. 

“This school is so good it’s worth the trip,” Lewkowicz, 16, said during a break from his studies at Ohr Moshe, a school for boys who, because of a wide range of learning disabilities such as dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, haven’t succeeded in traditional schools. “Here, I get to learn one-on-one, the staff is well-equipped and it’s fun. I’ve made friends. It’s very easy to make friends in this school.” 

The school, which began focusing on kids with learning disabilities five years ago, offers the kind of small classes (eight to 10 students) and individualized attention that most parents can only dream about. Its students come from new and veteran immigrant families from English-speaking countries, and instruction is in English and Hebrew. 

The semiprivate school, which is certified and partially funded by the Ministry of Education, offers a full range of secular and religious subjects. 

Daniel Lewkowicz, 16, doesn’t mind the long commute to Ohr Moshe, because the school is “so good it’s worth it,” he said. 

Rabbi Avi Lipman, Ohr Moshe’s principal, said his school provides a middle ground for seventh- to 12th-graders whose needs aren’t being met by either typical or special education frameworks. Israeli students with severe challenges have the benefit of specialized school programs with smaller classrooms, but those whose needs are relatively mild fall somewhere in between, he said.  

Before enrolling in Ohr Moshe, many of the school’s students were in special education frameworks or would qualify for one. And because most high-functioning special education students receive only vocational training, few complete their bagrut, or full matriculation certificate, the principal said.

“I have no problem with vocational training as long as it’s a choice,” Lipman said. “All too often, there is no choice.”  

Despite their learning disabilities, virtually all of the boys at Ohr Moshe study for and pass the matriculation exams necessary to attend a university thanks to smaller classes and intensive individualized attention, according to Lipman. Earning the matriculation certificate “keeps as many doors open as possible, both in terms of higher education and a career,” he said. “Nobody should be saying, ‘You have ADD, so you can only choose A and B.’ ” 

Lipman’s passion to help his students reach their fullest potential is rooted in his experience as a child with special needs growing up in an American-Jewish school. 

“I myself have dyslexia and ADHD, and in the middle of fourth grade, I was placed in a special education classroom. In the class were two severely autistic students, two students with Down syndrome” and others with significant developmental delays, he said. Although Lipman said he needed the kind of help not available in the school’s much larger mainstream classroom, the special education class was clearly not the place for him either.

“Our students are here not because they don’t need individualized assistance but because the kid next to them [in their special education class] may have had severe behavioral problems and was trying to set something on fire,” he said.  

Rabbi Chanan Fruchter, the school’s rosh yeshiva (religious head of school) who was born in New York and made aliyah with his family when he was 9, believes a school like Ohr Moshe is especially important to immigrant teens whose less-than-perfect grasp of Hebrew only adds to their learning challenges in the Israeli school system. 

“When a family makes aliyah and even one of its children isn’t fitting in, it throws the whole family into turmoil,” he said. “Some of our kids were born here, and others made aliyah relatively recently, but the ability to study in English or Hebrew is important to them.

“Some of our boys’ parents told us they made aliyah because they finally found the right place for their sons to study, something they said they didn’t always have back home,” Fruchter said, adding that North American-Jewish day schools and yeshivas are rarely equipped to provide classes for teens with mild-to-moderate learning challenges.  

In addition to its small classes, Ohr Moshe offers each student an individualized program of study based on his individual strengths and weaknesses. Classes are built around ability, not age or grade. A younger boy who is advanced in math or English, for example, will be put in a class suitable to his ability, regardless of his age. 

By studying at the right level, they succeed rather than feeling like failures, Lipman said. 

The school also helps the students develop the social skills needed to form friendships and thrive on and off campus.  

“In the past, many students felt like outsiders,” Lipman said. “They were excluded, and now they feel included.” 

Such was the case for Dovid Singer, whose family made aliyah four years ago. 

“It was my decision to come here. I suffered bad culture shock and felt rejected when we moved to [the settlement] Efrat and we couldn’t find anything English-speaking.”

Singer, nearly 15, said he felt welcome at Ohr Moshe the moment he walked in the door. 

“I was immediately bombarded by students who wanted to show me around. What I love is that the school is big enough so you can be with the people you want to be with but it’s not too big. I’m a lot more open than I used to be and I don’t get angry as fast as I used to.” 

Singer, who said he has “attention issues,” said his teachers give him room to explore. “It’s not stressful here. I really do try, and when I say I need help, I get it.” 

Lewkowicz said he appreciates the individualized attention he receives. 

“It’s hard for me to focus sometimes — I have ADHD — and the teachers go the extra mile to provide support. I like it here.”  

In Israel’s poorest schools, teachers improvise fixes for funding shortfalls

In 2008, Asher Nachmani wanted to buy a computerized blackboard for his classroom, but the elementary school where he teaches technology in this low-income town didn’t have the money.

So Nachmani built one himself.

He downloaded a free program from the Internet, bought a controller for a Nintendo Wii video game console and connected it to an infrared bulb taken from his television remote control.

Using a Bluetooth connection, Nachmani was able to project his computer screen onto a wall and draw on it.

The story is a typical one at the Ashalim Experimental Public School, the oldest elementary school in Ofakim. Chronically short on funds, Ashalim teachers are often forced to improvise, making do with supplies donated by neighbors or paid for from their own pockets.

In one classroom, a window divider was cut from a coffee table found by the principal. Teachers at times pay for lunches that poor children cannot afford, said Yael Segev, the school’s principal.

“The municipality can’t take the expenses,” said Segev, who says she donates about 10 percent of her salary back to the school as charity. “We approach this from a place of pride. We see this as our home and we care for it.”

As 2 million Israeli students begin the school year this month, they face some of the most unequal educational conditions in the Western world. According to a report this year by the Taub Center, Israel has the largest educational achievement gaps between rich and poor among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, an economic grouping of the world’s wealthiest nations.

The report also found that Israel performs second worst in international test scores, beating only Slovakia, and has above-average class sizes — 29 students per class compared to an OECD average of 20.

Israel’s Education Ministry has aimed to address these problems by providing more funding to poor districts starting this year, increasing the number of summer schools and enhancing school choice. But Nahum Blass, a senior education researcher at the Taub Center, said increased local education funding in rich towns, coupled with the hiring of private tutors by wealthier parents, cancel out the ministry’s efforts.

“What the system can give the weaker students is not enough to cover the gap between weak and strong,” Blass said. “A poor kid will get a little more from the Education Ministry, but what the [well-off] local authorities and the parents give can counteract that affirmative action and flip it.”

A number of educational nonprofits have launched efforts to address these issues.

Balanced Literacy, a program by the Israeli Center for Educational Innovation, runs programs at 18 schools with high concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants, beginning language classes with a half-hour of class reading time and up to three hours of language instruction daily. Another nongovernmental organization, Educating for Excellence, identifies the most talented students in low-income areas and provides them with enrichment, extracurricular activities and a quiet space to do homework for three hours several times a week.

But much of the burden still falls on teachers who take it upon themselves to give students in low-performing schools the extra attention they need to succeed.

Sarit Elmaliach, a first-grade teacher at the Saadya Gaon Religious Public School in the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda, has taken steps to make her lessons more relevant to the one-third of her students from Ethiopian families.

Like other Israeli minorities, Ethiopians come from less affluent families and struggle more in school. According to the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, a government-funded think tank that studies Ethiopian Israelis, as of 2010 only one-quarter of Ethiopian high-school graduates were prepared for college, versus nearly half of Israeli Jews overall. Ethiopian college graduation rates also lag those of Israeli Jews.

Elmaliach reads to her students books with Ethiopian characters and focused one art class on an Ethiopian sculptor. When she visits the parents of her Ethiopian students at home, she takes care to abide by Ethiopian standards of politeness, even being mindful of things as simple as sitting down before drinking a cup of water. Before the school year starts, she learns the origins of her students’ Amharic names.

“You want to show them a little that you’re connected to them,” Elmaliach said. “Some kids would get embarrassed and want another name. I say, ‘You have nothing to be embarrassed about. That’s a respected name.’ ”

That sort of cultural sensitivity can only go so far toward compensating for the substantial funding gaps between rich and poor schools. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2012, Ofakim’s local government provided $1,629 of annual funding per student — a sum less than half the $3,613 per student provided by the wealthy town of Ramat Hasharon in suburban Tel Aviv.

The Education Ministry did not respond to JTA’s request for information about how much extra funding it gives to low-income schools.

Funding from NGOs also helps a bit. But at Ashalim, which doesn’t receive NGO funding, the school depends on the commitment and ingenuity of its teachers.

“When I came here, I fell in love,” said Segev, the Ashalim principal. “It’s very warm, very embracing, not like in the city. We all have the opportunity to move to other places, but it’s hard to leave this place.”

Providing books to Jaffa preschoolers makes Israel stronger

The children at the Arabic-speaking Ofek preschool in Jaffa spent a lot of time this past year thinking about a mouse named Samsoum, the character in a picture book all the kids have read at home with help from their parents.  

In class, the kids did a range of Samsoum-related projects inspired by the book “Samsoum the Mouse” by Jahil Khazaal, about a field mouse who relaxes while the other field mice gather food for the winter, but who later warms the hearts of the worker mice with his colorful stories. 

The children discussed the different emotions portrayed in the book. They also learned that every creature has a role to play in the community — and that food for the soul can be as important as food for the stomach. In the process, the children fell in love with the book.  

Throughout Israel, 45,000 Arab children in government preschools read “Samsoum the Mouse” as part of a reading-readiness program called Maktabat al-Fanoos (Lantern Library). The program began in January and is modeled after Sifriyat Pijama, which for the past five years has distributed children’s books in Hebrew to hundreds of thousands of Jewish preschoolers. Sifriyat Pijama is a sister program to the popular PJ Library Jewish family engagement program in North America, both founded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Massachusetts. 

Lantern Library, created by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and San Diego-based Price Philanthropies Foundation, provided four books that the children took home and treasured. During the 2014-15 school year, the plan is to provide eight books to children in all government kindergartens and pre-kindergartens — 80,000 children in all.  

“As people who care about Israel and about the future of Israel, we feel it’s very important to help improve the lives of the Arab citizens of this country,” said Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies Foundation, explaining his family foundation’s long-term involvement in the Arab community and the decision to be a partner in Lantern Library.

Culturally appropriate and with a strong storyline conducive to discussions on values and emotions, the books encourage parents and children to lay the groundwork for reading. As with books in the Hebrew-speaking effort, the Arabic books are chosen by a selection committee composed of experts in child development, children’s literature and preschool education. 

On the occasion of a visit by the Price family to Ofek, Keefah Masri Bassel, who teaches the 3- and 4-year-olds, said the program has transformed her classroom. 

“The first time I held one of the books, I began to dream that every child would have a shelf in their room reserved for their books,” Bassel said.  

A week later, the teacher invited the parents to the school, where she taught them how to create a library corner at home. The parents helped the children transform T-shirts into book bags and create “This Library Belongs to …” signs.   

When the children went outside for breakfast, a speech-language expert discussed with the parents ways to cope with the differences between spoken and written Arabic, and how to best engage the children — for example, allowing them to retell the story in their own words. Together, they explored the parents’ guide at the back of the book. 

Galina Vromen, executive director of the Grinspoon Foundation in Israel, said the Arabic-language program presented the organizers with some unique challenges. One of them is the dearth of quality Arabic children’s books that are accessible to the Israeli market. 

Vromen said the program “is largely dependent on what’s produced here in Israel, Jordan and Egypt” and noted that, due to political unrest, the annual Egyptian book fair, once the largest Arabic fair in the world, has been discontinued. Turmoil also has affected children’s book production in other nations, including Syria and Iraq. 

Because of the Arab boycott of all things Israeli, some Arab publishers have refused to sell reprint rights to Israeli publishers, who repackage the books, with a parents’ guide, for the program. That’s one reason the program has an interest in supporting the local Arab-Israeli publishing industry, which clearly benefits from a sale of 45,000 copies, whether the book is an original or reprinted.  

“We want strong readers, so we need locally made books,” Vromen said, adding that “there’s tremendous excitement” about the program in the Arab sector from publishers, teachers and parents. 

These same teachers and parents say the literacy program is particularly important for Arab children because it introduces them to formal written Arabic, which is different from spoken Arabic, at an early age.  

“Our goal is to encourage reading readiness with exposure to classical Arabic,” said Vicky Glazer, the supervisor of Jaffa preschools. 

Fatma Abu Ahmed Kassem, national supervisor of preschools for the Arab sector, said the program’s emphasis on interaction with adults “is critical to learning. Reading books offers an opportunity for quality adult interaction with children at home and in the classroom.”

The program, Kassem said, “promotes and enhances a culture of expression and discussion, and raises the awareness of language and enriches language use. Exposing children to a variety of literary works of Arab literature and culture as well as world literature encourages children to become curious and enthusiastic readers.”

Israeli-Palestinian textbook study sparks controversy

A U.S. State Department-funded study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released in Jerusalem has set-off a wave of insults, charges and counter-charges. Israel’s Ministry of Education called the detailed report “biased and unprofessional” while the International Society for Political Psychology called the Israeli government’s description “highly distressing.”

It was yet another example of how anything concerning Israelis and Palestinians sets tempers flaring. The three-year study, written by a joint team comprised of an Israeli and Palestinian researcher and Dr. Bruce Wexler of Yale University, found that textbooks on both sides present one-sided narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rarely resort to demonization of the other side. The report was issued by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land.

The researchers analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian textbooks in-depth, covering grades 1through 12 in subjects such as literature, geography, and civics. It did not include physical sciences such as biology and chemistry, or religious subjects such as Quran or Bible.


“There was very little dehumanization on both sides,” Dr. Daniel Bar Tal, the report’s author, told The Media Line. “But we do find that both ignored the existence and the legitimacy of the other. It is a minimal requirement that Palestinians should recognize the existence of the state of Israel and Israelis should recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinians.”

When it comes to Israeli textbooks, the study separates those used by the state secular system (the majority) from those used by the ultra-Orthodox (an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish students in Israel). The textbooks of the state secular system are more critical of Israel, mentioning incidents such as Deir Yassin, in which Jewish paramilitary fighters attacked a village near Jerusalem in 1948, killing more than 100 villagers.

Israeli books also had some positive descriptions of Palestinians.

“The positive references we found appeared mainly on an interpersonal level,” Bar Tal said. “We find stories about a friendship between an Israeli and an Arab or an Arab who would help an Israeli Jew. But we did not find any positive description on a collective level.

Palestinian author Prof. Sami Adwan said Palestinians only began writing their own textbooks in 2000. Until then, they used Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks which had far more negative stereotypes of Israelis than the current books. Yet, he says, there is still more to be done.

“Both sides should integrate part of the narrative of the other in their own textbooks,” Adwan told The Media Line. “They should talk about the other side’s culture, society, religion and history.”

The researchers also looked at hundreds of maps, almost all of which simply ignored the existence of the other side.

The Israeli Ministry of Education declined to help the researchers and leveled some serious charges against both the researchers and their methods.

“The report is biased and unprofessional,” Michal Zadoki, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said in a statement. “The conclusion of this ‘research’ was known before it was carried out, and it certainly does not reflect reality…The Ministry of Education chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli education system and the state of Israel. The results of the ‘research’ show that the decision not to cooperate was correct.”

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs was even more harsh, saying that the study “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official Palestinian Authority textbooks,” although they do not offer specific examples.

Not included in the report, the Ministry says, are formal and informal educational frameworks, summer camps, and television programs with negative messages.

“The ultimate goal is to eliminate the Jewish state and reclaim the historic Land of Palestine,” it charges as well as “Jews/Zionists/Israelis possess demonic characteristics.”

Dr. Nir Boms, a board member of Impact-SE, The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, told The Media Line that while the report is commended it ignores the most critical issue – denying the other, particularly on the Palestinian side. The report suggests statistical analysis on a broad view of quotes in a computer system but it fails to focus on some of the more problematic references that encourage violence and glorify martyrdom and terrorists. Boms said there are no direct calls for violence with the exception of the Waqf [Muslim Trust] literature which was not included in the study, which is used in a small number of schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to train future clerics.

The response from the Palestinian Authority was far more positive. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the results.

“From the onset, we took all measures to extend the highest degree of cooperation with the researchers, especially from the Ministry of Education. This cooperation stemmed from our firm conviction of the significance of the issue and the need to discuss it on objective and professional bases, rather than pre-conceived notions and stereotypes,” he said.

Mohammad Abu Zaid, Deputy Minister of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, told The Media Line that a committee will be set up to review the study and write up a response.

Ziad stated that as of three months ago, the Ministry began the process of changing their textbooks, but added, “I have to take into account the building of the state — the identity becomes essential. I don’t think we can continue peace curricula while Israelis are arresting people, and demolishing homes. Peace requires a peaceful environment.”

Ziad said, “The PLO recognizes Israel but feels Israel needs to respect the Palestinians’ existence. The situation is getting worse.”

The report’s American author, Dr. Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, rejected the Israeli Ministry of Education’s criticism.

“They seek to discredit me and my colleagues,” Wexler told The Media Line. “The idea that the results were pre-determined is just total nonsense. The Minister of Education on the Israeli side seems uninterested in the facts of what’s in the textbooks, and unencumbered by facts when he makes his statements about the project.”

During a news conference, Wexler went further, saying that he was born in 1947 and grew up parallel to the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. “I did not do anything to attack the state of Israel,” Wexler insisted.

Both Bar Tal and Adwan hope that the study can help contribute to peace education.

“We hope it is a step towards creating a generation that recognizes the humanity and legitimacy of each other on this land,” Adwan told The Media Line. “If we both start looking at what we teach our children, we will see a better future here.”

Israeli economics 101

Ofek Lavian has two passions: business and Israel, his native land.

What he felt that he was missing when he went to college at the University of Southern California was an opportunity to learn about his home country while interacting with people who shared his same interests in it.

“I found myself really struggling to find an organization on campus that was tailored to my passions,” said the 20-year-old, who moved to Silicon Valley when he was 4. “I found a lot that were related to Judaism were political, religious, and/or cultural. As a business major and an entrepreneur, I wanted to look at Israel through another lens.”

Then he heard about the TAMID Israel Investment Group, a multi-phased program on college campuses connecting American students with the Israeli economic landscape. It seemed like the perfect way to merge his interests and learn about them in a new way.

When Lavian, now a junior, helped start a chapter at USC in 2011, there were 25 members. By the end of this semester, the group expects to have 40. To set it up, Lavian received $3,500 in funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; now, all the funds are solicited from private donors.

The origins of TAMID date back to 2008, when a group dedicated to providing American students with access to Israeli businesses launched at the University of Michigan. Since then, it has expanded to eight other campuses across the country, including USC and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall, a handful of others is expected to be added, one of which may be University of California, Los Angeles, according to Max Heller, TAMID’s executive director of business development.

The goal is to “further advance and strengthen the connection between the United States and Israel,” he said. “We pioneer the next generation of American commitment to Israel by reaching out by future leaders on campuses.”

Students studying business, entrepreneurship, economics and similar subjects are eligible to join TAMID when they are undergraduates. Those selected take one semester of education in the fall on general business principles and the relationship between the United States and Israel from an economic perspective. The education component is divided among member-driven presentations and lectures from venture capitalists, professors and individuals well-versed in Israel’s economic scene. 

Students showcase their research on certain aspects of business, and in the past they’ve hosted speeches on how the nuclear threat from Iran might affect Israeli businesses, as well as what changes might occur after the discovery of oil reserves in Israel. 

TAMID also gives students the opportunity either to invest in Israeli securities using money they raise from donors or do pro-bono consulting work for Israeli startups. 

During the summer, TAMID, which is based at the University of Michigan, hosts a fellowship trip to Israel. When it was first offered in 2010, five students went. There were eight in 2011, and last summer the number grew to 17. Students partook in internships in finance, energy sustainability and technology, and worked at various startups. Next summer, 40 fellows will have the chance to go and gain real world experience.

Although most of the students are Jewish, it is becoming diversified. Heller said that the larger a certain program grows, the more non-Jewish students get involved. The largest mix of students is currently at Michigan. 

“We pride ourselves on working with talented and motivated students,” Heller said.

Lavian started his own T-shirt business with a fellow fraternity brother called Campus Ink in fall 2010. But he wanted to meet other self-starters. Through TAMID, he’s accomplished this while learning about Israel’s contributions to alternative energy, medicine and technology.

Last summer, Lavian secured a venture capital internship in Tel Aviv and lived alongside the program’s other students from around the country. He also met with the entrepreneurs behind Doweet, which coordinates meet-ups with friends and event planning, and Peer5, a startup that focuses on helping video content providers deliver the best viewing experience. 

Now, USC consultants from TAMID are working with these companies. The students assist the startups with learning about the American economy and demographics, while they, in turn, have the chance to see what it takes to build a business. 

“[Since there are] 7 million people in Israel and [more than] 300 million in the United States, for any Israeli company to be successful, they need to have their target market be global or in the U.S.,” Lavian said. “A lot of them have the technology in Israel but they need to target the U.S. market. That’s where TAMID comes in.”

Avior Ovadya, 25, who came to America from Israel to attend college four years ago, has been in TAMID for one semester at USC. Unlike his classes, which focus on the U.S. market, TAMID meetings give him the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Israeli business world. 

“Other than being a platform for students to learn about Israel, it’s also about understanding a little bit about what Israel is like, and why it’s such a pioneer in the technology field,” he said. “The group of people we have now is swell. They make our weekly meetings fun. We share everything from how our weeks were to our opinions on Israel.” 

Jared Fleitman, co-founder of USC’s TAMID program and current president, said his time spent with the group has been the most enriching he’s had at USC.

“I’ve met more contacts through developing the curriculum than through any of my coursework,” said Fleitman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, economics and mathematics. “It’s very useful for me. It’s very positive and I feel like I am part of a special community here.”

Like Fleitman, Lavian said that he has learned more from the practical experience gained through TAMID than he ever did in a classroom. 

“Some things are really hard to learn in a classroom setting,” he said. “You need to get your hands dirty and your feet wet and do some hands-on learning. That’s exactly what TAMID does.” 

Israel celebrates education gains, but challenges remain

Just before 1 o'clock on a sunny afternoon, students streamed out of the Amirim Public School and headed for home. But for their teachers, the workday was far from over.

Some would stay late to attend faculty meetings and prepare upcoming lessons. Others would help small groups of students in subjects like math and science, Hebrew and English.

The extended hours are but one aspect of sweeping changes instituted by the Israeli Ministry of Education in 2009 after the country's students posted disappointing results in several international achievement tests in 2006 and 2007. Israeli fourth-graders had ranked 24th among some 60 countries in math, while eighth-graders came in 25th in science and 31st in reading comprehension.

In an effort to improve performance, the Education Ministry urged teachers to focus their classes on the international tests and develop precise lesson plans and curriculums. The education budget was upped by hundreds of millions of dollars — $100 million more was allocated in 2012 alone — and teachers were compensated for lesson planning time and teaching small-group enrichment classes.

“I'm happy that we have these resources,” said Orly Bahat, Amirim's principal. “We never had a situation where, when the kids went home, we could stay here and they would pay us. The kids got this new help.”

The results have been significant, both across Israel and at Amirim.

In 2011, Israeli fourth-graders had improved to seventh place in the math section of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test given to students in approximately 60 countries including the United States, China and several European countries. Eighth-graders came in 13th on the science portion of the test. Israelis also finished 18th in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which tested students in about 40 countries.

At Amirim, students taking the math test moved up from an average grade of 64 percent in 2007 to 80 percent, placing them in the top 10 percent of Israeli schools. Its students also moved into the top fifth of Israeli students in Hebrew, an improvement of 10 percentile points.

“We had a clear measurable goal; every teacher and every employee knew what was expected of them,” said Dalit Shtauber, the director-general of the Education Ministry. “We [previously] talked about process and we [moved] to an emphasis on results at every level, from the general staff through individual schools.”

The improvement in test scores paints only a partial picture, at best, of Israeli education. Low-income students performed far worse than wealthier ones. Arabs lagged behind both Israeli Jews and the international average in math and reading. Class size in Israel, which is about 50 percent higher than the U.S. average of 24 students, remains a cause for concern. Haredi Orthodox students, who don’t learn the country’s core curriculum, did not take the test and thus were not factored into Israel’s averages.

Shtauber says that test scores in all socioeconomic sectors have improved since 2007, though the Education Ministry’s statistics show the gap in scores between rich and poor had shrunk only slightly in that period and have widened on the reading comprehension test.

But on the whole, the improvements have been dramatic. And Israeli teachers, who initially opposed the increased demands on their time, seem to have come around.

“We know what’s expected and we’re very precise,” said Orly Barel, a Hebrew teacher at Amirim who described the initial reaction of her colleagues as “antagonistic” to the new requirements.

Teachers are now expected to work longer hours, and they bemoan the size of Israeli class sizes, which range from 32 to 40 students per class. And like teachers in other countries where standardized testing has been made a crucial part of accountability in education, they resisted infringement on their classroom autonomy.

“The teachers need to adjust themselves to the system,” said Ran Erez, who heads Israel’s high school teachers union. “If you’re teaching one way for 20 years and they say to do it differently, it’s hard.”

The funding increases also have allowed schools to hire more teachers to teach specific subjects, as opposed to having one teacher teach several subjects.

“It’s just like when you break a leg, you go to an orthopedist, not a general practitioner,” Bahat said. “Parents and kids know they have expert teachers.”

The chairwoman of Amirim’s Parents’ Committee, Nava Levy, says the additional resources have led students to perform better.

“A lot of things have changed,” she said. “Now the teachers help kids more, listen to parents better. They help us help our kids at home.”

Amirim is one of Israel’s luckier schools, located in an upper-middle class neighborhood of Holon, a city of 184,000 south of Tel Aviv. The ministry hopes to close the achievement gaps between schools like Amirim and those in lower income areas in part by reducing class sizes and providing students more opportunities for small-group learning. Teachers who choose to work in low-income towns also receive financial incentives.

But Shtauber says the ministry “can’t solve the whole problem” of economic inequality.

“If a kid comes from a good home, he has a computer, his parents read,” Bahat said. “Parents with no time or money, their kids come from a tough background. Their upbringing isn’t the same.”

In Europe, big gaps exist among security precautions at Jewish institutions

Within hours of Israel's assassination of a top Hamas commander, the situation room sprang into action, anticipating retaliatory attacks and preparing instructions to keep civilians out of harm's way.

No, the room wasn't deep in a bunker beneath Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away — and at a seemingly safe remove from the violence on the ground — in London.

It was the situation room of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s security agency, which was open for business within hours of Israel's killing of Ahmed Jabari last week.

The CST has long been considered the gold standard in European Jewish community security. But communities across the continent recognize that they are all at risk from anti-Semitic attacks, which often spike in the wake of Israeli military operations, and are struggling to ramp up security precautions despite the often prohibitive costs.

“There’s no telling what would ignite the next wave of attacks against our communities,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said at a crisis management training session that drew leaders from 36 Jewish communities to Brussels on Nov. 6, eight days before the Israeli military launched its Operation Pillar of Defense. “It could be hostilities between Israel and Iran or in Gaza or a stupid film on Muslims in YouTube. We have to assume it’s coming.”

Nine months after a deadly attack by a Muslim extremist claimed four lives at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, European Jewish leaders are beginning to take steps to address some glaring gaps in the security capabilities of the continent's Jewish communities. But the process is hindered by the enormous costs involved and differing views of where the primary responsibility lies for ensuring Jewish safety.

Approximately half of Europe's Jewish communities have no crisis-management plan in place. Even in large communities demonstrably at risk of attack like France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 500,000, security resources remain scarce and some congregations have virtually no protection. While CST's situation room was humming last week, the offices of the organization's French counterpart were unreachable by phone or email.

“Nine months ago, Jewish communities in Europe received a wake-up call when Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical, killed three children and a rabbi in Toulouse,” said Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund, which bankrolls much of the EJC’s activity. “At the same time, the spike in anti-Semitic attacks coincides with a recession which is hampering communities’ ability to carry the burden of security costs.”

In Toulouse, the Otzar Hatorah school had surveillance cameras in place and a tall fence around the perimeter, but no one monitored the video feed and there was no guard, which allowed Merah to easily enter the compound toting a gun. Insiders from that community spoke of “a total collapse” immediately after the attack.

“In such an event, which has the potential of destroying a community, crisis management can restore a sense of order and enhance the community’s resilience,” said Ariel Muzicant, the former head of the Austrian Jewish community and head of the EJC crisis-management task force.

Only 20 of the 36 communities in the EJC have crisis-management programs, which determine who does what in case of emergency. In Marseille, where 80,000 Jews live among 250,000 Muslims, there is no security guard present even at prayer time and during Hebrew school lessons at the French city's Jewish community center and great synagogue. On a recent Sunday, walking into the complex simply meant pushing open the front door, which remained unlocked.

Among European Jewish communities, British Jewry is the undisputed security leader. The CST has five offices, dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers, drawn mainly from Britain’s Jewish population of 250,000. Since 2008, CST has installed about 1,000 closed-circuit cameras and digital video recorders in dozens of buildings, and has trained 400 British police officers on hate crimes.

The SPCJ, French Jewry’s security unit, did not respond to questions about its budget, size or procedures. But Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities of France, said SPCJ had a “vast network of dedicated volunteers.” The unit is particularly visible in Paris, where Jewish schools and buildings receive robust protection by SPCJ guards and police.

The CST budget was $5.8 million last year, which it raised through donations and government subsidies. The budget is more than double that of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, the country's main Jewish umbrella organization, and far larger than most European Jewish security organs. Smaller communities, most of which are less than one-fifth the size of Britain’s, can only dream of deploying security resources at that scale.

“The subject of funding for security is particularly painful for Europe’s smaller communities,” said Anne Sender, a former president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, which has just 750 members. “We simply don’t have the deep pockets that larger communities have.”

Norway's Jews spend just $87,000 annually on security — about half of what they raise each year in fees that also support education and religious services, according to Ervin Kohn, the community's current president.

Kohn launched a media campaign that persuaded the government to make a one-time grant of $1.2 million this year to protect Norwegian Jews. It was half of what Kohn had sought to ensure security at a “reasonable level” over the next few years, he said.

In response to Kohn’s efforts, a known Muslim extremist last month wrote on Facebook that he would “protect” the synagogue right after he gets an “AK-47 rifle and a hunting license.” In 2006, a Muslim extremist opened fire with a semiautomatic assault rifle on the synagogue.

Unlike in Britain, where security is largely seen as the community's concern, other European Jews see it as the government's responsibility.

“I pay for Jewish life, not Jewish security,” said Eric Argaman of Oslo, who pays about $200 a year in community membership fees. “That’s the government’s job.”

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Jewish leaders recognize that they cannot rely solely on the government. In Sweden, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, authorities have made a one-time grant of approximately $500,000 for security at Jewish institutions — a sum that doesn't “begin to cover costs,” according to Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities.

In Malmo, Sweden's third largest city and the site of dozens of anti-Semitic incidents each year — including a bomb attack in September on the Jewish community center — there is only one part-time security professional, according to Jonas Zolken, regional director for Sweden at the Nordic Jewish Security Council. In Denmark, where the capital city lies just over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, the government offers no security funding for the country’s 8,000 Jews.

“Our experience shows we need to cooperate with local police and security authorities, but ultimately can rely on no one but ourselves,” said Johan Tynell, the Malmo-born director of security for Denmark’s Jewish community.

In the Netherlands, with 40,000 Jews, the community spends more than $1 million on security without any significant help from the government, according to Dennis Mok, the community’s security officer.

“Even after Toulouse, the official Dutch position is that there is no elevated threat toward the Jewish community,” Mok said. “We, of course, have a different view.”

To free communities from depending on the threat assessments and budgetary constraints of national governments, the European Jewish Congress has been lobbying European leaders to arrange for security funding from the European Union. French President Francois Hollande and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas already have said they would support the initiative, Kantor told JTA.

Meanwhile, the EJC announced it was establishing a continent-wide security fund, but did not specify how much would be allocated. The congress also has teamed up with the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps to help small communities lower security costs. The corps, a nonprofit international organization that aims to empower young Jewish professionals, will send its “most capable” crisis advisers “to help small Jewish communities build foundations for defense,” according to its director, Michael Colson.

Moreover, some Jewish leaders say much more can be done, even on a shoestring budget. Tynell said at the conference that Jewish professionals should be recruited as volunteer crisis managers and given responsibility for talking to the media, doing internal communications, coordinating with local authorities and even delivering kosher food to anyone who might be hospitalized.

“When these things are left to chance, the resulting mess compounds the trauma which members of the community will experience in a crisis,” Tynell said. “Prevent this or your community members will suffer for a long time.”

Gifted diaspora teens

Growing up in Los Angeles, Asaf Shasha, then 16, had everything a teenager could want: a loving family, good friends and a comfortable home. 

Still, Shasha couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to life than the fancy gadgets prized by the kids at his Jewish day school.   

“Life was becoming very materialistic. Everyone was starting to get their license and cars,” Shasha, now 18 and a high school graduate, recalled recently. “It was a movie life where you were judged by how much you have, how expensive your car is. I didn’t want to get into that. I didn’t want to become that.”

After discussing the issue with his Israeli-born parents, Shasha made a big decision: to finish high school in Israel.

He enrolled in the Naale program (aka the Elite Academy), which in the past 20 years has offered more than 13,000 mature, gifted Diaspora youths a fully subsidized three-year high school experience at one of 26 religious, secular or traditional Israeli boarding schools.

Although fluent in Hebrew, Shasha wanted to be with other teens from English-speaking countries (10 percent hail from the United States, 60 percent from the former Soviet Union and the rest from other nations), so he chose to live and study at the Mosenson Boarding School, on the grounds of the Mosenson Youth Village in Hod Hasharon, whose campus also hosts English-speaking students from other programs.  

The goal of the program “is to connect the students to Israel, to underscore the value of Israel to the Jewish people,” Chaim Meyers, the program’s coordinator at Mosenson, explained during an interview at the leafy campus. 

Roughly 80 percent of Naale students remain in Israel through high school graduation; of these, about 85 percent decide to live in Israel for at least another three years, often in an army uniform or advanced yeshiva program. Of the 15 percent who return to their home countries following graduation, roughly half move back to Israel within a year. 

Regardless of which school they choose, Naale students receive free tuition, room and board, medical insurance, a phone budget to speak to their parents, trips and a one-way ticket to Israel from the Ministry of Education. 

The staff — program coordinators, teachers, counselors, house parents — keep an eagle eye on the teens, virtually all of them living away from home for the first time.   

During their first year in Israel, the students study Hebrew 20 hours a week, in addition to 20 hours of regular coursework, much of which is taught in easy Hebrew.  

“By 11th grade, their second year, they’re studying in Hebrew,” said Ofer Dahan, Naale’s director of development for the Western world. “Everyone studies toward their matriculation and [the academy has] a 93 percent success rate — the highest in Israel.”

The 60 percent of applicants who are accepted to the program must first undergo tests and interviews to gauge their maturity level and their ability to be in a group setting and live away from home. Knowing some Hebrew is helpful but not a prerequisite. 

Once in Israel, students whose families do not live in the country are provided with a host family, where they often spend Shabbat and holidays. 

Floren Avraham’s parents sent her to Israel on the Naale program believing they would join her in a few months. But it took the New Yorkers nearly three years to sell their house and make aliyah (her father is a returning Israeli). 

Taking a seat on the campus’ central lawn, Avraham said she “loved living at home” but that moving on her own to Israel “made me much more independent, more confident, more open. It was an amazing experience, and, looking back, I can’t believe I did it.” 

Avraham’s adjustment was softened by the fact that her grandmother lives just a short walk from the school; her uncle teaches there. 

Unlike Avraham, Kareen Haim decided to move to Israel more out of a sense of adventure than anything else. Her Israeli-born parents are still in Los Angeles, “But they hope to move back to Israel in a few years,” she said. 

“I wanted a change. I went to a fancy school, and I was looking for something more down to earth.  People were snobby and looked down on people like me who aren’t rich.”

Since moving to Israel — which she had visited but didn’t particularly like — Haim has found the people “are a lot warmer than they are in America. And although she has many Israel-based aunts, uncles and cousins, Haim said, “My friends here at Naale have become my family because we rely on each other.” 

Although she calls enrolling in the program the “right decision,” Haim said she wouldn’t have minded a bit more privacy. 

“It’s like living in a small neighborhood where everyone knows everything about you — what you’re eating, what you’re wearing, how late you’re sleeping.” 

The positive side is that “the counselors really care about us; they call us a lot to make sure we’re OK,” Haim said.  

The students emphasized that the decision to attend Israeli boarding school shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by the roughly 50 percent of students who hail from a home with at least one Israeli parent.  

“The adjustment was very, very hard in the beginning, and at some points I wanted to go back home to my parents,” Shasha said of the homesickness he felt. “But thanks to all the support I received from the staff and my parents, and after seeing how happy the 11th- and 12th-graders were, after two months I felt at home.”    

While Dahan said that few if any parents encourage their children to apply to Naale solely to save the cost of a day school education, the fact that the program is free to participants makes boarding school in Israel a viable option.   

Avi Toledano, who oversees Naale at the Education Ministry, said the ministry invests so much into the program because it makes overseas students excited about Israel. 

“The hope is that after the kids come, the family will follow,” Toledano said.

Five challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years

The American pro-Israel community has a lot of work to do. While many pro-Israel organizations in the United States, including AIPAC, Christians United for Israel, Stand with US and Hasbara have been extremely effective in defending the Jewish State, there is always more we can do. Here is a list of the five greatest challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years.

The University

Unfortunately, the place where we send our children to grow up and obtain wisdom, the university, is the hotbed of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in America. Who can forget the exchange between David Horowitz and an anti-Israel student at UC San Diego a couple years ago? Mr. Horowitz asked her, “I’m a Jew. The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. [Are you] for it or against it?” The student answered “For it.”

Incitement against Jews and Israel at the university is not unusual at the hate-fest known as “Israel Apartheid Week,” where anti-Semites are invited to rail against the Jewish State. At one event at UC Irvine, Imam Amir -Abdel Malik-Ali—who has called Jews “the new Nazis”— blamed the financial crisis on “Alan Greenspan, Zionist Jew, Geithner, Zionist Jew, Larry Summers, Zionist Jew.” A few years ago, after visiting several universities in the U.S., Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh described what he observed: “I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah…What is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.”

Up against such hate and propaganda, the pro-Israel community must fight back. The Horowitz Freedom Center has been very effective, launching important counterattacks like Islamic Apartheid Week and the Wall of Truth, which expose the hateful lies and hypocrisy of Israel’s enemies. The Jewish community must continue to give money to on-campus Israel advocacy organizations, and we must all redouble our efforts to make sure that Israel is adequately defended and promoted at American universities.

The Fringe of American politics

Thank God a majority of elected representatives in both parties strongly support the State of Israel. These members must make sure that the views at the fringe of their parties do not become mainstream. The Republican Party must guard against the likes of Ron and Rand Paul, who would like to see America pull back from the world stage and cease its support for Israel. Fortunately, this movement does not seem to be gaining steam, as every poll shows that the Republican Party overwhelmingly supports Israel.

Unfortunately, however, any serious reflection by pro-Israel Democrats must conclude that there is a problem within their leftwing ranks. Though most pieces of pro-Israel legislation overwhelmingly pass both Houses of Congress, those who abstain or vote in the negative are disproportionately Democrats. In 2009, the House passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone report–which had accused Israel of war crimes—by a vote of 344 to 36. 33 of the 36 who voted against the resolution were Democrats. In 2010, 333 members of the House signed onto a letter re-pledging their support for the American-Israel relationship. 7 Republicans and 91 Democrats withheld their signatures. Furthermore, according to a recent Gallup Poll question–“Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?”—78% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats answered Israel. This poll was reaffirmed when at least half the Democratic delegates to their convention in August expressed their disapproval of Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel.

I am not writing this to score political points for Republicans, but to reveal a real problem within the Democratic ranks. This is so disappointing, because the liberal case for Israel is such a compelling one. Israel treats its minorities better than any other country in the Middle East—out of the 120 member Israeli Knesset, 16 are not Jewish. During its short existence, Israel has welcomed millions of immigrants from all over the world, including Africa and Russia. Israel has a very liberal supreme court, which routinely places restrictions on its military in times of war. Israel is also leading the way with game changing green innovations that will reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, Tel Aviv annually hosts a gay pride parade! What other country in the Middle East would be so inclusive?

American Jewish liberals must do a better job of making this case forcefully and passionately to their Democratic allies.


Jews shouldn’t be ashamed to say that support for Israel ranks among their most important political priorities. If it doesn’t, then there is a problem.

According to an American Jewish Committee survey, when asked what political issue was most important to them, 4.5% of American Jews said U.S- Israeli relations, and a paltry 1.3% said Iran’s nuclear program. This is very troubling. If American Jews don’t care enough about Israel’s survival, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then who will?

Jews in America clearly underestimate how important a strong and prosperous Israel is to the collective Jewish psyche. After all, the welfare of Israel is not disconnected from that of American Jews. If something terrible were to happen to Israel, or should there be a mass migration of Jews out of Israel, the status of the Diaspora would be negatively impacted forever, including in the United States.

A strong Israel with a strong military also serves as a deterrent against terrorist attacks against Jews all over the world. Furthermore, a strong Israel is in America’s national self-interest, as Israel is on the front line in the war against radical Islam.

Using these arguments, the pro-Israel community must do a better job of encouraging our friends and family to become more politically active, in order to promote a strong American- Israel relationship.

Iran and the Economy

America has been mired in an economic crisis since 2008. As such, American citizens and its elected representatives have been almost single mindedly focused on improving the economy. The race for the Presidency has largely been defined by whom could best promote a strong economy, even though the most important Constitutional powers of the President reside in the realm of foreign policy. This is understandable. However, it is up to those in the pro-Israel community to ensure that preventing Iran—which is led by a fanatic who denies the holocaust and wishes to wipe Israel from the earth–from obtaining a nuclear capability is not overlooked.

Unfortunately, this issue has not been addressed adequately to date. Though tough sanctions have been passed against Iran, it continues to spin its centrifuges. We in the pro-Israel community must insist that a credible American military threat be understood by Iran as a reality. This is the only way they will peacefully give up their nuclear weapons program.

To this end, we must write letters to our Congressmen, join pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC, give money to pro-Israel causes, and encourage our friends and family to do the same.

Israeli Delegitimization

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign—which encourages people to refrain from doing business with Israeli companies and universities –was launched against Israel several years ago. The campaign is meant to portray Israel in the same light as apartheid South Africa, a country that institutionalized segregation. Of course, this is complete nonsense, as more than one million non-Jews in Israel enjoy the same rights as Jews.  Furthermore, as cited above, there are 16 non-Jews serving in the Israeli Knesset.

Many college professors and pop music figures in America have embraced this campaign. Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd, is spearheading it. He refuses to perform in Israel and is encouraging his musical cohorts to join him. The Pixies, Elvis Costello, The Gorillaz and Carlos Santana have followed his lead, and have all canceled their scheduled performances in Israel. Famed American actress, Meg Ryan, refused to attend an Israeli film festival, because of what she viewed as Israel’s indefensible actions in response to the Gaza flotilla.

This is deplorable. The pro-Israel community must make it known that boycotting the only Jewish State will not go unnoticed. It is one thing to criticize Israel, which, in proportion and without demonizing, is acceptable. However, it is totally unacceptable to try to destroy Israel economically, which is the BDS campaign’s primary goal.

The pro-Israel community should not support those who engage in the BDS campaign; don’t buy their CDs, don’t go to their shows, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Palestinian students to take makeup SATs

Palestinian students in the West Bank will take their SAT exams two weeks late.

Some 100 students in the West Bank planning to apply to attend U.S. universities will take the test on Oct. 20, the U.S. State Department told The Associated Press.

The test was canceled on its original date because the exams arrived in the middle of the Sukkot holiday, when Israel's Customs Office was closed.

The cancellation by the American nonprofit organization Amideast, which administers the SAT in the West Bank, was first reported in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper. The article alleged that Israeli authorities purposely held the exams sent by the College Board “for weeks.”

Israel opens schools with record number of students

Israeli schools opened for more than 2 million students, a record for the country.

The number of students included 145,374 first-graders, including Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

Many cities by Monday had not completed their new preschool buildings in time for the start of the term to accommodate the government’s decision to provide free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Hello to all the first-graders. This is what Israeli children who are starting the 2012-2013 school year will hear tomorrow. Each one of us remembers this exciting day. I remember it, with my book bag, pencil case and empty notebooks. Today, the technology has changed a little, but the excitement is the same, the children’s great excitement, and that of the parents, teachers and principals as well.”

Netanyahu also spoke Sunday with Moshe Holtzberg, who is living in Israel with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit. Netanyahu wished him well and said the prayers of the entire Jewish people are with him.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and the city of Eilat agreed late Sunday that children of African migrants will be integrated into the regular school system instead of the separate school system they had attended. The agreement came after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the end to the forced segregation.

Under the agreement, the migrant children will attend special classes in their regular neighborhood schools to help them overcome their language and educational gaps, and will be integrated into regular classrooms when possible after careful evaluation.

Eilat parents had threatened to keep their children at home until the threat of integrating the migrant children was rescinded.

Monday reportedly was the first time that the school year in Israel did not begin on Sept. 1; a new yearly school schedule was introduced last year.

Hebrew U. scores in academia survey on best places to work

A survey of the best places to work in academia ranked Jerusalem’s Hebrew University as the second-best place to work outside of the United States.

The school ranked ninth overall, according to the Jerusalem Post. It was the only Israeli school in the top 25 in the Scientist magazine rankings, which were based on answers to a survey submitted by more than 1,000 researchers in the life sciences.

“This demonstrates that a community in which it is pleasant to work is also one in which one sees outstanding academic achievements,” Hebrew University President Menachem Ben-Sasson said, according to the Post.

Finishing ahead of Hebrew U. outside the U.S. in the rankings was the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Overall, The J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco was ranked first.

Letters to the Editor: Israel, health care, education

The Promised Land: To Whom Was It Promised?

David Suissa compellingly observes that the principal motivator of anti-Israel sentiment is the charge of “occupier” (“Note to Boycotters: Israel Is Not a Thief,” July 6). But then he quotes me as refuting that charge, by way of showing that the West Bank was not legally anyone else’s when Israel captured it. I am not sure to what end I may have written that point, in a paper nearly 10 years old, but it hardly refutes the complaint that drives most non-radical criticism of Israel, to wit: that Israel occupies the people of the West Bank, whatever its claims to the land itself.

In that context, it is self-defeating to trumpet Israel’s territorial rights beyond the 1949 lines. Such talk only lends support to the devastating suspicion that Israelis would gladly rule a piece of land without extending full political rights to all its residents. There are, of course, ways to challenge that suspicion — and doing so is Israel’s only hope of reclaiming legitimacy in the West — but “It was ours all along!” isn’t one of them.

Jeffrey S. Helmreich
Boston, Mass.

David Suissa is correct. There is no country in the world that has to perpetually justify its existence. And Alice Walker’s blanket assessment that Israel is an apartheid state is not only based on abject ignorance but is racist in and of itself.

Alyse Golden Berkley
via e-mail

David Suissa’s claim that Israel has legal rights to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is based on a selective reading of history.

Suissa misquotes the League of Nations mandate that calls for a “national home for the Jewish people,” but not, as he implies, Jewish authority over the land. And that document goes on to explicitly protect the Palestinian people, saying, “[I]t being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Actually, the Israeli Declaration of Independence cites a later legal document, namely U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which partitions Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. It is quite obvious that if Israel owns all the land, there is no room for a Palestinian (Arab) state, so Israel cannot own all the land.

Suissa and other Zionists may believe that Israel owns all the land, but no one else in the world does. Even Israel’s strongest supporter, the United States, does not accept that notion.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

David Suissa responds:

The critics overlooked my key point: If Israel doesn’t reaffirm its legal claims to Judea and Samaria, its land concessions have no value, and there is nothing to negotiate. That’s one reason peace talks keep failing.

Socialized Medicine an Imperfect System

In arguing for socialized medicine, Rabbi Elliot Dorff acknowledges that in Canada, Western European countries and Israel, waiting months for care can be a problem, although he states that this is only for non-emergency procedures such as hip replacements (“Health Care for All: It’s an American — and a Jewish — Imperative,” July 6).

Perhaps Rabbi Dorff does not know or remember the case of Danny Williams, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador who in 2010 came to the United States for heart surgery rather than wait the months that it would take in Canada. Williams decided to “choose life” and use his own funds to come here for his heart surgery. Canadians understand that they have a two-tier medical system, one for those who have their own funds (that is called the U.S. system) and the other for everyone else, who get to wait and hope they survive until their turn comes up.

There is no doubt that the U.S. health care delivery system needs to be improved, but increasing demand for services without similarly increasing the capacity to deliver those services (i.e., more doctors and other health care providers) must inevitably lead to long lines and two-tier systems, together with the heart-rending choices of who is to get what services in an increasingly scarce medical environment. Logic and the actual experience of other countries dictate this result.

We should not, however, delude ourselves into thinking that the problems experienced in those countries with socialized medicine either don’t exist or won’t happen here.

Avi Peretz
Via e-mail

Freedom to Read

Thank you for a lovely and comprehensive article on this summer’s Freedom School at Stephen S. Wise Temple (“ ‘Freedom School’ Keeps Reading Alive Through Summer,” July 6). My family and I have been members of Stephen S. Wise since its beginning, and we are thrilled and proud of all our shul has accomplished.

Here at the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, we were so impressed by this program that we donated more than 200 brand-new books for the Freedom School children — now each student will be able to start a home library. Miss Fitzgerald, the beloved “First Lady of Song,” established her foundation in 1993 in order to help children and families make better lives for themselves. Freedom School certainly fits that criteria. 

Fran Morris Rosman
Executive Director
The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation

Building a diplomatic resume at home, abroad

David Shalom

YULA Boys High School

Going to: Yeshivat Orayta/University of Texas at Austin

David Shalom wants to broker a final status peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. While this goal may seem lofty, the YULA student has already taken big steps in pursuit of this dream.

Politics and music have been the two main ingredients in Shalom’s life, but as he looks ahead to college, he says politics and diplomacy will take center stage.

“I feel excited about the future, to study politics and to start my life in college, but in graduating I also feel like I have already accomplished a lot so far,” he said.

Shalom got his first taste of political life taking part in model U.N. conferences at Shalhevet School and interning for state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). He then transferred to YULA Boys High School in 10th grade, where he was accepted into a five-week political advocacy program in Israel called The Jerusalem Journey: Ambassadors. Shalom said this was where his passion for diplomacy began.

“On my summer program in Israel, I learned a lot about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said.

Shalom turned his passion into his work when he set up “Israel Advocacy,” a course he teaches to 50 YULA students.

“When I was in Israel, I was trained to be an ambassador. I learned so many things I thought everyone else could learn, too. I have a skill to move things forward, and I will always try to make use of this skill in my work.”

Recognizing the barriers that impede peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shalom decided to break down one of his own: language. Taking a night class in Arabic at Santa Monica College in his senior year, Shalom’s perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict broadened immensely when he became friends with a Palestinian in his class.

“I took this class with a lot of Arabs, and … I realized that they were like me and wanted the same things I want: peace for the Israeli-Palestinian region,” he said.

Shalom thinks peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible — given the right leaders on both sides.

“When you look back at history, all it takes is leaders on both sides who can galvanize their people toward peace. With bold leadership, courage and bilateral negotiations, peace can be achieved,” he said.

Shalom will spend the next year with Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem’s Old City before going on to study international relations and global studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Israeli activist brings educational ideals, message of hope to L.A.

Chaim Peri understands that many of the at-risk children who land in the Yemin Orde Youth Village he founded 30 years ago in northern Israel probably hate God. Still, he wanted to give these once-abandoned children the opportunity to feel what he calls the sublime. So, in the trees all around the village synagogue, he set up bird feeders. And he told the kids if they didn’t want to talk to God, they could talk to the birds.

This sort of fearless thinking has made Peri something of a celebrity among those who know Yemin Orde. That adulation was clear on a recent Sunday in Pacific Palisades, when Peri addressed a small group of supporters at a brunch at the home of John and Vera Schwartz.

“Supporting Yemin Orde is my way of making sure there is a healthy, free, open, democratic society in Israel,” said Marcie Zelikow, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is the national campaign chair for Friends of Yemin Orde.

In December 2010, the largest wildfire in Israel’s history destroyed nearly half the village. While all children and staff were safely evacuated, the fire consumed 22 buildings, including the library, staff residences and children’s homes.

The village was functioning again within a month of the fire, and Yemin Orde devised a master plan that will update and improve the village. Organizers are working to raise the last $1.3 million to meet the $21 million construction costs. Building is set to begin this month.

For Peri, rebuilding also includes helping already vulnerable children recover from the trauma of displacement.

In fact, well before the fire, Peri built his approach on the premise that the children who arrive at Yemin Orde — mostly as immigrants, but also native Israelis from dysfunctional homes — should always feel a sense of security.

“We have to convince them that they can believe, ‘I was abandoned once; I will never be abandoned again,’ ” Peri told supporters.

To that end, Peri said Yemin Orde serves as a lifelong resource for alumni. Alumni often celebrate their weddings at the youth village, and administrators and teachers stay in touch with graduates, often signing mortgages and attending their military, educational or family occasions.

The village has alumni housing, but Peri said that only one in 15 students make use of it, because merely knowing they have the option to stay there gives them the confidence to move forward.

At the behest of the Ministry of Education in Israel, Peri is teaching this approach in five other youth villages in Israel, as well as at high schools for at-risk kids and teacher training programs. He has worked with schools in the United States and at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, a village for orphans that is modeled on Yemin Orde. Peri has outlined this approach in his new book, “The Village Way” (This World: The Values Network Publishing Group).

In it he describes how to frame an educational program with the goal of bringing children to a place of stability, rebuilding their trust in humanity. “We take kids who think they are worthless, and we help them rewrite the narrative of their life,” he said.

Opinion: Israel must overhaul education system

The teacher stands in front of the sparse classroom, its walls bare and paint peeling.

“This school looks like a prison,” one of my fellow travelers whispers.

Many of the children are huddled in coats; schools in this neighborhood do not have heat, and the unexpected rain and cool air chill the room.

Overcrowded classrooms, minimal instruction hours in core subjects and a shortage of qualified teachers have taken a toll on the country’s education system. These children must study in an NGO-funded afterschool program to gain the basic academic foundation they need to break the cycle of poverty.

This scene took place a few weeks ago not in a Third World country but in Israel—a country that leads the world in patents per capita, is known for its technology startups and boasts 10 Nobel laureates, but also in some other frightening statistics.

On the most recent PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam, Israeli students ranked 25th out of students from 25 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in academic achievements. Israel’s weakest students scored last among the weakest students from the participating OECD countries; its strongest students were 24th out of 25.

Israeli children are products of an education system that has been in decline for decades. Studies by many leading organizations, including Israel’s own Taub Center, reveal the link between a country’s educational achievement and its economic stability. As Israel’s education levels have decreased, wages have declined and the quality of life has dropped.

Israel likely will have to wrestle with the ramifications of having at least one generation of undereducated children who are ill suited to compete in today’s world. If trends continues, wages will continue to fall, and more people will be underemployed or unemployed and increasingly reliant on the government for subsistence. What kind of picture does that paint for Israel’s future?

To be sure, education is just one of Israel’s pressing societal issues. Last summer, Israelis demanded access to more affordable housing, medical care and other basic necessities. In addition to the need for social infrastructure, outside pressures are also very real. Just a few weeks ago, approximately 200,000 children in southern Israel could not even attend school because of missile attacks from Gaza.

The answers to Israel’s education woes are not simple, but here are a few steps Israel could consider to move in the right direction:

* Put more emphasis and resources on the core subjects critical for participation in a global economy. I have been hearing demands recently for increased emphasis on Jewish studies or Zionist history in the public school curriculum; I won’t comment on the importance of these subjects. I will say that Israeli children must excel in math, science and literacy to succeed in a global workforce. Those core subjects need to get the attention first.

* Improve training, support and pay for teachers. Israeli teachers are woefully underpaid when compared to their OECD peers. They also receive less training and professional development. Give Israeli teachers the tools, training and mentoring they need to improve classroom outcomes.

* Raise the standards for becoming a teacher. If the government gives more, it should get more in return. Most Israeli teachers graduate from one of many three-year teacher colleges; the range of requirements and quality varies greatly among the schools. Teachers are not required to have a four-year university degree, let alone a master’s or other advanced degree. Require the academic excellence of the teachers we want from the children.

* Reach the children who have been “left behind.” Systemic change takes time. Meanwhile, a whole generation of children remains ill equipped to handle the complexities of today’s workforce. Get them the programs they need to catch up and to maximize their academic achievement. It may feel like a band-aid approach, but we can’t let communities bleed to death.

These are just four steps. There are many others to consider and the challenge can seem overwhelming. However, as the sense of urgency surrounding this crisis continues to grow, I am confident that a partnership of government, NGOs and philanthropists can create the long-term solution that will enable Israel to not just survive but thrive.

Karen Berman is the executive director of the Youth Renewal Fund, a New York-based organization that provides supplemental education to disadvantaged Israeli children. The views expressed here are her own.

USC leaders visit Israel with eye toward expanding academic ties

A delegation of trustees, professors and faculty from the University of Southern California (USC) benefited from the spring sunshine in Israel, an unexpected bonus (or perhaps lucky selling point) on a trip to explore increased academic ties with Israeli institutions.

The group returned to Los Angeles last week from a trip visiting four internationally renowned Israeli academic institutions — Tel Aviv University, the Technion of Haifa, the Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — as well as seizing the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing in a country many of them had never visited before.

USC already has several academic collaborations in Israel, and for some members of the faculty it was a chance to catch up with colleagues who are normally only at the end of a phone line or fiber-optic cable.

The USC delegation was led by President C.L. Max Nikias and included Provost Elizabeth Garrett;  Ken McGillivray, vice provost for global initiatives; Avishai Sadan of the School of Dentistry;  Michalle Mor Barak of the School of Social Work; and trustees Alan Casden and Jeffrey Smulyan.

The desire to increase cooperation with Israeli universities, in particular, is threefold, Nikias told The Journal, citing academic excellence as the primary motivator.  “You have here some of the very best universities in the world,” he said.  “We wanted to expand and strengthen the research collaboration between USC and universities here in Israel.”

The university also sends students to Israel every year as part of its study abroad program. Nikias proudly stressed USC’s high proportion of Jewish undergraduates (12 percent), many of whom choose Israel as their destination for a semester abroad — a trend that has become a key factor in the desire to develop ties with Israeli institutes.

Nikias also highlighted the university’s role as home to the Shoah Foundation Institute — the brainchild of USC trustee Steven Spielberg, which digitally records the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, some 52,000 to date, and each one lasting approximately two hours. These testimonies are used to educate about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the dangers of racial intolerance and importance of tolerance. 

“Exploring collaborations between Shoah and Yad Vashem or other museums or institutes here in Israel, I think is extremely important,” Nikias said. “That’s why the executive director of the Shoah Institute [Stephen Smith] is with us as part of this delegation.”

Indeed, Nikias and his wife joined Smith for a special tour of Yad Vashem, where they laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and met with survivor Asher Ud.

The delegation also met a range of Israeli dignitaries, including President Shimon Peres, high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and economic maven Manuel Trajtenberg, as well as defense and research experts. 

Nikias, on his first trip to Israel, even managed to squeeze in a few hours to see the country — from the air, as a passenger on a helicopter ride.

“It’s so beautiful,” he enthused. “What really impressed me the most was all the green, all the agriculture.

“I took a lot of pictures!”

Ethiopian named to Israel’s Council for Highter Education

An Ethiopian immigrant to Israel, who serves as the director of Tel Aviv University, is the first Ethiopian Jew appointed to Israel’s Council for Higher Education.

Pnina Gadai Agenyahu was appointed to the council this week by Israel’s Education Minister Gideon Saar.

Agenyahu, 31, began her Hillel career as a student at Hebrew University, initiating innovative programs and eventually became program director of Hillel in Jerusalem before being appointed as the first Ethiopian-born Hillel director in the world, at Tel Aviv University.

Agenyahu, who came to Israel at the age of 3, has traveled around the world as a spokesperson for Israel.

Study your heart out in Israel, no matter your age

Whether you’ve got a sudden hankering to explore your nascent Jewish identity or you miss your rabbinic training of yore, there’s probably a program of study for you in the Holy Land. Although many associate Israel study options with the post-high school “gap year,” this diverse array of programs welcome adults of all ages.

To examine Judaism as an intellectual, but with limited background, men in their 20s can try the three- to five-week Aish Essentials ( which, along with Aish’s women’s JEWEL program (, for women ages 19-30, explores basic tenets of Jewish belief, ritual and practice. Aish Essentials is free, JEWEL costs up to $2,500, with many scholarships available, and both include housing and meals. For those in their 30s looking for more in-depth learning, there’s Eyaht ( for women and Bircas HaTorah ( for men; cost and length of study vary.

As the only Jewish holistic women’s seminary in Israel, B’erot Bat Ayin ( mixes textual study of Tanakh, halachah (Jewish law) and chasidut (Jewish mysticism) with organic gardening, herbology and studying Jewish sources on healing and sustainable living. Located in the village of Bat Ayin, a 20-minute drive south of Jerusalem, the program aims to engage students’ minds while allowing them to develop their creativity through writing, music, movement and drama. Tuition for semester and yearlong programs is $820 per month, which includes housing and four meals per week.

The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem ( features intensive ulpan or Talmud study, textual study in Bible, halachah, Jewish thought and more, plus skills workshops, tours and volunteering. For ages 19 and up, the yearlong program costs $7,250; summer program is $800 for three weeks or $1,100 for six weeks, and does not include housing, food or books. Summer students can also opt for the intensive Volunteer and Study track where you volunteer half-days with an Israeli nonprofit.

Israel Way/Oranim ( offers a variety of study, volunteer and internship options in Israel, including an NYU-Poly master’s degree program, where you can earn a master’s in management or organizational behavior in 10 to 12 months ($28,840 tuition includes housing, studies and trips); Israel Teaching Fellows, where college graduates volunteer for 10 months to teach English in low-performing Israeli schools ($1,000 tuition includes airfare); and numerous internship and volunteer opportunities at kibbutzim, hotels in the Negev and more. Cost and length of programs vary. 

The five key aspects of the Livnot U’Lehibanot ( experience are explore, challenge, empower, inspire and connect. Through exploring Israel intimately (think jumping off a 30-foot waterfall in Yehudia), learning in and outside of the classroom, performing community service like apartment painting for the elderly or restoration of the Jerusalem forest, and becoming part of a global community, students leave the program revitalized and inspired. Based in Jerusalem and Tzfat, the programs range from one to six weeks and cost about $100 a week, including room and board.

Makor (, a new gap-year program started by the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem and based on Israeli mechinot — self-study programs prior to army service — blends classical Jewish text study with leadership-skills development, social action and immersion in Israeli culture. Zionist, Israeli-style and co-ed, the program features traditional learning and Israeli mifgashim — encounters — for both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Tuition of $18,000 includes meals, books, trips, an on-campus gym and medical coverage.

Women of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to study for any amount of time at Neve Yerushalayim’s Jerusalem campus ( to discover a deeper connection to Judaism. There’s a six-week Mechina program for those with limited background; Shalhevet, for those with a solid learning background; and a general year-long program, all of which aim to provide increased Jewish knowledge, enhanced spiritual growth and answers to fundamental Jewish questions. Tuition, room and meals are $1,600 per month. 

Nishmat’s Alisa Flatow International Post-College English Program ( for post-college women teaches students the skills needed to understand and analyze classic texts and reflect on how they inform modern Jewish thought and practice. The international student body also volunteers in the local community and goes on organized trips. While the English-speakers program is a unique community, students also share holidays and Shabbat with the larger Israeli Nishmat community in Jerusalem. Tuition for the year is $8,000, and room and board is $4,000.

A co-ed seminary for post-university students in Jerusalem, Pardes ( combines in-depth textual study with social action and learning opportunities beyond the text. Committed to traditional Jewish halachah, Pardes welcomes students of all religious affiliations and backgrounds. Tuition for the year is $5,750 and covers classes and extracurricular activities only. Half-year and summer study programs are also available. 

Shapell’s ( in Jerusalem aims to provide a holistic Jewish education to meet the challenges of modern Jewish life for male college graduates and professionals. Through helping students develop textual and analytical skills and approach classic Jewish sources, the school promotes a sophisticated and balanced approach to Torah Judaism. Tuition of $15,500 includes full room and board, activities and classes. Shapell’s sister school, Midreshet Rachel, targets educated, adult Jewish women to study, build skills and cultivate a Torah background. Tuition is $9,600 and does not include room or board. Students can opt to live in the school’s housing for $325 per month. 

A religious-Zionist and Modern Orthodox post-college yeshiva for men, in Israel, Yeshivat Torah Hamivtar ( in Gush Etzion focuses on exploring Talmud and classic Jewish texts with intellectual honesty and rigor. Tuition of $15,000 includes housing, a monthly trip, room and full board. Students can also come for shorter periods of time, paying a rate of $1,500 a month. l

Schechter Institute opens new Jerusalem campus

The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies opened its new Jerusalem campus.

The Beit Legacy Heritage Classroom Building, which was dedicated last week, was designed by Israel Prize-winning architect Ada Karmi-Melamede and built near the old site. It will house programs for Israelis and foreigners, including the largest master’s program for Jewish studies in Israel.

The $8.5 million project was funded by The Jerusalem Foundation and private donors.

Although not formally affiliated with the Conservative movement, the Schechter Institute was built on land owned by the Jewish Theological Seminary since the 1950s.

“At Schechter I’ve found something quite rare—a streak of modesty and humility—a humility that Israel has somehow lost. Yet I think Israelis are longing to find it again,” Karmi-Melamede said at the induction ceremony.

Others on hand for the ceremony included Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat Mayor; Colette Avital, a former ambassador and Knesset member; and Saul Sanders, chair of the Schechter board of trustees.

Nobel winner Shechtman stresses education, entrepreneurship

Accepting his Nobel Prize, Israel’s Dan Shechtman encouraged entrepreneurship among the young.

Shechtman, of the Haifa Technion, became the 10th Israeli to win the world’s most prestigious prize at Saturday’s annual Nobel ceremony in Stockholm.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Shechtman’s discovery of quasicrystals, long ridiculed by colleagues, “has created a new cross-disciplinary branch of science, drawing from, and enriching, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This is in itself of the greatest importance.”

“It has also given us a reminder of how little we really know and perhaps even taught us some humility,” said academy professor Sven Lidin.

Addressing the Nobel banquet, Shechtman said scientists have a duty “to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance.”

“We should also encourage our educated youth to become technological entrepreneurs. Those countries that nurture this knowhow will survive future financial and social crises. Let us advance science to create a better world for all,” he said.

Interviewed Sunday, Shechtman, 70, made clear he worried about education in Israel—specifically that of the haredi Orthodox sector, which sometimes places more a premium on religious studies than on core secular subjects.

“You can pray to the heavens, but it doesn’t put bread on the table or provide defense for the country,” he told Israel Radio.

Shechtman called for state funds to be denied to schools that neglect the core curriculum and for parents who deprive their children of a rounded education to be “punished under law.”

School trips near Eilat canceled over terror threat

Israel’s Education Ministry has canceled school trips to parts of southern Israel following warnings of a terror attack.

School and youth group trips planned for the area around Eilat were canceled Monday and through the rest of the week after the Defense Ministry announced an imminent threat of a terror attack near Eilat. The trip cancellation does not include Eilat.

Work on the Israel-Egypt border fence also was temporarily suspended.

During an attack in August on Highway 12, which runs between Israel’s border with Egypt and Eilat, terrorists entered Israel from the Sinai, killing at least seven Israelis. In the ensuing shootout between the terrorists and Israeli troops, five Egyptian troops also were killed.

School battle escalates religious clash in Jerusalem suburb

This time it started with cries of “Sluts!” and “Shiksas!” and the throwing of eggs and bags of excrement at young girls who attend a recently opened Modern Orthodox elementary school in this Jerusalem suburb.

The assailants: religious extremists from the haredi Orthodox neighborhood across the street.

It was the latest battle in the clash between haredi zealots and Modern Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, a heavily American suburb of 80,000 about 25 minutes from Jerusalem.

The newest flashpoint is the recently opened Banot Orot school.

At dismissal, parents who once let kids as young as 6 walk home alone now rush to the school gates each day to ensure their children’s safety. Police cars with flashing blue lights have become a fixture outside the school in this leafy neighborhood, and groups of volunteers patrol the main thoroughfare separating Banot Orot from the haredi neighborhood.

The haredim who have moved from the crowded streets of Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhoods to the tall apartment blocks across the road from the school hang banners from their balconies calling on the “Daughters of Israel to dress modestly.”

“They are determined to make Beit Shemesh a haredi city,” said Dov Lipman, formerly of Maryland, who in recent months has become a leader in the Modern Orthodox community in the battle over what he says is the future of Beit Shemesh.

It is a microcosm, some say, of the larger religious-secular conflict in Israel.

“What is happening here is a microcosm of what could happen nationwide, and our unwillingness to yield before the violence and threats should serve as a model for the rest of the country,” Lipman said.

“I think in other places they successfully intimidated local residents, but we will not run away,” he said of the haredi extremists. “They want to take control of our town and we will not let them.”

The showdown at the new school, which dissipated somewhat as the High Holidays approached, is just the latest clash between Modern Orthodox Jews and extremists from Beit Shemesh’s haredi community.

In the past few years, religious fundamentalists have assaulted bus passengers who have attempted to sit next to members of the opposite sex, firebombed a pizza shop where the sexes mixed and beaten other haredim who have tried to speak out publicly against religious zealotry in the community.

Lipman, whose own daughters do not attend Banot Orot, shows up outside the school almost daily to ensure that the young girls are not taunted or pelted with refuse. Before Rosh Hashanah he organized a demonstration of a few thousand people—Modern Orthodox and more secular residents of Beit Shemesh—against extremist intimidation.

“In this neighborhood, about 50 percent of us are relatively new immigrants, and I think that makes us more determined to not let them destroy our dream,” Lipman said.

Shmuel Pappenheim, a haredi resident of Beit Shemesh, says the fight is not so much about confronting the Modern Orthodox as it is about sending a message to Beit Shemesh’s haredi mayor, who allowed the school to be built here.

“The land was promised to us for a public building, and now the mayor has given it to them,” Pappenheim said. “What we do not understand is why a Modern Orthodox girls’ school had to be built right next to our community.”

Pappenheim says the girls are not dressed modestly enough for the haredi community’s strict mores, but he insists that the haredi community is seeking ways to conduct a peaceful dialogue with the mayor and Beit Shemesh’s non-haredi residents.

“We have been trying to discuss this issue for a few years but we were not successful, so now we will have to fight it our own way,” he said.

Mayor Moshe Abutbul had been involved until recently in trying to bring the two sides together to find a solution. But after the decision to open Banot Orot was made over his head, by the national Education Ministry, he appears to have taken a step back.

Matitiyahu Rosensweig, a spokesman for the mayor, told JTA that the government’s involvement had served only to disrupt previous gains that had been made to return calm to Beit Shemesh. He declined a request for a full interview.

Lipman says the Modern Orthodox community soon will fight back against gender-segregated buses, which Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled are illegal.

“We will address this issue soon with a counter campaign called Take a Seat,” he said.

After that, he said, the battle will go to City Hall.

“We are preparing ourselves as a unified general population for future issues that could arise and are starting to turn our eyes towards the elections in two years,” Lipman said. “We hope to wrestle the city back from a mayor who pulled a fast one on the voters and is actually under the influence of extremist elements.”

Teach For America trip gives teachers taste of Israeli schools

The daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Rachel Swift Linn always felt Jewish, even after her parents divorced when she was young and she began living with her mother.

But that’s not how Linn is perceived by much of the organized Jewish community. 

“I’d tell people I’m Jewish, and they’d say, ‘No, you’re not,’ ” Linn said, frowning at the memory.

Despite the negative feedback, Linn continued to identify herself as Jewish and became more determined than ever to find meaning in her Jewish background.

That determination led Linn, a 23-year-old Spanish teacher at the New Millennium Secondary School in Carson, Calif., to apply for the REALITY Israel Experience.

A part of the Teach For America (TFA) program, which taps recent college grads to teach in economically distressed communities, Linn was one of the 57 TFA educators — including several from Los Angeles — who visited Israel this summer on a trip of professional development and personal discovery.  

Funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) and the Samberg Family Foundation in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators, the visit introduced TFA corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems through the prism of Jewish values.  

To qualify for the all-expenses-paid program, participants needed to demonstrate “an affiliation or interest in Jewish life,” Adam Simon, associate national director of the Schusterman Foundation explained during an encounter with pluralistic Israeli schools at the Keshet School in Jerusalem.

While some of the participants have two Jewish parents, others have one Jewish parent or another Jewish family member. Still others aren’t Jewish but have Jewish partners and want to learn more about Jewish life and culture.

Only 4 percent of the participants had previously visited Israel, organizers said.

Throughout their time in Israel, the young educators explored how Jewish values such as tikkun olam inform social justice, activism, education, charity and other contributions to the larger community.

At the much-depleted Dead Sea, the director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East explained how Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists are working together to tackle Israel’s water shortage. In Yerucham, a development town, they learned how the organization Atid BaMidbar has helped heal divisions between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews.  

A day devoted to inclusiveness included a unique meal at the Blackout Restaurant, where the participants dined in total darkness, served by blind waiters; and a performance by a troupe of deaf-blind performers.

A tutorial on physical accessibility brought the participants to Jerusalem, where they tried to navigate a busy street on crutches, blindfolded or in wheelchairs.

The participants also spent time talking shop with their counterparts from Teach First Israel — a TFA-like program — at Israeli schools. 

In Jerusalem, the participants received a living lesson in tolerance by speaking with students from the Keshet School, where Jewish kids from every religious stream study together; and at the Hand in Hand School, a bilingual Hebrew/Arabic school; and in Tel Aviv at the Bialik-Rogozin School, which (as conveyed in the Academy Award-winning documentary “Strangers No More”) has opened its doors and hearts to the children of refugees and foreign workers.

While acknowledging that their programs are unique, educators from the three schools emphasized that with the right vision and values, with enthusiastic people at the helm, and with a good head for fundraising, educational models that foster pluralism, equality and inclusiveness can be created anywhere.

“The trip’s goal has been to present Jewish life as relevant and meaningful, no matter where you teach,” Simon said.

Teach For America viewed the Israel trip as a pilot, according to Andrew Mandell, TFA’s vice president of interactive learning and engagement.

Although the young teachers receive training to prepare them for their two-year commitment, “we haven’t done any programming to help our corps members process the experience and to reflect on their values and strengths.”

Mandell called the REALITY experience “a special and unique opportunity.” Israel, he said, “is a great place to talk about leadership, Jewish values and how to create an equitable society.”

Like the group as a whole, the TFA representatives from Los Angeles said they would bring the lessons they learned back into their classrooms in the fall.

“I learned a lot about the way conflicts in Israel are created and resolved,” said Katherine Devries, a 23-year-old sixth-grade teacher at the Lakeview Charter Academy. Devries, who was raised Catholic and has “a half-Jewish” boyfriend, said she hopes to challenge her students more after meeting “Israeli kids so articulate about their identity and their relationships to each other.”

Julianna Malogolowkin, who just completed a year teaching in South Los Angeles, found it “amazing” how Israelis deal with hardship.

“We’re working in low-income communities, and we think things are quite bad. They are, but in Israel we’ve come to see how they deal with similar problems.”

Spending time in Israel also sparked Malogolowkin’s interest in Judaism. Both her parents are Jewish, she said.

Now, she said, “I want Judaism to be a larger presence in my life, and I’m looking into studying at the Hebrew University,” she said.

Becky Weinstein, who encountered anti-Semitism during her childhood in Massachusetts, “even though just about the only Jewish thing about me was my last name,” was moved by the many concrete examples of tikkun olam she encountered in Israel.  

The realization that Jewish values are so consistent with her own ideals motivated Weinstein, a special-education teacher at the KIPP Academy of Opportunity in South Los Angeles, to seek out a Jewish community — for the very first time — upon her return home.

For Linn, the Spanish teacher, the trip was a valuable way to explore how Israelis, who are required to learn English, and sometimes Arabic, succeed with bilingualism.

It was also a chance to be embraced as a Jew.

“The reaction [to my Jewish status] here has been the total opposite of the reaction back home,” Linn said. “In Israel, Jewishness is as much about being a people than a religion, and I have a place in it.”

In Los Angeles, she said, “I want to become more involved in the Jewish community.”

Colleges reminded of legal duty to prevent harassment

An Israeli civil rights group has sent letters to 150 U.S. college presidents reminding them of their legal obligations to prevent the harassment of Jewish students on their campuses.

In its letter dated Sept. 8, the Shurat Din-Israel Law Center in Tel Aviv also reminded the administrators that their schools have a duty “to reasonably prevent university funds from being diverted to unlawful activities that are directed against the state of Israel.”

The center, which according to one report was credited with mostly shutting down the second Freedom Flotilla to the Gaza Strip this summer, cites specific cases of what it calls anti-Israel hostility and Jewish harassment at Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley. The letter noted a recent lawsuit by a Berkeley alumnus contending that the university failed to protect her from physical attacks by a pro-Palestinian student.

While academic and political debate are a right, the letter said, “there are limits to these that students and campus officials must be made aware, especially with regard to anti-Israel activities.”

The letter was signed by Kenneth Leitner, a lawyer for the 8-year-old center, which also has offices in New York.

According to Commentary Magazine, the center was able to prevent most of the 10-boat Freedom Flotilla II from sailing to Gaza from Greece by informing insurance companies, satellite providers and Greek authorities of potential liabilities issues stemming from the flotilla.

Ethiopian students protest segregated school

Some 300 Ethiopian students and parents protested against their segregation in a Petach Tikvah elementary school, as nearly 2 million Israeli children began the school year.

The protesters marched Thursday from the Nir Etzion School to City Hall carrying signs reading “Stop the ghetto” and “stop the segregation.” The students refused to enter their classrooms at the school, which is made up of nearly all Israeli children of Ethiopian descent, according to Ynet.

The parents believed that the city had agreed to integrate the children into other city schools, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Tzipi Livni, head of the opposition Kadima Party, attended the protest, calling it “the struggle for all of us in Israel,” the Post reported.