President’s Column: Education, Education, Education
There’s nothing like your first trip to Israel. Climbing from the coastal plain to Jerusalem, the landscape offers a heady mix of biblical and modern names and images. In the Holy City itself, looking at ancient stones and new construction cranes, gazing from the heights into the surrounding valleys, past and future seem to merge.
I’ve been to Israel many times and I’ve always been inspired. But on my first journey as Hadassah’s national president, I was reminded of my first ascent to Jerusalem. As if from a higher perch, I saw clearly the importance of our work and the power of our name. To borrow a phrase from a younger generation, it was awesome.
In fact, I thought repeatedly of younger generations and our role in teaching them as I visited projects and met with business, academic and government leaders looking to Hadassah to help improve Israeli education. I reached two competing conclusions: We have done so much, changed so many lives. And there is still so much to do.
Hadassah has been rescuing children at risk since the 1930s. Our Youth Aliyah villages teach not only classroom subjects but also life skills. At Hadassah-Neurim, immigrant and Israeli-born youth live in small units with real families—house parents who are there with their own children. When Neurim needed a sports center, we built a track that is now one of Israel’s Olympic training sites. The renowned sculptor Itzik Benshalom maintains his studio in the village; students assist in the studio and in the adjacent foundry, which produces works of art sent around the world.
The students at Neurim take pride in living and learning in a setting noted for excellence and care, but our Youth Aliyah villages are not filled to capacity. Some municipalities have been hesitant to refer kids to us because in Israel educational funding follows the child. Now this seems to be changing, as our reputation trumps budgetary concerns. As Israel seeks to ensure that no child falls behind, we are there, not just pitching in, but leading.
Unlike our Youth Aliyah centers, Hadassah College Jerusalem is filled to capacity—and still growing. Enrollment has increased from 600 to 2,000 in the past 7 years and we are making plans for 3,000. The college is renting space for the overflow. The reason for the demand is clear: No other educational institution in Israel is so geared to the constant changes in the nation’s economy. Each program—biotechnology, management, computer graphics and environmental health sciences, to name just a few—is designed to fill jobs. The college has helped revitalize downtown Jerusalem, attracting young people, many of whom stay after graduation, from all over the country.
The tug between accomplishment and challenge extends to Young Judaea. Our camps and Israel programs give American Jewish youth a strong sense of heritage and responsibility. Students on Year Course in Israel not only study and travel, they also volunteer at hospitals, centers for the disabled, nature reserves, fire stations and with the armed forces. The irony is that we have the largest Zionist youth movement in America, yet only about one percent of Hadassah families have children or grandchildren in Young Judaea camps or Israel programs in any given year. My goal is to make our camps and programs overflow. Israelis see Hadassah as a partner. On my recent trip, following up on a forum at our convention in New York, I spoke with business leaders about cooperative education initiatives. I met with Menachem Megidor, president of Hebrew University, to discuss how the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School can alleviate Israel’s shortage of doctors and nurses, and with experts from the Ministry of Education to see how we can build on our experience to strengthen education, and life, in Jerusalem.
In 95 years Hadassah has built new heights in Israel, in the form of hospitals, schools and programs. As Israel nears its 60th birthday, aiming to generate more jobs and business, it is once again calling on us. From the heights we’ve scaled we can see all we have done to heal and to educate. But the greater thrill is seeing the work before us.