Trip to Israel

Members of the Ethiopian National Project

Members of the Ethiopian National Project

I recently returned from a community leadership mission to Israel coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and led by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. My primary focus was to learn more about the State of Israel’s human development system and potential partnerships that might be available to Pima Community College.  Important aspects of this visit included addressing challenges associated with Israel’s youth, immigrant communities, and diversity.

At the Western Wall with a delegation including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild

At the Western Wall with a delegation including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild

I learned that the talent development system in Israel is grounded in a larger commitment to social justice with broad participation from employers, educators, community organizations, and concerned individuals from Israel and the USA. This commitment is an important counterbalance to a public education system that appears overwhelmed by large class sizes (up to 40 students per teacher), and limited state investment compared to their defense industry.

My first exposure was with Liliyot Restaurant, a leading culinary institution.  One aspect of their uniqueness centers on their work with at-risk youth.  As noted on their web site, liliyot.co.il, “Every year Liliyot Restaurant trains and employs 15 high school drop-outs, who receive instruction, supervision, and employment for a period of up to a year and half.”  Some of the keys to success of this initiative include partnerships between the ELEM-Israel organization (http://www.elem.org.il/english/) and the Liliyot Group, including the involvement of a full-time social worker and a caring, committed team of professionals at the Liliyot Restaurant.

We visited the Tel Nof Air Force Base where we met the elite Rescue Training Unit 669, an airborne combat search-and-rescue team of the Israelis Defense Forces (idfblog.com). The training of this elite unit takes about 18 months.  This unit has a special connection to Tucson, because the unit has participated in joint training exercises with similar units here in our community.  Some members of this unit will be returning to Tucson in the future.  It is my hope to connect members of PCC’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Institute with this elite group.

We met with the program staff, faculty and students of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP).  This project “unites global Jewry, the Government of Israel, and the Ethiopian-Israeli community in its mission to advance the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society” (enp.org.il). We had an opportunity to interact with the students in a small group setting.  I was deeply inspired by their passion and commitment to learning.

We heard student testimonials about the positive impact the ENP is having on their lives.  One of the stories that stood out for me was of a male student who was not taking his studies seriously. He was known for not participating in class and other school activities, and sometimes would skip school.  Thanks to the coordinator of the ENP’s Scholastic Assistance Program checking in with the student’s teachers, an intervention strategy was developed.  This included the coordinator going out to the student’s neighborhood to find out was going on with him.  Thanks to the care, commitment and passion of the coordinator taking the time understand the familial dynamics, the student is back on a path to success.

We also learned about Israeli and Arab challenges from the founders of Alpha Omega, an Arab start-up company (alphaomega-eng.com).  The co-founders attended a well-regarded Israeli university, but following graduation, still had difficulty finding meaningful work.  Eventually they decided to start up what eventually became a highly successful medical device company focused on neurology and degenerative disease.  Another aspect of their story that struck me was their commitment to their employees and community. They encourage their employees to start their own businesses.  They are very involved with community organizations.

We had a fascinating visit with the BioBee Biological Systems in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (www.BioBee.com).  They are the world’s leading experts on mass production and implementation of beneficial insects and mites as an alternative to chemical pesticides used in agriculture  They run a very sophisticated operation that attracts leading experts to their kibbutz.  Additionally, they invest heavily in the training and development of their front-line team.

I left Israel feeling inspired and affirmed in my decision to work in higher education.  The U.S. and Israel have much that they can learn from each other, but one thing is common to both countries:  Student success happens when educators and community members care enough to develop personal relationships with students.

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