The ISEF rip­ple ef­fect

The Is­rael Schol­ar­ship Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion’s In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ships Pro­gram demon­strates that lend­ing a help­ing hand can have far-reach­ing reper­cus­sions

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - LETTERS - • NOA AMOUYAL

Like any­thing in life, ac­cept­ing a schol­ar­ship from the Is­rael Schol­ar­ship Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion (ISEF) has some strings at­tached. But un­like some pre­con­di­tions, which can of­ten­times feel like a bur­den, the pre­req­ui­site to en­ter the ISEF fam­ily presents a win-win not only for the schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ent, but for Is­rael in gen­eral.

“I’ve been with ISEF since pur­su­ing my bach­e­lor’s de­gree and I never left,” said Dr. Vered Padler-Kar­a­vani, an ISEF alumna who now chairs the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in Is­rael. “I was ac­tive through my bach­e­lor’s, master’s, PhD and post-doc, and re­main ded­i­cated to the foun­da­tion to­day as a vol­un­teer.”

To­day, at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, she leads her own lab, do­ing cut­ting-edge re­search into mech­a­nisms of can­cer and heart dis­ease.

Padler-Kar­a­vani, who grew up in Rosh Ha’ayin and is the daugh­ter of Ye­menite par­ents, is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of ISEF at its best: a stu­dent whose hard work and ded­i­ca­tion em­pow­ered her to rise to the top of her field and who is ded­i­cated to show­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety that her suc­cess can be repli­cated.

Be­fore Gal Gadot be­came Rosh Ha’ayin’s claim to fame, Padler-Kar­a­vani ce­mented her­self as a Won­der Woman in her own right. Be­cause the city was more of a sleepy town where op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment were scarce, Padler-Kar­a­vani en­rolled in classes in nearby Pe­tah Tikva, which re­quired tak­ing two buses and a half-hour walk so the young sci­en­tist could max­i­mize her po­ten­tial.

As the re­cip­i­ent of ISEF’s largesse many times over, in­clud­ing its In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ships in the Sciences, she is grate­ful for the fa­mil­ial net­work of sup­port the or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­vided for her and oth­ers.

“There’s a sense of fam­ily. If you need help for what­ever rea­son, they’re there for you. You know they have your back. This is im­por­tant es­pe­cially for those who came from less af­flu­ent back­grounds. It is em­pow­er­ing and I’m not sure any other or­ga­ni­za­tion does this,” she said.

“ISEF’S IN­TER­NA­TIONAL Fel­low­ships Pro­gram rep­re­sents the cap­stone of ISEF’s work to de­velop Is­rael’s hu­man cap­i­tal to the max­i­mum pos­si­ble ex­tent. This pro­gram was cre­ated specif­i­cally to ad­dress the per­sis­tent achieve­ment gaps in the top ranks of Is­raeli so­ci­ety and to di­ver­sify Is­rael’s lead­er­ship in all sec­tors, by em­pow­er­ing Is­rael’s most tal­ented stu­dents from im­mi­grant and marginal­ized groups to take their right­ful place in Is­rael’s up­per ech­e­lons,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­plained in a state­ment.

As a re­sult, one of ISEF’s re­quire­ments for schol­ar­ship stu­dents is that they must give back to their com­mu­nity. It is a stip­u­la­tion that helped cul­ti­vate

such a sup­port­ive at­mos­phere.

“With ISEF, you have to be deeply in­volved in the com­mu­nity. Their world­view re­ally con­nected with me. It’s an or­ga­ni­za­tion that says, ‘You’re part of so­ci­ety and it’s your obli­ga­tion to pay for­ward what you re­ceive from us to your com­mu­nity,” Os­nat Aki­rav, the head of the Political Sci­ence Depart­ment at West­ern Galilee Col­lege and a for­mer ISEF In­ter­na­tional Fel­low, ex­plained.

In Padler-Kar­a­vani’s case, for ex­am­ple, dur­ing her post­doc­toral train­ing at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego, she men­tored ISEF stu­dent Nathaniel Koby, who be­came a fa­mil­iar fix­ture in her fam­ily as a fre­quent din­ner guest and babysit­ter for her chil­dren.

“At ISEF we se­lect stu­dents who have an in­ner pas­sion to suc­ceed. Of course, through our train­ing we also try to show them the pos­si­bil­ity of academia be­cause some­times they don’t even hear about it or they think they are not wor­thy of it,” she said. “It’s not only about get­ting good grades, but men­tor­ing them and show­ing them the pos­si­bil­i­ties out there.”

Those pos­si­bil­i­ties are of­ten found be­yond Is­rael’s bor­ders in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions across the United States and Europe. ISEF en­cour­ages its stu­dents to broaden their hori­zons, on the con­di­tion they re­turn to Is­rael af­ter their stud­ies are com­plete.

“To achieve greater equal­ity in Is­raeli so­ci­ety, I be­lieve it is es­sen­tial to of­fer Is­rael’s best and bright­est minds who hap­pen to come from im­mi­grant homes the broad­ened in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, con­tacts and out­look they can only ac­quire through ad­vanced study in the US or Europe,” ISEF pres­i­dent Car­los Be­naim ex­plained.

This is be­cause, as vet­eran ISEF board mem­ber and trea­surer emer­i­tus Joseph M. Rose ex­plains, ob­tain­ing a de­gree from a pres­ti­gious for­eign in­sti­tu­tion can give a stu­dent a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage once they re­turn to Is­rael.

“We have al­ways ob­served that schol­ars who have had an op­por­tu­nity to study abroad – how­ever briefly – have an edge in ob­tain­ing fac­ulty po­si­tions in Is­rael’s uni­ver­si­ties,” he said, re­fer­ring to his in­volve­ment, along with his wife, Dr. Paulette Rose, in found­ing the ISEF Shoshanim In­ter­na­tional Fel­lows Fund.

ISEF IN­TER­NA­TIONAL Fel­low alum­nus Tomer Levi spent time abroad in 2006 while he was a PhD stu­dent at Bran­deis Univer­sity. Levi, who grew up in a small town out­side of Haifa, yearned to study in the United States.

“It seemed like a big dream to me,” Levi, who cur­rently serves as a pro­gram spe­cial­ist at the US Em­bassy, said. “I was for­tu­nate to find an or­ga­ni­za­tion that rec­og­nized me, val­ued my work and be­lieved in me.”

In an un­ex­pected twist of fate, Levi also felt a deep emo­tional con­nec­tion to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, thanks to the gen­eros­ity of a man he had never even met, but only read about: Ed­mond J. Safra, who founded ISEF to­gether with his wife Lily Safra and Nina Weiner over 40 years ago.

“My back­ground in univer­sity was the study of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Beirut, and I felt a deep con­nec­tion to ISEF be­cause Ed­mond J. Safra’s fam­ily came from there. All of a sud­den, the phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­ity that I wrote about dur­ing my re­search on the Jews of Beirut touched my own life. In a way, ISEF was the most con­crete link that con­nected me to that com­mu­nity that I spent so much time learn­ing about,” he said.

“For me, ‘Safra’ was not just a name that ap­peared in re­search doc­u­ments; it rep­re­sented a fam­ily that gave so much to their lo­cal com­mu­nity. And then for me to be an ISEF Fel­low was very emo­tional be­cause it felt as if ev­ery­thing came full cir­cle,” he added.

De­spite his suc­cess in Bos­ton, how­ever, Levi’s home has re­mained in Is­rael.

“The In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship Pro­gram is just one por­tion of ISEF,” Levi ex­plained. “When we re­ceived a grant, they told us it’s a loan un­less we re­turn to Is­rael. This is a very nice pol­icy to dis­cour­age stu­dents from stay­ing abroad. It was al­ways clear to me that I’d go back.”

So, too, for ISEF In­ter­na­tional Fel­low Dr. Michael Gold­en­sh­luger, a gen­eral surgery res­i­dent at Mon­te­fiore Med­i­cal Cen­ter in New York. For him, there is no ques­tion that, at the end of his res­i­dency next year, he will re­turn to Is­rael.

“I have two kids that I want to raise in Is­rael. That is my home,” he said. “I’m grate­ful to ISEF for help­ing me dur­ing my time in New York, be­cause liv­ing here with two chil­dren is not easy.”

There­fore, while giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity is para­mount, the eco­nomic value of ISEF’s as­sis­tance is sig­nif­i­cant.

“[ISEF’s] be­lief in me and aca­demic life in gen­eral was ex­tremely valu­able to me as an Is­raeli PhD stu­dent in a for­eign coun­try,” Levi added.

Of course, a foun­da­tion that is cel­e­brat­ing its 42nd year places great em­pha­sis on the next gen­er­a­tion and how to en­cour­age the lead­ers of to­mor­row.

For those chil­dren who think achiev­ing their dreams is im­pos­si­ble, Levi has the fol­low­ing ad­vice: “Don’t fear any­thing that you’re not fa­mil­iar with. Don’t be afraid to leave your com­fort zone, ex­plore the un­known and trust your­self. If you be­lieve some­thing is worth your time – go for it.”

ISEF Alumni and Cur­rent In­ter­na­tional Fel­lows: Dr. Avishai Ben­ish, au­thor and for­mer MK Daniel Ben Si­mon, Prof. Yi­fat Bit­ton; cur­rent fel­lows Adam Yoseph, Dr. Michael Gold­en­sh­luger; ISEF VP Avi Abergel.


Dr. Vered Padler-Kar­a­vani (left) and Os­nat Aki­rav (right) speak­ing at an ISEF event.

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