I have been traveling to Haifa for many years now, especially during my volunteer work for the Boston-Haifa sister city partnership. Yet nothing in my previous experience, as interesting and meaningful as it was, could have prepared me for the excitement and dynamism of today’s visits to Yemin Orde and the Technion.
Our group drove northward through the coastal plain, winding high into the Carmel Mountains until we arrived at Yemin Orde, a student residential village where refugees from Ethiopia and Darfur study. Some of the current staff members are Ethiopian Jews who were themselves evacuated during Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.
Yemin Orde’s director, Chaim Peri, described the village’s unique approach to rejuvenating troubled youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, an approach that has now been adopted by other schools across Israel and the United States. The pedagogical ideals of the school emphasize belonging to a community, as opposed to an institution or boarding school. Thus, the community becomes a real home. It not only educates students’ intellects, it also empowers them to embark on healing and strengthening their senses of self, as many of the students are orphans as well as refugees.
Yemin Orde graduates now hold the highest positions throughout various fields in Israeli society, from business to the military, and they have gone on to top graduate schools — including Brandeis. The great miracle of Yemin Orde is that the students do not just survive; they thrive. They graduate committed to changing the world, just like our Brandeis students. We were reluctant to leave Yemin Orde but we departed filled with energy and dedication, embracing our hosts as if they were friends of decades, rather than half a day.
As we sped down through the mountains, we witnessed ominous signs of the recent traumatic fire that consumed the forests above Haifa, including many buildings at Yemin Orde. We then headed for the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, an extraordinary high-tech university and medical school. It is hard to describe the electricity that pervades this campus. Students in shorts and sandals walked briskly past us on their way to class in contemporary buildings, widely set apart amid lush flowering vines and plants, flourishing under Haifa’s blue skies and Mediterranean sun.
I shared lunch with President Peretz Lavie of Technion and members of both his and our faculty. In welcoming us, the president and his professors exhibited the usual Israeli warmth, hospitality, professionalism, and friendship. After President Lavie and I toasted to each other’s schools, when all those around the table had a chance to say a few words of introduction, the room was filled with the kind of collaborative conversations that augur well for future relationships between our institutions.
Throughout the day, I met with various members of the Technion community, envisioning and planning exciting possibilities for joint ventures: for scientific collaboration between faculty colleagues at Brandeis and Technion; and for programs whereby students of each university can visit and study at the other institution. Indeed, collaboration among faculty colleagues is well under way, as throughout the day Brandeis faculty members were meeting with members of the Technion faculty. We were particularly pleased and grateful for the opportunity to meet Technion’s Vice President for Research, Professor Oded Shmueli — a Wien scholar of the Brandeis Class of 1977.
I was struck by the complementary, symbiotic nature of these opportunities for collaboration. Technion has among other things one of the world’s great programs in engineering, a field in which Brandeis has yet to establish a program. Meanwhile, Technion admits to a relative weakness in the humanities, a particular strength of Brandeis.
To conclude the day, Mayor Yona Yahav of Haifa gave us a personal tour of the Haifa port, and of the Carmel Academic Center, a college that is among the numerous institutions that make up Israel’s significant expansion of colleges in recent years. We all shared a celebratory dinner at the end of the day, where Mayor Yahav and I discussed the future of higher education in Israel and America, and how Jewish roots like those that animate the values of Brandeis can nourish a positive future for young people.
As the dinner came to a close, Mayor Yahav said, regarding my blog, “Give your readers my best wishes.”