Educating through a Global Pandemic, IDC Herzliya turns Challenge into Opportunity
By David E. Kaplan
They say when the “going gets tough, the tough get going,” but in the Start-Up Nation of Israel that is never quite enough, you also need to be SMART.
“Tough, smart and add in entrepreneurial,” asserts Jonathan Davis, Vice President for External Relations at IDC Herzliya, and head of the university’s Raphael Recanati International School. “This is how the IDC has come through 2020 with the Corona pandemic. We have put IDC philosophy into practice by welcoming the challenges of Corona as opportunities. Overcoming hurdles and obstacles is what we teach here. It’s in our DNA.”
Nurtured in a country that has survived and thrived in adversity, Israel’s first private university, the IDC Herzliya was founded in 1994 by its President, Prof. Uriel Reichman to train the future leadership of the State of Israel via “a unique model of excellence in research and teaching” alongside an emphasis “on social responsibility and community involvement”.
Its students are trained to “Dream Beyond” and its former students can be found at the pinnacles of their professions fulfilling their “dreams” in fields all over the world. Look no further than Hollywood’s “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot, who after serving two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer, studied law at the IDC Herzliya before she began her modelling and acting career. Even with 2020 being the year of the Corona, Gadot is ranked in the top three highest paid actresses in the world – quite a leap from the once young girl from Rosh Ha’ayin!
While the supernatural powers of a “Wonder Woman” could have come in hand in 2020, the IDC dug into its own innovative talents and optimized its abundant expertise to come up with solutions.
When the Corona pandemic struck in March 2020, “We rapidly responded to the new educational realities,” explains Davis who has been responsible for the health and welfare of eight hundred international students from over 90 countries. Having to adjust to a world knocked off its proverbial axis, it has been non-stop for Davis and his energized “A-team” arranging transportation for these mostly foreign students, ensuring that health regulations were strictly adhered to, quarantining the foreign students upon arrival in Israel, and remaining in touch with anxious parents.
“We held frequent Zoom conferences with as many as six hundred parents at a time, from the Far East, Europe, North America, and Latin America,” says Davis. “Felt like the United Nations but with one big satisfying difference – we resolved issues!”
Confronting the pandemic as if it were a war, the IDC set up on its campus an “Operations Room”, which maintained constant contact with representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior and Ben Gurion International Airport “to ensure that things went smoothly,” says Davis. Running 24 hours a day, “We had to field requests from North and South America, South Africa, Australia, across Europe and even China; after all, we have students here from over 90 countries. As we were bringing these students into Israel, the regulations and rules of Corona were changing from one minute to the next. It reminded me of Mohamed Ali – it was not good enough to carry a touch punch; one had to be nimble on the feet – to adjust to constantly changing conditions.”
One of the many overseas students the IDC assisted in returning to Israel during Corona was Jessica Rubens from Belgium. Stuck at home because of the pandemic, this Communication’s student was finding it frustrating studying from home. “I had been trying since March to return to Israel; it was not easy but finally, the IDC knowing the right levers to pull, helped me get back safely. This is where I need to be. It’s been quite amazing.”
Responsible for quarantining over 800 students, many of whom went either to the IDC’s new dormitories or apartments off-campus and “We had to check those apartments to make sure that everything was according to the rules and regulations.”
Tapping into Talent
Ensuring the health and wellbeing of the students, the focus shifted to education, and what proved “smart” was to tap into the talents of its students. To ensure the IDC was able to continue effective teaching, meant training hundreds of lecturers and professors in the art of online teaching in the most innovative and creative way. “We took two hundred students from the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science, who became the mentors and tutors of these professors and lecturers, to assist them with technical aspects,” reveals Davis.
If one is tempted to raise an eyebrow at the sudden upside-down practice of students counseling lecturers, it is well known that IDC computer science students receive an average of three job offers from the biggest high-tech companies during their last year of studies. “They are trained to perform, and perform they did during Corona,” says Davis. “These guys were the cavalry.”
As 2021 dawned, and Israel became the first country in the world to vaccinate 10% of population, it is understandable that its universities are the breeding ground of its superlative successes. It needs to be!
“Through entrepreneurial and innovative ways, we found ways and means to make lectures more interesting,” says Davis who directed the writer to interview a number of students.
I began with a group from South Africa, a country facing increasing isolation as more countries ban travel there over the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus.
For Noah Marks from Johannesburg, being under lockdown did not mean “my mind was ‘quarantined’.” Studying Business and Entrepreneurship, Covid-19 allowed Noah to use his time “profitably” as he began to work “on a number of venture ideas I had been toying with for some time.” He says it made him think “how crises are not to be seen as all negative but rather that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Throughout this Covid-19 pandemic, I have been exposed to new ways of creative problem solving and these lessons have indeed helped me to further become the entrepreneur that I wish to be.”
The IDC could not be better geographically situated to suit Noah and his aspiring hi-tech peers. Located between Ra’anana and Herzliya, in the midst of Israel’s ‘Silicon Wadi’, with the most hi-tech companies per capita of any region in the country, “the IDC enjoys a very strong connection with these companies,” says Davis. “They provide cooperative hands-on education as well as offering internships.”
While for second year Psychology student returning to Israel and leaving her family behind in Johannesburg was “a daunting and emotional experience,” Tali Kadish says she knows “I made the right decision.” At least surrounded by classmates in the dorms “allowed the online lessons to feel somewhat ‘normal’.”
In agreement is her compatriot and also Psychology student, Jordi Rubenstein who says the IDC “has gone to special efforts to make our online lectures interesting and productive. This period has no doubt been difficult, but the extra resources laid on has ensured that my education is on track and enriching.”
From ‘Down Under’, Computer Science student, Arora Attenborough from Australia’s Gold Coast, is up and energized being back in Israel. Using underwater parlance to describe learning ‘under lockdown’, Arora is looking forward “to start deep diving into my Computer Science and Entrepreneurship courses knowing that the skills we are acquiring and the challenges we are overcoming today will make us better and more prepared for the changed world after Corona.”
There is an understandable sense among the students that the post-Corona world will be different and that the education they are receiving at the IDC is preparing them for that proverbial, ‘Brave New World’.
This phenomena came from one man’s dream – Prof. Uriel Reichman and after whom the IDC will soon be renamed. It was this esteemed Law Professor who during the early 1990s – without any state financial support – deflected the skeptics and transformed a crumbling British Mandate military base into an educational oasis in the center of the country. That short saga from decay to enterprise, encapsulates the spirit of the IDC. As students walk through the picturesque, verdant grounds of their campus, they can look upon the artifacts and masonry of bygone Empires from Rome to the British and marvel at modern day Israel’s accomplishments.
With the shackles of past rulers an artwork on their pathways to lecture halls, “We train our students,”says Reichmann, “to free themselves from the shackles of convention and take responsibility for their future. We encourage them to pursue their dreams and not to succumb to the status quo.”
Viewing his IDC academic experience through a Corona prism, Government and Sustainability student Lee Ortenberg from Newton, Massachusetts is quite philosophical:
“I came to IDC to have an international community surrounding me during my studies. I think one of the most amazing things about IDC is the diversity you find among your peers and professors; everyone has completely different life experiences to offer! Oddly enough, the coronavirus aligns almost perfectly with what we study in Government and Sustainability. From the nature of the virus, to how globalized economies handle shutdowns, to how cities and governments may come out of this pandemic greener and more resilient, it all has to do with our degree, making it a truly interesting time to be studying. Our professors share so much passion with our students, which is so inspiring to be around, and have been there for us every step of the way during the pandemic.”
While praising the administration and faculty in providing “an excellent job in adapting to online teaching,” Business Administration and Economics student Eitan Dooreck-Aloni from Miami, Florida articulates what all the students are hoping for”
“I can’t wait for life to get back to normal, so that we can all enjoy IDC’s vibrant life on campus.”
Now that’s a sentiment that everyone, everywhere can truly relate to!
*For more information about the IDC, please contact Stephanie Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org Or 972-9-9602841.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)