HU program encourages social responsibility

“Common Denominator,” addresses girls in classrooms about stereotypes that may affect them and their professional aspirations.

May 30, 2013 01:03
4 minute read.
Hoffman Leadership and Responsibility Fellowship, in 2011.

Hoffman Leadership and Responsibility Fellowship, in 2011.. (photo credit: Douglas Guthrie))

Two years ago, when Galit Agmon bumped into a former high school teacher of hers and told her that she was pursuing a doctorate in brain sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the teacher was very surprised.

“She was shocked because back then, I was going a totally different direction,” Agmon told The Jerusalem Post. “All my matriculation exams were in humanities subjects except for math.

“She asked me if I could come talk to girls at the school and explain to them that taking five units [the maximum] of math is important and that it opens options for the future,” she recalled.

Agmon fulfilled her teacher’s request and the session was a success. So much so, in fact, that she started holding such discussions at a second school in Jerusalem.

“We talked about inequality between men and women, not only in sciences but also in politics or roles in the household,” she explained. “I asked students where they think these come from. Do women want it this way? Is it imposed on them?” “The intention is to show them how much the media – films, advertisements and other things – shapes how we think about these issues,” she added.

Little by little, Agmon’s initiative turned into a project titled “Common Denominator,” in which she addressed girls in classrooms and talked to them about stereotypes that may affect them and their professional aspirations.

Today, Common Denominator has grown and expanded to workshops held once a year in over a dozen of schools in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, designed to raise awareness of stereotypes among high school students.

While the workshops were originally targeted at girls, Agmon felt the need to expand them to the boys as well.

“Inequality is a social phenomenon and stereotypes exist about girls and boys,” she explained, “We talk to them about stereotypes that influence them and also the stereotypes they have about girls, we talk to them about what masculinity is or about professions that are considered ‘girly,’ for example.”

The expansion of the project was made possible after Agmon enrolled in a special program as part of her studies: The Hoffman Leadership and Responsibility Fellowship, which is aimed at providing doctoral candidates from all Hebrew University faculties and fields of study with an opportunity to “focus solely on their research, while honing their skills and developing their commitment to social and community leadership.”

Agmon told the Post that the program facilitated her project by providing her with a “favorable platform” to develop it and many valuable connections with fellow participants, who helped her advance.

The program was established in 2006 by Harry and Sylvia Hoffman of Australia.

Harry Hoffman was born in 1929 in Dubove, Czechoslovakia.

He and his family were taken to Auschwitz in May 1944, where he lost his mother and two sisters.

After surviving the Holocaust, Harry migrated to Australia in 1949, where he met his wife.

In 1957, the couple established Ardross Real Estate, the foundation of what was to become the Ardross Group, which constructed and owned commercial, industrial and residential properties.

The Hoffmans have engaged in many philanthropic ventures throughout their careers. The most significant of these is perhaps their involvement with the Carmel School, an Australian modern Orthodox day school, which was renamed the H & S Hoffman and G Korsunski Carmel School in 2009.

With his 50 year of business experience, Harry Hoffman decided to establish the fellowship at the Hebrew University with the stated aim of “producing a future crop of Israeli leaders for Jewish society to look up to and be proud of.” Each year, 12 carefully selected fellows like Agmon are accepted into the program. They meet every other week for lectures, discussions and workshops.

The program also requires participants to “express their personal responsibility” by contributing to society through volunteering for a minimum of two hours a week, according to the program.

Hoffman fellows generally volunteer in areas related to youth, education, health care, peace activism, environmental issues and policy change. Some also work with minorities in Israel.

“I believe that leadership is something that comes from an internal set of values and is associated with a strong conviction regarding goals and beliefs,” program academic head Prof. Amalya Oliver-Lumerman said in a statement. “Our Hoffman scholars share these qualities and are empowering each other through their academic excellence and expressed dedication to contribute to society.”

“Each university should think about social responsibility,” she added, “Good things can start with only one person.” The program will be holding a graduation ceremony next week for its 2013 graduates. The event is expected to take place in the presence of the Hoffmans, as well as Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson.

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