A model for emulation

To bring Israeli talent back from overseas, we should look to the Nefesh B'Nefesh example.

The thousands of new immigrants from the US, Canada and Britain that the Nefesh B'Nefesh is bringing in on 14 flights this year will join the 20,000 who have arrived from these countries since the organization was founded in 2002. Most of these immigrant have been absorbed here with great success, providing us with clear proof of this country's ability to draw in Jews living in the heart of prosperous Western democracies. These immigrants come from personal choice, not as persecuted refugees seeking asylum - as has been the case with many who have come here since the early days of Zionism and since the founding of the state. They bring with them an abundance of skills, knowledge and creative resources - three-quarters of them hold academic degrees - which will contribute to the well-being of the collective and soon provide benefits outstripping all the costs involved in their absorption. They also remind us of a similar reserve that would add vitality and strength to our society and state: the tens of thousands of Jewish academics - many of whom are Israeli-born and outstanding graduates of Israeli universities - scattered throughout the world. Their immigration or return home depends, in fact, on one question alone: Will employment to match their professional training and intellectual curiosity be found for them here? Such work would serve as an anchor for building their lives within our midst, with assured mutual benefits. Ostensibly, this question can be disregarded - not solved - by dismissing those pampered young people as "conditional" Israelis. We could say to them something along the lines of: Don't do us any favors, we'll manage without you. Yet in reality what's at stake is not their whims, but a pressing national need. The State of Israel needs a serious reinforcement of academic personnel. Without such reinforcement, we will find it very difficult to maintain our place in the "First World" of developed countries, whether in the basic existential sense, the economic sense and in all aspects related to quality of life. That reinforcement is need in various financial institutions, including those whose luster has been dimmed temporarily by the global economic crisis. It also is clearly needed by the academic world, by institutions of research and higher education, which are from many standpoints the breeding ground of progress and culture. IN RECENT YEARS, the higher education system has suffered a long line of cutbacks by the state budget. The economic crisis has lowered the scope of donations which had been just barely keeping the system head above water. The results are clearly noticeable. For example, while the state's population has doubled since 1973, the number of university positions has dropped by 20 percent. Conversely, by 2019, 2,500 senior lecturers and teachers will retire, and little time remains to absorb their replacements. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that under these conditions, the academic world is unable to serve as the engine that propels Israeli society forward. At times, one fears that it may be derailed altogether. To handle this predicament we must imitate the heartening aliya campaign of Nefesh B'Nefesh. Our academic world urgently needs the ongoing absorption of new forces on an annual scale of hundreds of people. Such an effort has a clear price tag. Adding one academic position requires an investment ranging between $500,000-$1 million, mainly to ensure the position recipient's ability to work. Such an effort requires a long-term plan, at least a five-year plan, as opposed to the usual Israeli tactics of improvisation and cutting corners. Such an effort requires close cooperation and real self-examination by all stakeholders - the government, research universities and all branches of industry. Such an effort is not simple, but it is possible. Moreover, it is a national exigency. The writer is president of Bar-Ilan University.