Hebrew University Offers The Best of Both Worlds

Many American university students cherishing a passion for Israel lament the fact that it’s their last chance to spend extended time there before “real life” starts.

Avigail Winokur, Jacob Korman and Mali Mendlovic (photo credit: YOSI FUNES)
Avigail Winokur, Jacob Korman and Mali Mendlovic
(photo credit: YOSI FUNES)
Many American university students cherishing a passion for Israel lament the fact that it’s their last chance to spend extended time there before “real life” starts. And while hitting the pause button on their studies is often a challenge, this year’s coronavirus pandemic actually presented a very sudden, and very exciting opportunity. Hebrew University was the key.

In its successful 2019 pilot, the Rimon Fellows program at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School welcomed Traditional students from the U.S. to spend a semester or a year in Jerusalem during their undergraduate studies. Whether returning after a gap year or coming for the first time, the program combined rigorous studies and internships, opportunities to make new friends and reconnect with old ones, and a way to experience Israel in a whole new way.

But then the Corona pandemic hit, and students suddenly needed a “new” version of the fledgling program: With most U.S. universities shutting down their physical facilities and moving to on-line classes, students found themselves underwhelmed, under-stimulated, and deprived of their ideal educational, social and spiritual frameworks. As explained by Rimon’s Director and Founder Rabbi Adi Isaacs, “We realized this was a unique opportunity to pivot and encourage students to have it all. They could actually continue studies online with their home university while coming to live in Jerusalem for a semester, with friends, in a Corona-friendly, safe yet social environment."

The faculty quickly stepped up and formalized this modified offering: They invited students to come to Jerusalem, where regulations permit limited, carefully controlled socializing. They could split their time studying with Hebrew University faculty, while continuing their own universities’ online curricula. In their spare time, on-campus activities would provide engagement with a new community of like-minded students from across the country, as well as periodic trips throughout Israel, within Health Ministry approved parameters. 

Did the “pivot” plan work? The initial group of over 70 students can confirm that it did.

“A semester of online courses and life off-campus seems like a recipe for loneliness and boredom,” explains Daniel Meadvin, a student from a New York university. “As much as I love my hometown, I wasn't looking forward to spending the semester there alone. Instead, Rimon provided me with the opportunity to spend a semester in Jerusalem with old and new friends. Zooming into a seminar sitting next to my friends from school who are taking the same courses tangibly enhances the community in the virtual classroom. And even with my friends from other universities, working together on problem sets and papers simulates (and even intensifies) the same feeling I had on my own college campus.”

Jake Bzowsky NY Priencton Uni and Micki Hirsch

(photo credit: Yosi Funes)

Jonah Lubow spent his internship working with OurCrowd, the online investment platform based in Jerusalem. “I work on OurCrowd's portfolio management team, helping to ensure that startup companies are dealt with properly after receiving investments. My responsibilities allow me to interact with big names in the venture capital field, and get a behind-the-scenes look at how VC firms operate. I'm excited to learn skills that will help me as an aspiring professional.”

Israel’s renowned med-tech ecosystem offered a unique opportunity to student Samantha Breslauer, who interned as a research assistant at a computerized neurotherapy lab. “We are giving neuro stimulation treatment to youth with ADHD to help improve their condition as an alternative to medication,” she explains. “This experience has given me the opportunity to work with patients, despite the pandemic. I have also been given more responsibility to lead research analysis and conduct experiments that the US labs would probably not grant to college students.”

The Rimon program offers unique opportunities, as Rothberg students have always appreciated. Noted by Avigail Winokur, “I've been really enjoying working with Dr. Elyakim Kislev. I get the opportunity to write articles that he publishes on Psychology Today, which isn't something I've been able to do through any other undergraduate program.” Dr. Kislev was pleased with the experience as well: “I’ve discovered that working with students in the program is truly mutually beneficial. I make sure to get the students into the hands-on research work itself, so they see concrete results from their efforts, and naturally, get credit for it. In return, working with students gives me new and refreshing perspectives on the topics I research.”

Adina Burian, whose son Jonah is currently a Rimon fellow, sums it up from a parent’s perspective: “For Jonah, who otherwise lost his in-person campus life in America, the program has provided him the opportunity to continue his U.S. studies virtually, while living at Hebrew University’s thriving campus in Jerusalem.  Jonah has the opportunity to meet students from around the world, participate in a robust religious life, and grow his Hebrew skills.  As parents, we also appreciate the warmth, professionalism, and ongoing communication we’ve received from the Hebrew University leadership and staff, led by Rabbi Adi Isaacs. Kol HaKavod!”


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