Shalem College

The Second Annual

Shalem College Commencement

June 28, 2018

The second annual Shalem College Commencement Exercises were held on June 28, 2018 in the Kiryat Moriah Auditorium in Jerusalem.

A Cambridge-bound Master’s degree candidate, the founder of an economic-advocacy startup, and the vice president of a nonprofit working to redefine the role of religion in Israeli society. These were just a few of the forty graduates who participated in Shalem’s second annual commencement exercises this past June 28 in Jerusalem, continuing the college’s promise to create visionary leadership for Israel.

Addressing the nearly 400-strong crowd of graduates, current and former students, and family and friends, President Isaiah Gafni, in the ceremony’s opening remarks, cited sceptics among ancient philosophers as well as modern critics who insisted that there was no hope for liberal education. Such a training, they claimed, required a perfect – but impossible – blend of material, teachers, students, and teaching methods. “Eighteen hundred years had to pass before Shalem would prove the sceptics wrong,” he said. We at Shalem, he continued, have achieved this “impossible” match, to the benefit not just of our graduates but Israeli society as a whole.

Following in the tradition of its inaugural commencement, the 2018 ceremony honored two individuals who have made a notable contribution to the Jewish state and people: Maj. General (res.) Doron Almog and Prof. Alice Shalvi. Almog, over the course of his storied 34-year career in the IDF, was the first officer on the ground in Israel’s famed Operation Entebbe; the commander of “Operation Moses,” which airlifted Ethiopian Jews to Israel; and, between 2000-2003, the head of the IDF’s southern command. In 2016, Almog received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, awarded for his work as founder of a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation village for disabled youth in the Negev. The village was named in honor of his son, Eran, who was born with severe cognitive disabilities, and who was himself named after Almog’s brother, who died in the Yom Kippur War.

“May you, the graduates of Shalem College, transform ivory towers into beacons of social action,” Almog said in his address to students. “You have the power to shape the State of Israel into the kind of just society the whole world needs.”

Prof. Alice Shalvi received an honorary degree at the second annual Shalem College Commencement Exercises.

Shalvi, also a recipient of the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, is one of Israel’s pioneering educators. A professor of English literature, Shalvi spearheaded the democratic educational movement in Israel, most notably through her leadership of the Pelech high school for girls in Jerusalem, the first such school for religious girls to encourage the study of subjects previously deemed appropriate only for men. She is also the founder of the Israel Women’s Network, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the status of women in the Jewish state, as well as active in myriad organizations dedicated to human rights and coexistence.

Explaining why she decided to accept an honorary degree from Shalem, despite having foresworn any further honors or awards, Shalvi noted the college’s unique emphasis on broad-based education, as opposed to the increasing trend toward specialization. “A person is not ‘knowledgeable,’” she told the graduates, “because of his familiarity with a specific field. She is knowledgeable not because of the ability to retain facts, but because of those spiritual qualities that knowledge imparts to her.”

After a musical interlude by the Shalem Choir, an emotional Maya Jacobi ’18 addressed the crowd as the evening’s student representative. Describing the deep bonds of friendship the members of the Class of 2018 created during their four intense years together, she said, “Perhaps this is the kind of leadership Israel really needs today: Leadership that isn’t cynical, that isn’t based on a power grab, but instead grows out of respect, acceptance, and a genuine desire to help the other. This,” she concluded, “is the example the Class of 2018 can bring to every place and every profession in the Jewish state that our graduates go.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog received an honorary degree at the second annual Shalem College Commencement Exercises.

Before the graduates were called up onstage to accept their certificates of completion, Dr. Daniel Gordis, senior vice president, Koret distinguished fellow, and chair of the Core Curriculum Department, warned them of the particular challenges they faced, and reminded them that these challenges are precisely “why you have spent the last four years at Shalem.” Explaining “there is nothing guaranteed about the future of human freedom, nothing assured about the survival of the most noble form of liberalism, nothing inevitable about the future of a free press or even a Jewish and democratic State of Israel,” Gordis concluded with a metaphorical, and moving, passing of the baton: “The future of this place—this state, this society, this city and much more—depends on you.”

Recalling the brave, passionate men and women who founded the Jewish state, Gordis declared, “All that we need is another generation of people who believe in this place, in its importance, in its infinite potential, and the capacity of the human mind and the human heart to shape an ever-better world.”

Looking out at the bright, idealistic, and no-less-passionate men and women of the Class of 2018—each with his or her own dreams and plans, yet all with a shared commitment to a better future for their country—it was easy to feel hopeful that this generation had, indeed, arrived.

As Dr. Orit Avnery, the dean of students, told the graduates in her presentation of honorary-degree recipient Shalvi, whom she praised for having “turned ideas into reality”: “And from you, the Class of 2018—we expect nothing less.”