Shalem’s second president Prof. Isaiah M. Gafni welcomed 53 new students to campus the first week of November, urging them to “retain the extraordinary passion for learning” that brought them to the college throughout their next four years. Hailing from all parts of the country, and representing a diverse religious and ideological spectrum, Shalem’s over-subscribed Class of 2020 are united by their impressive record of service, commitment to learning, and academic accomplishment—traits that define the college’s first three pioneering classes as well, and “continue Shalem’s tradition of excellence,” in the words of Provost Dr. Daniel Polisar.
With an average high-school baccalaureate score above the average required by Israel’s top academic institutions, Shalem’s freshmen are well suited to the college’s rigorous course requirements, which in their first year include seminars in the Hebrew Bible, Western History and Literature, Greek Philosophy, Expository Writing, and English language, as well as the specially designed, experiential course for freshmen, “Challenges in Israeli Society.” For many students, the course’s in-depth exploration of the key issues that confront their country today is an extension of the exposure they received while at a pre-army leadership academy: A full 73 percent of the new class belonged to a pre-army or pre-national-service educational or volunteer framework, nearly half of whom studied at mechinot, or programs combining the study of Jewish texts and Israeli identity with community service.
The desire to give back to the community was the driving force behind 4 students’ decision to dedicate a year prior to their army service volunteering in a national nonprofit. One student, for example, spent a year volunteering for Ayalim, which aims to strengthen communities in Israel’s depressed periphery by establishing vibrant student and entrepreneurial villages, while another volunteered at a youth village in the Negev.
Finally, nearly the entire freshman class—98 percent—served their country in the military or through national service, with nearly 20 percent of those who served in the IDF achieving the rank of officer. “Our students consistently demonstrate an acknowledgement that citizenship not only bestows rights, but also incurs responsibilities, and they are enthusiastic about taking them on,” says Dr. Polisar. “The fact that this year as well, our student body features such a high number of individuals who chose to invest time beyond that required, whether in service, education, or volunteer frameworks—this speaks volumes about their character, and we look forward to seeing this approach play out in their studies and the student life on campus,” he concludes.