All the Questions You (Didn’t Know You) Wanted to Ask About Shalem,
Plus a Few More We Thought Were Important

The Shalem College Cheat Sheet

(The Only Cheat Sheet Allowed on Campus)
1.What is Shalem College, again?

Shalem College is a project to ensure, in every generation, a core of leading Israeli citizens with an unyielding commitment to democracy, and an equally unshakeable belief in the historical imperative of a Jewish state.

(And it’s also an elite institution of higher education, established in Jerusalem in 2013.)

2.That’s a pretty ambitious goal you’ve got there. How does a college preserve a country?

For starters, by cultivating citizens who believe their country is worth preserving.

Over the course of a transformative, four-year liberal education, our students learn that the Jewish people’s return to sovereignty after two millennia is a historical anomaly not to be taken for granted, and that democracies are more fragile than they appear. They learn to be wary of dogma and parochialism, skeptical of the conventional wisdom, and civil in their discourse. And most of all, they learn to act on behalf of the public interest, as opposed to merely their own.

In short, to be a great nation, Israel needed a great college. So we built one.

3.Listen, I’m all for liberal education, but my sister’s kid goes to an elite college and he’s taking the philosophy of Star Trek and the history of video games.

That’s ridiculous. Your sister must be incensed.

4.My point was, what exactly are your students studying?

You know, the Hebrew Bible, the Koran, the New Testament, Homer, Aristotle, Aquinas, John Locke, and David Hume: The works that form the basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition, modern liberalism, and the dominant cultures in our region. We also learn biology, physics, cognitive science, and economics—keys to understanding both the natural world and human nature. Finally, we read books by Dante, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen, and other works of the Western canon that explore questions of enduring significance.

And because we’re an Israeli college, we study texts by Theodor Herzl, A.D. Gordon, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Martin Buber, Shai Agnon, and Natan Altermann, all of whose ideas are key to developing a Jewish and democratic vision for the country’s future.

5.But surely students at other Israeli colleges and universities can learn these texts, too. Right? Sorta right?

As we say in Hebrew, halevai. Currently, Shalem is the only institution of higher education in Israel to offer a broad core curriculum alongside a specific major of study. At other institutions, nearly all of a student’s courses are in the department to which he or she was admitted. So, if you’re reading Hume, you’re definitely not reading Herzl. And even if you are reading Herzl, you’re not studying the historical and intellectual contexts in which his ideas took shape.

6.So students at Shalem major in…?

Two things. Our dual-major Bachelor of Arts consists of a mandatory major in the liberal arts (Jewish thought, Western philosophy, literature, world history, Jewish history, economics, the sciences, and more) and a choice of either philosophy and Jewish thought or Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

7.Why those two majors?

The major in philosophy and Jewish thought prepares students to wrestle with Israel’s competing Jewish and democratic identities, and the major in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies enables them to understand the Islamic tradition, the contemporary Arab world, and Israel’s place in the region.

8.Any plans to expand your offerings?

Funny you should ask: We just applied for approval from Israel’s Council for Higher Education for a new, interdisciplinary major for the study of Strategy, Diplomacy, and War, and we plan to apply for a fourth major, in Economics and Policy, next year. Just like our current majors, both programs will be unique to Shalem, and are designed to address the most complex challenges facing the Jewish state.

9.Several Israeli universities have excellent departments in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. What makes yours so special?

There are many exceptional departments of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Israel, but only one requires fluency in Arabic: ours.

Thanks to weekly, one-on-one tutorials with native-Arabic speakers; an intensive summer immersion program, including field trips to Arab towns; and courses that swap textbooks for Arabic news sites, social-media posts, and popular television programs, Shalem has become, in just seven years, one of the leading Israeli departments in the field, and the place at which a disproportionate number of former soldiers in the IDF’s elite intelligence units want to earn their degree.

10.So if you had to sum it up in a single sentence, what exactly makes Shalem different from other colleges and universities in Israel?

“Shalem’s elite four-year degree—which is one year more than every other degree in Israel—features a broad core curriculum in subjects selected for their contribution to the development of leaders for a Jewish and democratic state; small, dynamic seminars at which attendance is mandatory (frankly, we could stop right there) and smartphones strictly banned (ditto); a faculty-to-student ratio that enables genuine and meaningful interaction; a proud Zionist bent; a serious emphasis on Jewish peoplehood; and a vibrant intellectual culture that is unlike any other.” (Thank you, semi-colon!)

11.That was some fancy footwork. Do your students learn to write like that, too?

Actually, we do place a strong emphasis on excellent writing skills. After all, writing well requires developing and clarifying ideas. And if our graduates are going to take up positions of leadership in society, they’ll need to be able to communicate those ideas effectively. That’s why we have required writing courses for all freshmen, and are home to a first-of-its-kind writing center whose take-no-prisoners tutors whip students’ essays into shape.

US National Archives
12.Okay, so who are your students?

Shalem students are secular and religious, come from every socioeconomic background and region of the country, and express the full range of ideologies and worldviews.

They are models of academic excellence and drive, who rank among the top five percent of undergraduates in the state. They include five times the national average of commanders, officers, and combat soldiers in elite units, or have spent a year or more fulfilling Israel’s national service. They’ve launched companies, nonprofits, and large-scale initiatives, engaged in sustained volunteer work, and studied in Israel’s celebrated pre- and post-military leadership academies.

13.Might you introduce me to a few?
Noam Sapir Fekade

Fekade Abebe

Just one year after immigrating to Israel from Ethiopia at age 13, Fekade Abebe learned Hebrew well enough to study at Neve Shmuel, one of Israel’s top yeshiva high schools. An orphan, Fekade was exempt from service in a combat unit, but nonetheless insisted on serving in Yael, one of the IDF’s most elite combat-engineering battalions, an experience that “sealed his sense of Israeliness.” After the army, he was recruited by Israel’s security apparatus to work in Arab-speaking countries. Having initially begun a degree in biotechnology, Fekade’s desire to influence the direction of his adopted country led him ultimately to Shalem.

Sapir Bluzer

Sapir Bluzer was selected as one of just 120 outstanding high-school students to participate in a study-and-social entrepreneurship program aimed at cultivating the next generation of Israeli leaders. After serving as a student representative in the Knesset, she was one of just a handful of women accepted to the IDF’s prestigious Air Force Training Course, and went on to serve as a distinguished officer in Air Force Intelligence. Sapir founded “Israel 2050,” a thriving grassroots network of twentysomethings who advocate for a flourishing and fair free-market economy. For her work in Israel 2050, Globes, the country’s largest financial newspaper, named her one of “The 30 Leading Women in Israel” in 2018.

Noam Tiran

After high school, Noam Tiran spent two years at the Ein Prat Leadership Academy and then another volunteering for an emergency-services organization in Sderot. He declined a non-combat position in the IDF Intelligence Corps in order to serve in Maglan, which carries out commando missions behind enemy lines. A veteran of two wars—Operations Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge— Noam worked as coordinator for Ma’ahal v’Migdal, a program that places army graduates in outlying farms in Israel’s South, where they learn hothouse agriculture, protect local farms from vandalism and theft, and study Jewish- Zionist texts.

14.How do you select them? Any special criteria?

For starters, and unlike other Israeli colleges and universities, we don’t just look at the numbers. Shalem students are admitted on the basis of their GPA, their performance on an array of special admissions tests and interviews, and their demonstrated commitment to citizenship and service. We’re in the business of building a nation here. We need excellent raw material.

15.Got any big-name faculty?

Take your pick:

Natan Sharansky

The renowned Prisoner of Zion, statesman, human rights activist, author, Israel Prize winner, and former chairman of the Jewish Agency, Sharansky teaches a course on identity and democracy.

Prof. Ofra Bengio

A native of Syria, Prof. Bengio is head of the Kurdish Studies program at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and Israel’s leading scholar of the Kurdish people and history.

Dr. Assaf Inbari

Lecturer of modern Jewish literature and Jewish thought, Dr. Inbari is a celebrated author, essayist, and literary critic. His bestselling novel Home, which chronicles the history of the kibbutz movement, was nominated for the Sapir Prize, Israel’s highest literary honor.

Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern

Prof. Stern, who teaches the course “Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State,” is the former chairman of the National Committee for Civic Studies, former chairman-elect of the Coalition Committee to Enact an Israeli Constitution, and vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Dr. Eran Lerman

Lecturer on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Dr. Lerman is the former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at Israel’s National Security Council and assistant for analyses to the deputy director for intelligence production at the Israeli Defense Forces’ Directorate of Military Intelligence.

Prof. Leon Kass

A distinguished visiting lecturer, Prof. Kass is the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, the Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus of Social Thought and in the College at the University of Chicago, and a world-renowned proponent of a Great Books education.

Dr. Michal Tikochinsky

A sought-after teacher and lecturer, Dr. Tikochinsky is the director of a beit midrash that offers female Torah scholars the opportunity to take examinations parallel to those given to male rabbinical candidates in Israel. A key figure in the transformation of women’s Torah study into an organized movement in the Jewish state, she teaches a course in Rabbinic Thought.

16.Other than reading Plato’s Republic, how exactly does Shalem cultivate a sense of civic responsibility?

First, through a specially designed, mandatory course for freshmen covering the most complex moral and political challenges confronting the Jewish state. The tension between democracy and religion, Arab-Israeli identity, Haredi integration into society, and illegal immigration to the Jewish state—students study these and other topics in-depth, from every angle, and ultimately in the field itself, through full-day tours of relevant sites and regions around the country.

17.Nice. What else do you do to connect the classroom to the world outside?

Our Impact Office, a comprehensive program funded by the Paul E. Singer Foundation, takes a holistic approach to leveraging students’ idealism, talent, and entrepreneurship. It includes a volunteer component, with local and national initiatives established by students themselves; an internship program, which integrates our students into leading companies and nonprofits throughout Israel; and an accelerator for socially-minded start-ups, which teaches the nuts and bolts of turning great ideas into successful, self-sufficient enterprises, and offers guidance and mentorship from leading players in the field.

18.Wait, how many students are we talking about here?

No more than 50 per academic class.
Cultivating visionary leadership is an intense business.

19.How can such a small college have such a big impact?

If a country has just 9 million citizens and a political, economic, cultural, and intellectual leadership of fewer than 1,000 people, and if an elite college designed to cultivate leaders for that country graduates 50 students per year, what are the odds that many of those graduates will go on to occupy positions of enormous influence in fields critical to shaping Israel’s character? [Hint: This is not a trick question.]

20.And who exactly is funding this impact?

Smart, forward-thinking philanthropists who share our Zionist commitments, and believe the right kind of leadership is key to Israel’s survival and flourishing.

Bold, savvy investors who believe that Israel is a project still in the making, and that its human capital is its greatest resource.

And thoughtful partners, who recognize that the same intellectual tradition that gave rise to the West can find fertile ground in the Jewish state.

21.No government support? Really?

Really. To be sure, most private colleges in Israel do not receive government funding. But most also charge high tuition. They also, how shall we put it? Cram their lecture halls full.

By contrast, Shalem provides all its students with generous scholarships for tuition and living expenses, so they can devote themselves fully to both their studies and their community engagement. To us, a certain type of learning experience is non-negotiable.

22.Well, are your graduates making good on your philanthropists’ investments? Hmm?

Actually, our graduates have already entered promising positions in a range of fields. And as a network of influential citizens, all of whom are committed to making a meaningful contribution to their country and people, they reach into almost every area of Israeli public life.

Dvir Tal Rivka Alon

Alon Naveh ’17

After graduation, Alon Naveh ’17 relocated to New York to serve as a political advisor at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, the key diplomatic body representing the Jewish state on the world stage.

Tal Eitan ‘17

Before her current role as a director at Acharei (“After Me”), Israel’s largest leadership and empowerment organization for youth from the social and economic peripheries, Tal Eitan ’17 served as the head of a pre-army leadership academy for secular and religious youth in the Arava—one of the only females to fill such a role.

Dvir Schwartz ’17

Upon receiving his degree, Dvir Schwartz ’17 began work as an adviser and speechwriter for the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein. While at Shalem, he served as deputy editor of the journal Hashiloah, which aims to deepen Israeli discourse on political thought, economics, modern culture, Judaism, and Zionism.

Rivka Arbiv ’18

Rivka Arbiv ’18 is vice president of Hashgacha Pratit, an NGO that seeks to expand the scope of options for religious services and personal-status matters in the Jewish state, and founder of its Chuppot program, which offers an alternative to wedding ceremonies conducted by the Chief Rabbinate.

23.Where are you ranked among other Israeli colleges and universities? (Wait, do you guys have rankings over there?)

The National Union of Israeli Students’ Annual Student Satisfaction Survey is Israel’s only national ranking of institutions of higher education. In a field of 63 schools, which included The Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, and IDC Herzliya, Shalem was ranked number one for the fourth year in a row, sweeping first place in 14 of the survey’s 18 categories.

24.Okay, I can see how Shalem is a great thing for the Jewish state, but how does it relate to Jewish life outside its borders?

Exactly. With the support of the Koret Foundation, Shalem leads an ambitious, multi-faceted effort to develop leaders for Israel devoted to the preservation of a single Jewish people. The initiative includes an annual student delegation to the Bay Area; an annual, policy-oriented mission to Washington, DC; support for Shalem courses in the Western political tradition; and support for Shalem’s rigorous English-language program.

25.I’m interested in learning more about Shalem. How do I do that?

Ideally, by visiting. During your next trip to Israel, or as a reason to visit Israel itself—come by. We’d love to host you.

26.That’s very kind of you. Where did you say you were located?

In Jerusalem. Where else? As befitting a college that’s cultivating Israel’s future leaders, we’re located close to the country’s seat of government and leading cultural assets.

Also, rumor has it that from the fourth floor of our newly renovated building, there are fabulous views of the Old City.

27.Air travel’s a bit tough at the moment. How else can I get to know you?

Reach out to Rachel Gold, at rgold@shalem.ac.il.
We promise she’ll take excellent care of you.

 

28.Well, this was a very enjoyable read. Do you also do standup?