Shalem College

The Third Annual

Shalem College Commencement

June 27, 2019

”We Hope Your Actions Will Flow From What You’ve Learned”: Shalem Graduates its Third Class

“Six years ago, when I spoke at Shalem’s opening ceremony, I admonished the incoming first class of students that ‘there is no free lunch,’” said honorary degree recipient, chairman of the International Board of Governors of Shalem College, and CEO of Freepoint Commodities David Messer to graduates at the Third Annual Shalem College Commencement, held on June 27 at Shalem’s campus in Jerusalem. “Once you graduate, it is time to start paying for lunch by taking up the torch of leadership for Israel and the Jewish people when it is passed to you in the coming years.”

Fortunately, many of the graduates of Shalem’s third academic class are already making a significant dent in their bill, as Messer himself was happy to note. “Over half of you,” he pointed out, “have either started or are leading projects to improve Israeli society. Some of these projects include founding a mechina [pre-army leadership academy] for Bedouin students, and…building bridges between secular and Haredi communities.”

These and other initiatives, including a nonprofit to assist Israeli lone soldiers and a program to revitalize Mizrachi culture and bring it into the Israeli mainstream, are just some of the ways in which the newest cohort of Shalem graduates are taking up Messer’s—and the college’s—challenge to make a meaningful contribution to their country within a range of fields.

But the commencement ceremony was as much an opportunity to reflect on the singular experience of the past four years as it was a way to mark the beginning of graduates’ next chapter. On Dagan ’19, who delivered the senior address, shared his struggle—in his deftly comical way—to sum up such an expansive, transformative four years in just a few moments. “Most of all,” he said, “I believe we have gained a sense of the value of humility. We’ve certainly come a long way,” he conceded, to the crowd’s appreciative laughter, “since our early days, when we started two-page-long essays with the line, ‘In this paper, I will offer a new reading of the Iliad,’ or ‘Actually, I don’t agree with Aristotle’…. We’ve grown up a lot,” he concluded. “We’ve learned that even, or especially, when we’re asked to express an original, independent opinion, we need first and foremost—to listen.”

Annie Kantar Ben-Hillel, the director of Shalem’s English language studies program, took up Dagan’s theme of humility in her moving address to the Class of 2019. “I’d like to suggest that those times you think you’ve lost your way, your mind is doing some of the most important work you or any human being has come to this world to do,” she said. “Go back to your first year here at Shalem. What was that one moment that took place in every one of Plato’s dialogues? You might remember it: aporia. It is the moment in the discussion where the interlocutor is completely befuddled. In that state of aporia… the interlocutor does not know how, if ever, she will find her way to the truth…. Aporia, then, is a prerequisite for invention. We find our way, the ancients suggest, not despite this impasse but because of it.”

David Messer, CEO of Freepoint Commodities and the chair of the International Board of Governors of Shalem College, received an honorary degree at the Third Annual Shalem College Commencement on June 27, 2019.

Along with David Messer, who was honored for his visionary leadership of Shalem and passionate commitment to the Jewish state and people, the commencement also featured another honorary-degree recipient: Dr. Aliza Bloch, pioneering educator and newly elected mayor of Beit Shemesh. Bloch, who served as principal of the city’s largest and most diverse high school, has pledged to unite the city’s Haredi, secular, and American immigrant populations. She urged graduates always to try and “see things from the other’s perspective” and to focus on finding areas of agreement between seemingly opposing parties—of which, she insisted, there are always far more than there are ones of disagreement. This approach, she concluded to applause, is especially incumbent on those citizens who, like the members of Shalem’s graduating class, will take up positions of leadership in Israeli society.

In his own words to the new graduates, President of Shalem College Prof. Isaiah M. Gafni echoed the theme of the warm, upbeat evening: Taking up the mantle of responsibility. Explaining that while he and his fellow professors at Shalem have devoted their lives to study and to teaching, the graduates of Shalem College are expected to achieve “the ultimate goal of ‘doing’”—in economics, diplomacy, security, education, and numerous other fields. It is our hope, he concluded, that “your actions will flow from what you have learned here.”

It was surely no accident that the Shalem Choir chose, for their traditional musical interlude, Israeli singer Yonatan Gefen’s bittersweet “It Could Be That It’s Over”: For the graduates of Shalem’s third class, the idea that this period of their lives, devoted so intensely to the study of the great ideas of the Western and Jewish traditions, and to the deepening of their ties to each other, their society, and their fellow Jews across the ocean—that it could really be coming to an end, seems hard to believe. Yet as Gefen wrote in his song about the founding generation of the state, “They had what to get up for in the morning.” And so, too, do Shalem’s graduates have their work cut out for them—and the knowledge, dedication, and determination to do it.