The Open University of Israel has embarked on what its president calls a “revolutionary” course for high school students. Typically, Israeli students complete their high school, do military service for several years, then enter the job market.
The president, Hagit Messer-Yaron, described a new program whereby the young people are able to enter the economy much sooner.
“Our university has replaced some high school courses in Israel,” Messer-Yaron told guests at the Open University Foundation dinner recently at the Pierre Hotel in New York.
“Now the most brilliant students can graduate high school and university before they go into the army. They are able to go into the economy at an earlier age. This will be a huge change in Israeli society,” she predicted.
The president introduced Gillat Kol as a typical product of this revolutionary program. Gillat said she grew up in a tough neighborhood with four younger siblings. Her parents, after paying for food and rent, had no money left for college tuition.
“I always loved math,” she said. “I was a geeky kid.”
Someone believed in her and got her a scholarship donated by an Open U. supporter in the U.S. “I was surprised,” she said. “Why would someone from a faraway country care about me?”
She was 14 when she received her first math book from the university. Her mother told her, “This book is your ticket for everything we cannot give you—a ticket to a better life.”
Gillat graduated summa cum laude, and taught at the Open University for a while. “In the same classroom I had a bunch of 16-year-olds, and a 75-year-old man, plus students in their 20s and 30s, some with jobs and kids. They came to class after work, and called to say goodnight to their children during the breaks. They were trying to get ahead and give their families better lives. The Open University’s books were their tickets to a better life.”
Having graduated college early, Gillat was able to have a productive army service in one of Israel’s elite intelligence forces. After four years of service, she enrolled in a master’s program at the Weizmann Institute.
At the same time she helped her siblings acquire their own tickets to a better life. Her bother became a software engineer for a high-tech company; a sister is pursuing her Ph.D. in education; another sister is an economics major; and the youngest is in the army and soon to graduate from Open U.
At 29 Gillat is not married, but she’s “in a relationship.” She expects to receive her Ph.D. in computer science at the Weizmann Institute in January.
“My parents never graduated from high school,” Gillat said. “I was given the chance my parents never had.”
Gillat got a standing ovation by the 300 dinner guests including Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, Marion and Elie Wiesel, Karen Lehmann Eisner, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, Lenore Kreitman, Gail Propp, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, Malcolm Hoenlein, Dr. William and Bernice Schwartz, and Dr. Philip and Florence Felig.
Ingeborg Rennert, president of the Open University Foundation, presented the Young Leadership Award to David Sutton, a Beirut native who, at age 24, founded Middlegate Securities brokerage firm in Manhattan; the Max Rowe Award to Galia Maor, who was president and CEO of Bank Leumi from 1995 to 2012; and the Yigal Allon Award to Sen. Joseph Lieberman who is retiring after 24 years as a U.S. senator from Connecticut.
The event raised a record $700,000 to help those in low socio-economic groups “acquire education and achieve a productive professional life,” said Ms. Maor, a member of the Open University of Israel Council for 24 years.