Local Federation leaders were part of a recent high-level delegation of Jewish philanthropists from across the United States, Canada and Australia who traveled to Israel to see the fruits of their community's investments in Atidim -- a program that is changing the face of Israeli society.
Hosted by Israeli industrialist and philanthropist Eitan Wertheimer, the trip included discussions with Israel's top political, military and business leaders about how this national educational initiative is developing human resources and closing the socio-economic gaps crippling Israel's periphery.
Currently, Atidim serves 28,000 young people, enabling them to obtain bachelor's degrees from Israel's most esteemed institutions of higher learning. Staff begin working with students while they are in junior high school, giving them the academic and social skills they need to achieve their full potential.
To Roy Neff, who participated along with his wife, Lyn, the secret to Atidim's success is its emphasis on providing a quality educational experience for all young people in Israel. "Israel is focused on its need to educate its most valuable resource, its people, in order to make the country more productive. This is what Atidim is doing. This is an example for the whole world to follow."
As a passionate supporter of the Jewish homeland, Neff is "proud to see that Israel is distinguishing itself as a global leader through its support of this important initiative."
Federation President Leonard Barrack and his wife, Lynne, were impressed with the opportunity to engage with Israeli philanthropists like Wertheimer and his wife, Ariela, who hosted the delegation for dinner in their Caesarea home. "It felt good to be able to meet with people like these and to see how they are contributing. It was refreshing," said Lynne Barrack, who was particularly moved by a conversation she had with an Atidim participant who recently graduated from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. "He told me that now he has a degree and a job and he can get married and support his mother, and he owes this all to Atidim. It's a fabulous program."
The group -- which also included localites Sharon and Joseph Kestenbaum, Philip Lindy and Federation CEO Ira Schwartz and his wife, Elaine -- participated in high-level briefings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other key administration officials, toured several industrial, engineering and high-tech centers where Atidim graduates are employed, and participated in graduation ceremonies for the newest members of Israel's Air Force.
Peres is one of the program's biggest boosters. "Atidim means futures. This is what the program is about, the future of the Jewish nation."
The Philadelphians left a tangible memento of their four-day visit.
They dedicated an air-conditioned clubhouse to provide rest and respite to Israel Defense Forces soldiers.