Ex-Portlander recruits students for Israeli college
By Jewish Review Staff
article created on:
Former Portlander Ben Brewer, 24, left Oregon to attend Emory University in Atlanta before making aliyah.
The son of Miryam and Roger Brewer, he attended Havurah Shalom, where his family still are members. While living in Portland, he went to Camp Solomon Schechter, first as a camper and later as a counselor, for about nine years.
His younger brother, Michael, is doing his PhD at University of Pennsylvania.
After two years in Israel, Brewer does marketing and recruitment for IDC Herzliya, a private college that is the only institution in Israel to offer a BA degree taught entirely in English.
Recently the Jewish Review interviewed Ben Brewer via email. The interview follows:
Q: When did you first consider making aliyah? Why? Had you been to Israel before?
In high school I did the Teen Israel Program through the Oregon Board of Rabbis and Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (with support from the Arthur Krichevsky Fund), which paid for me to do the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program my junior year of high school. This program is what first oriented me seriously towards Israel.
I first considered aliyah my senior year of high school, and I wanted to make aliyah after graduating. The main reason being I wanted to serve in the army. After speaking with some Israeli friends, I was convinced that I could offer Israel more with a degree and it was best to stay in the United States and study, and than make aliyah if I still wanted to. I do think this was the right decision, although I will always half regret not serving three years as a combat soldier.
Throughout college my reasons for aliyah changed—the army was no longer a factor, my politics changed a bit, but I still wanted to make aliyah.
What made me think about aliyah in the first place was the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program I did during the spring semester of my junior year in high school. It’s a program for 17- to 18-year-olds throughout the United States that teaches you the history of the land of Israel. You have a class on this in the morning, and private tutors in the afternoon to teach you your subjects you’re missing back home.
Half the week you’re in a classroom, and they take you on trips the other half. The trip was an absolutely incredible experience, and changed my life.
After my freshman year of college, I went to an ulpan in Netanya for the summer to improve my Hebrew and fell in love with the country again. The experience was very different, but I had a great time and started thinking logistically much more about moving to Israel after graduating.
My underlying reasons for aliyah changed … (before) I made aliyah five years later. Initially they were very ideological, Zionistic reasons. Today… it has to do a lot more with feeling most at home in Israel than anywhere else. When I’m here I know it’s the place I want to be, and as long as I’m happy, I plan on staying. I have great Israeli friends and I don’t feel like I’m in Israel alone at all.
Q: How long have you worked at IDC Herzliya? Please briefly describe the college.
I’ve worked at the IDC Herzliya since November 2006. My job specifically is within the Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS). The IDC was founded 14 years ago as Israel’s first private institution of higher education. Eight years ago, they decided to start the first, and still only, full BA program taught in English.
Other schools offer semester and year abroad programs, but we’re the school offering a degree in English in Israel.. The RRIS started initially offering a business degree and with 10 students. Starting next fall we’re offering BA degrees in business administration, communications, computer science and government. Additionally, we’re starting two MBA programs, and an MA in Government as well this fall.
Starting in the 2008-9 year we’re offering a psychology degree as well. Next year the RRIS will be 750 students with students from 50 countries. The entire IDC is 3,600 students, so the RRIS makes up for just over a sixth of the entire student body.
The long-term goal of the IDC is to be one of the top social science institutions in the world, and part of the way they do this is by hiring top faculty. Fifty percent of our faculty have PhD’s from Ivy League universities. Alan Dershowitz is going to be a guest lecturer next fall highlighting our recent high profile professor hirings.
Q: What do you like about the institution?
The diversity of our student body is one of my favorite things about the job. We have to cater our marketing, admissions, recruiting, everything we do to 50 different countries. You can’t attract students from Colombia the same way you would from the U.S. or South Africa.
The job is never boring because the student body is so diverse, and requires so many different contacts and strategies. The school is very young, and there is a feeling that we’re a startup high tech company almost, although we’re feeling a bit more established in recent years. Regardless, nothing is totally set in stone, there is a large amount of leeway for new ideas, creativity, and challenging pre-existing notions on how to do things.
Finally, it’s great to work in a college environment, on an absolutely beautiful brand new campus. Much of my job is that of a salesman, but in this case I’m trying to sell what I believe to be a great education. For me it’s rewarding to be able to help people start down a path that will change their lives completely, and almost always for the better. The school gives students from abroad (in this case I mean not in Israel) who don’t have the Hebrew ability needed for academic studies, to be able to come to Israel during their college years and study in the place that they most want to be and get a top notch education as well.
Additionally, we give new olim, who also don’t have the Hebrew ability for academic studies, a way to stay in Israel during their college years. It’s a good feeling to bring people to Israel, and have those already here be able to stay.
The school’s policy is not to have people make aliyah after studying. About 50 percent of our students leave Israel after graduating, and that’s great marketing for us. However, helping students move to Israel by giving them the option of studies in English is a great feeling.
(Former Portlander) Emily Kuhnert is a text book example of what we’re trying to do. This young woman made the decision to move to Israel at the age of 18, served two years in the army, and naturally wants to start school right now.
Despite her two years in Israel she does not feel she has the academic ability in Hebrew needed for University level studies in Israel. Without the IDC and the RRIS program, she would have to go back to the U.S. for college. It’s a nice feeling to know the program I work for gives people like Emily the chance to stay in the country they want to be in.
Q: Do many Israelis seek the bachelor’s degree in English, or is primarily students from other countries? If so, have many of them already made or considering making aliyah?
Approximately 15 percent of our students are Israelis that fit into one of two categories: They moved with their families during high school to the US, Canada, UK, or another English speaking country, and they feel more comfortably, academically, studying in English. The second group are Israelis who have lived in Israel their whole lives, have exceptional English, and view the RRIS as a challenge, and as more prestigious. Many plan on doing graduate work outside of Israel, and it helps to have studied for their BA to have a university level of English.