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May 14, 2010 7:01 pm

The Best Investment

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Atidim was founded just ten years ago by the then Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz. Photo: Andy Dunaway.

Securing Israel’s future both economically and ideologically has long been a focal point for Jewish activists and organizations around the world.

There have been countless initiatives and creative endeavors aimed at boosting Israeli patriotism, Jewish pride and identity, economic growth and military security. Recently I was introduced to a relatively new and unknown initiative that is incredibly innovative in its approach, far reaching in its impact, the results it has produced are groundbreaking and we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg.

The program, aptly named Atidim, meaning “those of the future” is a broad and comprehensive super savvy investment in human capital. The poorest periphery communities in the Negev and Galilee are searched for the smartest youngsters who are chosen and then enrolled in special educational programs, mentoring and scholarship initiatives all over the country.

These young students are trained as physicists, scientists and engineers who are encouraged to participate in Israel’s burgeoning research and development industries working to keep Israel on the cutting-edge of development. They are also cultivated as businessmen, high tech entrepreneurs and financiers who can work to ensure the country’s economic strength and some are trained as social activists who can help revitalize Israel’s public service sector.

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The programs create and cultivate leaders and pioneers educated to the highest levels, who are imbued with indebtedness and genuine humility with a desire to give back to those that are less fortunate than themselves.
It is precisely those who have been given this chance who are eager to then give back to the society that gave them the opportunity, by mentoring the next wave of students in places such as the Teknion or Israeli military.

Atidim was founded just ten years ago by the then Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz in an effort to address what he saw at the time, as the gradual downgrading of quality among high level military personnel, primarily due to ideological indifference amongst Israeli youth.

Mofaz took the project to his friend, the wealthiest citizen of Israel Eitan Wetheimer, who is now the Chairman of the board of directors and spearheads the rapid growth of the organization.

What makes Atidim so fascinating is that there are currently a limited number of graduates, and over 20,000 enrolled students, indicating that this venture is still way short of achieving its full potential and yet is already gathering tremendous momentum. The true impact of Atidim is ahead of us.

One can only imagine the full potential impact that this program can have on Israeli society, industry, security and social capital.

It is a wonder to me that this program hasn’t been duplicated around the world, as in today’s age of globalized economics the greatest asset of any society has to be its human capital. When industries in the US are being consumed by foreign competition this is the surest way to maintain a qualitative market edge. If even a fraction of stimulus money had been invested in young budding entrepreneurs, businesses and educational initiatives focused on disadvantaged populations, there can be no doubt that the long term impact would leave American society better equipped to deal with the challenges of the future.

Mining for human gems in the arid mines of poverty stricken communities in the US and around the rest of the world should be the priority of all governments, and certainly of all communities. There are a number of Jewish communal organizations that would do well to duplicate this initiative, ensuring that no child is left behind and that as a society we guarantee that our most precious resource isn’t overlooked.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com

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