Friday, August 1, 2008 | return to: local


College official: Our growth is good for northern Israel

by dan pine, staff writer

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Sagi Melamed is a true-blue Israeli. Yet to describe the regional impact of Tel Hai Academic College on Israel's northern frontier, rather than use a Hebrew word, he chooses a term from the Japanese: ki-me.

The word means "focus," and stems from the lexicon of karate. Besides serving as vice president of external relations and development for Tel Hai, Melamed is a martial arts black belt. But to make his point, he pulls no punches.

"Ki-me is focusing the right amount of strength and power at the right time and place," he said. "One good punch with ki-me is the story of Tel Hai. If one wants to impact the Upper Galil, a strategic part of Israel, there's no better way than supporting what we do at Tel Hai."

Melamed was in the Bay Area recently, meeting with supporters at the S.F.-based Jewish Comm-unity Federation. The federation has long been an ally of the Kiryat Shmona-based college, mostly through funding diversity programming and student scholarships.

While in North American, Melamed touted two projects at Tel Hai: the construction of a new adjunct campus and the creation of a triangle development model, which weds Tel Hai with a local business incubator and technology research center.

The first phase of construction on the new campus is nearly complete. In November, Tel Hai will inaugurate an auditorium and a pair of faculty buildings. The price tag: $18.5 million.

"This will enable 1,000 students to start studying at the new campus," Melamed said, "thus releasing the pressure that was part of our life the last four years. At the same time we are laying the cornerstone for a third faculty building and library."

Founded in 1959, Tel Hai served 1,800 students three years ago. Today the figure stands at 2,600 students, and Melamed expects the student population to nearly double in the next 10 years.

Tel Hai is already the area's largest employer, according to Melamed. And with its expanding partnerships with local industry and research, he expects the region to grow.

"If you have a job, education, housing, a beautiful area, there's a good chance you'll stay," Melamed said.

Melamed also stressed Tel Hai's social impact, noting that it is as important as the college's economic effect. With Israeli Arabs making up around 12 to 15 percent of its students, Tel Hai has launched many programs promoting diversity.

The San Francisco federation has lent support. The Stein Family Tel Hai Coexistence Scholarship Fund (established through a $100,000 gift to the Jewish Community Endowment Fund) annually gives scholarships to Arab and Jewish students who work together to promote coexistence.

This year's winners — Israeli Arab student Leila Kayes and Jewish student Naama Ron-Cohen — organized a theater project with a goal of fostering dialogue and confronting prejudices through improv and acting exercises.

"Tel Hai is a national leader in creating dialogue between Jews and Arabs in an academic setting," Melamed said. "It's what they do together that matters."

With memories of the 2006 Lebanon war — and its rain of Hezbollah rockets on Kiryat Shmona — still fresh, no one at Tel Hai escapes security concerns. Melamed takes a philosophical approach.

"It could happen tomorrow," he said. "It doesn't take much for Hezbollah to shoot at us. We do live under this threat. But we made a conscious decision that it's not a factor in our development. If we're attacked again, we will overcome. I've been living in this country 43 years, and this is the story of the Jewish land since I remember."

Part of Melamed's mission on his latest North American swing was to raise the last $1 million for the current construction. He's confident he'll get it, though there are no guarantees. But that didn't stop Tel Hai from proceeding with the project.

"That's the Israeli way," he said. "You can't wait for the last dollar, the last soldier or the last gun."


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