Addressing the inauguration of the YOU-niversity, as it and World ORT’s other centres in Kiryat Gat, Nahariya, Tsfat, and Nazareth are known within Israel, Mr Moskoff said he was glad that the event had not been called off despite the town coming within range of the long-range rockets which were then being fired from Gaza.
However, he admitted that he had been uncertain whether he, his wife Sigalit, and teenage son Eliyahu, would make the journey south from their home in the central town of Beit Shemesh because of the rockets.
“But living in Israel is a miracle every day and I feel that coming to Dimona is like visiting my own family. It's a mitzvah to be here,” he said. “For me, coming here means not giving in because setting up a program like this is our way of fighting for our future in Eretz Yisrael and guaranteeing it. This project gives voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals.”
It was World ORT’s focus on the future which had made it the favourite organisation of his late grandfather, Sammy, said Mr Moskoff, who has met most of the cost of setting up the Centre together with his family. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico also made a significant contribution.
“Dimona was chosen out of many other projects, not just in Israel but around the world, to realise my grandfather’s vision: to enable children to enjoy a better future.”
The NIS 15 million ($3.9 million) Centres of Excellence program managed by World ORT’s arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, is the result of a unique three-way partnership between the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, World ORT, and the municipalities in which the Centres of Excellence are situated. Like the four other Centres, the Dimona YOU-niversity offers a range of extra-curricular courses designed to deepen teenagers’ knowledge and understanding of science and technology and inspire them to pursue further studies in the field.
Open during the afternoons and evenings, the Centres offer subjects which are not available at local day schools, which close at lunchtime. And where school classes can have as many as 40 students – making personalised attention difficult – the Centres’ classes are limited to 20 kids who enjoy the support of two mentors.
Each one is boosting regional resources in scientific and technological education by using local professionals to run courses for local students, but drawing on input from national leaders including Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University, Machon Lev – Jerusalem College of Technology, and Micron Industries.
Emphasis is placed on developing the children’s problem solving, higher order thinking skills, critical thinking and teamwork; all the courses are structured around the completion of a final project or presentation.
“Dimona is not a wealthy town but there are many after-school activities for children. However, ours is the only one which offers courses in subjects such as robotics, architecture and design, and computer sciences. And despite the competition we easily filled the 250 available places,” said Dr Ido Horresh, Manager of the YOU-niversity Centres for Science and Technology.
Dr Horresh said the Moskoff family’s excitement at the inauguration was palpable.
“His speech was so inspiring and gave all of us a strong sense of commitment to the assignment we are responsible for,” he said. “It is not very often that we get a chance to witness the great emotions that our work generates in our donors.”
The Moskoffs were welcomed by Meir Cohen who, before becoming Mayor of Dimona, had been a school principal in the town. He paid tribute to the Moskoff family whose generosity, he said, was making real the vision of David Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky to populate the Negev and to promote Israel’s prosperity.
“The most important thing in the city of Dimona is education,” the Mayor said. “We will always be measured according to how many scientists, professors, doctors and pilots came out of this city. And the most important thing is how many of our children will choose to live here, in the Negev, preferably in Dimona. The Moskoffs are now a huge part of what is the most important educational initiative here. A donor who comes to Dimona with such a vision and the means to make it a reality is not taken for granted: we embrace you and say to you unequivocally, you have a home here; you are one of our own.”
By helping children in poorer communities to reach their full potential, World ORT’s Centres of Excellence were helping the country as a whole to further develop its knowledge economy, World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said.
“This week, the Taub Centre in Jerusalem published its annual State of the Nation Report which concluded that Israel’s education system was producing a generation of low-achieving students with potentially disastrous consequences for the country’s economy. Our Centres of Excellence and other programmes in the underprivileged northern and southern regions of Israel are helping to redraw that bleak landscape.”