“She personified President Kennedy’s words, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’,” said Colonel Furman, who had at one time been Keren’s commanding officer.
Keren had pursued a lonely path in male-dominated engineering classes to realise her ambition: to show that a woman could be a flight engineer. But Colonel Furman noted that she put in extra effort to cope with the physically demanding aspects of her job, which included loading soldiers and equipment and moving heavy loads to maintain the aircraft’s balance. However, it was her determination to serve which most impressed him.
“It would have been easy for her to avoid being put in the line of fire but she insisted on going to the front,” he said.
Israel’s small size means that it is hard to find an individual more than “one degree of separation” away from someone who has died defending it.
For Dr Ido Horresh, the Manager of World ORT’s project to build five centres of excellence in Israel for science and technology, Yom HaZikaron is an opportunity to cherish memories of fallen friends. This year, however, was a new “closing of circles” as he met Keren’s parents for the first time at the ceremony to present the eponymous scholarship to its latest recipient, Faina Tzinkend.
This year, however, was a new “closing of circles” as he met Keren’s parents for the first time at the ceremony to present the eponymous scholarship to its latest recipient, Faina Tzinkend.
“I was 35 and surrounded by soldiers little more than half my age waiting to be airlifted into south Lebanon; I felt like I was the only reservist in the field,” he said of the day six years ago when he unwittingly encountered Keren. “We stepped up the ramp into the Sikorsky helicopter and there was the flight engineer and under the helmet I saw a ponytail and I remember thinking ‘oh, good, I’m not the only reservist here!’”
Half-an-hour later he and his comrades were dropped off in a tobacco field in hostile territory.
“We ran out to find cover behind a low wall surrounding the field and I remember watching the helicopter take off and turn towards the south so that the next one could come down with more soldiers. Then, out of nowhere, a missile – we heard it launched and it hit the helicopter. I had my head down but the paramedic with me saw the fire come out of the aircraft’s small windows. Later I found out that the ‘reservist’ was actually a woman – Keren Tendler.”
The scholarship was a fitting tribute, he added.
“You have to realise that people like Keren are extraordinary. When you look at someone who’s made the kind of choices she made you realise how dramatic and how substantial her contribution was for the security and prosperity of Israel. She’s truly a role model for all young people – not only women.”
This was not lost on Ms Tzinkend, the industrial engineering graduate who was recommended for the scholarship by World ORT’s partner, Perach, the organisation through which students can do voluntary work. Ms Tzinkend volunteered throughout her degree, providing teaching support and mentoring for disadvantaged children, and is now considering taking a Master’s in industrial design and management.
“Keren is an inspiration,” said Ms Tzinkend, who insisted on writing Keren’s name on the list of heroes attached to the wreath laid at the Yom HaZikaron ceremony in their shared hometown of Rehovot. “She was one girl in a group of men and she did the best in the group. She reminds us that we must not be frightened to do what we love and to do things that can help people.”
Straight after Yom HaZikaron is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, and an opportunity to celebrate the country’s remarkable achievements over its 64-year history. And, for Nobel Prize-winning scientist and member of World ORT’s Academic Advisory Council in Israel, Daniel Shechtman, an opportunity to ponder the future.
For Professor Shechtman, there is an urgent need to reverse the decades of educational decline seen in Israel or else face the possibility of social conflict.
“You don’t feel we’re declining. There are indicators here and there, but it doesn’t feel catastrophic. And then whump,” he told The Times of Israel.
With his help, World ORT has been making a direct contribution to raising standards through its Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme, which is active in over 165 schools. In partnership with municipalities and government ministries, World ORT has been introducing modern classroom technology in underprivileged communities’ schools, providing training and support for more than 3,000 teachers, encouraging children to study science by, for example, the setting up of robotics courses, nurturing pedagogical innovation, and much more.
Students from ORT France saw one particularly significant element this week when they visited the Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural and Sports Campus in Kiryat Yam. They were in Israel as participants in the March of the Living – having visited sites of death and destruction in Europe they were now experiencing the building of a new Jewish culture.
“It’s very impressive,” said ORT Marseille teacher Marcel Benikoum, the group leader, of the Campus’s facilities which serve not only the two neighbouring World ORT-affiliated schools but the whole community. “It takes science in schools to an exceptional dimension. We were particularly impressed by the 3-D images in the planetarium and the study of marine life in the oceanarium.”
In addition the visit made the teenagers aware that, as ORT students, they were part of something special.
“ORT Marseille is relatively small so when the kids see things like this their feelings about ORT take on another dimension; they are very proud to be part of it,” Mr Benikoum said.