Jonathan Davis: Lone Soldier Then and Now
by Jonathan Davis, Vice President of External Relations at IDC Herzliya & Head of the Raphael Recanati International School
We built the Raphael Recanati International School, Israel’s Academic Absorption Center to be a haven of acculturation for newcomers to Israel – so that they don’t have to go through what we did.
Sitting in my office in the center of our beautiful green IDC Herzliya campus, I cannot help but smile about our “Little House on the Prairie” that is home to over 7000 students – 31% of those coming from over 80 different countries around the globe.
Looking back a few decades, when I arrived in Israel as a lone student and lone soldier, very few governmental bodies and NGOs understood what I, and a handful of other newcomers from the west, was going through. I was alone in a strange country with no support system. Personally, if not for my comrades in arms in the IDF who took me home every weekend to a different Kibbutz, I would have had nowhere to go. In the end, my commanding officer, took me by the hand to the Ministry of Absorption in Jerusalem and demanded that they find me a room. They eventually found me place in a dilapidated building in Kiryat Yovel that I could call home. I learned the hard way how important it was to have the assistance of the Ministry of Absorption, the IDF, the university I studied at, the Jewish Agency, etc. but NONE of those organizations was around for lone soldiers in those days. I swore that one day if I had the chance to be in a key academic position we would do something about this.
Nothing to get upset about. It was just those times. The State did not have enough experience on how to properly and successfully absorb young newcomers who were coming to Israel alone. We missed that little bit of homely TLC. We were swamped in bureaucracy that threatened to drown us.
But, while dozens of my friends and brothers in arms turned around and returned home, just not having managed to make a place for themselves in the Jewish homeland, others, like me, held the fort and forced ourselves to push through and succeed.
With my experience behind me, my life journey has focused on bringing people to Israel – from all corners of the world. But, it was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to do something hands-on to really help young newcomers not to have to go through the level of hardship that we had to go through then. And after some time spent as an emissary in different parts of the world, work with the Jewish Agency and a stint in another university, I found my home at IDC Herzliya as the Vice President for External Relations and the Head of the Raphael Recanati International School.
Finally, I have come full circle and I can take all of the frustrations of my youth and turn them into amazing opportunities for those who are choosing to spend time in Israel.
At the RRIS, we recruit students from all over the world who want to attain their full degrees in Israel, in English, and we pride ourselves on sensitively helping them to acclimate into Israeli society with a “TLC” attitude. We take each student by the hand and help them to settle in not only to life at IDC Herzliya but to life in Israel. This attitude and focus has given us the reputation of being the largest academic absorption center in the country, with the most international students studying for full degrees, in English, in the country.
Although the international students learn alongside their Israeli counterparts and are involved in all aspects of campus life, they also enjoy an array of special extracurricular social and cultural activities, such as trips around the country, Shabbat dinners, Debate Club, Model United Nations, Ambassador’s Club, Jewish holiday celebrations and more. These fall under the umbrella of the RRIS social and cultural department and IDC Herzliya Hillel, who work together.
The RRIS boasts a full staff complement of caring individuals who are motivated to make the academic and Israel experience as easy and enjoyable as possible for the almost 2000 students in their care. There are registrars who do not only accompany the students to acceptance in the various programs, but also right through the duration of their degrees; always employing and open-door policy and attempting to assist where possible. There is also a housing team, helping to find appropriate accommodation near campus for the students requesting it; as well as a caring scholarship team who know each student personally and take their files to heart when considering their scholarship applications. The team would not be complete without the directors of student affairs and absorption. The former assists with all problems that the students may be facing day to day, while the latter attempts to smooth the bureaucratic process involved with Aliyah, the army and other such issues.
IDC Herzliya’s president and founder, Professor Uriel Reichman, and the founding Recanati family, believe that the students should always be partners in the academic process. As a testament to its success, IDC Herzliya has consecutively ranked first place for students being most satisfied with the quality of the teaching, as well as with the facilities. Another point of pride is that our graduates are employed in sought-after positions in all professional arenas.
Prof. Reichman also built the university based on the values of freedom and responsibility – the freedom to succeed as an individual while internalizing the responsibility to help those who need it, in any way that one is able. The RRIS, as an integral part of the university, holds these values as part of its very foundation and ensures that all students, tourists and Olim are treated as full partners and educated for roles in both the public and private enterprise as future leaders of Israel and the world, imbued with the universities humanistic principles.
Israel was rough and tumble for those of us who came in the early days but the creation of the RRIS, as an academic absorption center centered around the student and his/her needs, is a magic solution to ensuring a soft, successful landing for the young people of today. At IDC Herzliya, human capital is our treasure and we nurture it.
To the left is Jonathan Davis as a lone soldier in the IDF in 1971.