Dr. Sarit Buzaglo’s career trajectory from high school dropout to computer science postdoc is an Israeli success story she attributes directly to ISEF, the foundation dedicated to giving disadvantaged Israeli youth an opportunity to succeed.
Buzaglo, the daughter of working-class Moroccan immigrants, left school at 16 to help support her family. Three years later she attended a community college in her small town in northern Israel to get her high school degree. It was there that she discovered she was a math whiz, and a teacher encouraged her to apply to the Technion, Israel’s version of MIT.
“I’d never even heard of the Technion,” she explained with a laugh during in an interview last Wednesday evening at the 38th anniversary benefit dinner for ISEF at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. A self-effacing young woman, Buzaglo was one of the group’s international fellows being honored.
It was Buzaglo’s teacher who told her about ISEF’s scholarships.
She was accepted at the Technion, graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, followed by a master’s and doctoral degree there. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in computer science and electrical engineering at the University of California, San Diego, and plans to return to Israel to teach after completing her graduate work next year.
ISEF was founded 38 years ago by Edmond Safra, the late banker and philanthropist, to give talented young Israelis a chance to receive a good education and contribute to society, regardless of ethnicity or economic status. Originally focused on helping Sephardic students, ISEF has branched out to include other minorities, including Ethiopians and Russians.
Nina Weiner, a co-founder who has served as president of the organization since it began, notes that ISEF scholarships offer ongoing support, with 30 percent of its young scholars going on to earn advanced degrees. In addition to financial aid, the scholars receive academic assistance and leadership training and are part of a peer network.
Another young scholar, Einalem Mengesto, the youngest of 10 children in her Ethiopian family, is now studying communications at Hebrew University. As a self-described minority on several levels, a “black immigrant and woman,” she credited ISEF for “helping me to solve my identity crisis.”
She was one of several ISEF fellows who spoke of the organization, which has more than 7,000 alumni, as “a second family.” Weiner speaks of them the same way, familiar with the personal stories of students who are now judges, CEOs and Knesset members.
But as was noted during the evening, there are still “unacceptable gaps in Israeli society” that need to be addressed.