Birthright Tour Operator Turns Sights To College

Birthright Tour Operator Turns Sights To College

‘Momo’ Lifshitz is now selling Israeli universities to English speakers.

Jerusalem — After launching a successful bilingual law degree program geared toward English-speaking Israelis three years ago, the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan wanted to create an undergraduate program that would attract English-speaking students from abroad.

The college asked Shlomo “Momo” Lifshitz, an Israeli businessman who helped turn the word “Birthright” into a household name, to come up with a unique program and then market it.

“Nobody else in Israel offers these services as well as he does,” says Alon Madar, head of international programs and resource development at the College of Law and Business. “He’s extremely well-connected and knows the Jewish communities abroad inside out.”

When it comes to recruiting foreign students, “Momo is never patronizing,” Madar says. “He tells students, ‘I know you’re trying to figure out your next steps in life and the world is in your hands. Why not take advantage of it and study in Israel?’ He helps them figure out what’s best for them.”

During his long career Lifshitz, the founder of Oranim Educational Initiatives (once the largest organizer of Birthright tours) brought over 50,000 participants on 1,200 Birthright tours before selling the company to the national Egged Bus company five years ago. Unwilling to retire even though he could, Lifshitz, now 59, created Lirom Global Education, a company that helps create and/or promote more than 20 Israel-based degree- and non-degree programs ( earmarked for English speakers from abroad.

One program is the Technion’s Azrieli Start-Up MBA, a yearlong international MBA track taught entirely in English. The program immerses students in business and entrepreneurship, provides study tours and internships to transform ideas into commercial products and services. Though the Technion is a world-class university, the cost, $35,000, is much lower than comparable MBA programs in the U.S.

The new one-year master of arts degree in Jewish Education program at Hebrew University’s Melton Centre for Jewish Education, which will begin in March 2016, is the first distance-learning program of its kind at the university. Students take two semesters’ worth of courses online, anywhere in the world, and spend six weeks of intensive summer study on the university’s Jerusalem campus. Price: $16,250.

In October 2016, the 3.5-year dual-track Law and Business program at the College of Law and Business will provide students with a bachelor of law degree in Israel, and eligibility to take the New York and Illinois bar exams.

The business courses are taught entirely in English, while half the law courses are taught in Hebrew and half in English. The college promises to provide support for English-speaking students in Hebrew-taught courses, including allowing them to submit assignments and exams in English. During the first year, which is taught entirely in English, students take an intensive Hebrew ulpan.

The program provides internships and workshops in such places as Oxford, Kassel, Germany, and Paris, and study tours in China and South America to provide professional international experiences and perspectives, as well. Price: $12,000/year for the dual track, study tours and international internships.

Students seeking a master of science degree in Environmental Quality Studies can enroll in the yearlong program at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Environment. The program focuses on the development of alternative water and energy resources; water and soil pollution treatment; waste recycling, and environmentally sustainable pest control and plant protection, among other subjects. Tuition: $18,050.

Summer programs include a six-week study and volunteer course in First Response Training and Experience, a 10-day Dolphin Behavior course in Eilat, a 10-day Biblical Archeological Excavation and a four-week course in Conflict Resolution at Bar Ilan University, a leader in conflict resolution studies.

There’s also a semester-abroad option (which provides academic credits from Ben-Gurion University) to spend nearly five months in Eilat on a program offering an “academic internship” related culinary skills and hotel hospitality. The program covers six days of activities per week, with two days dedicated to academic studies and four days to professional internships.

A second track offers culinary students the opportunity to learn how to prepare Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Lifshitz, a proud Zionist, views his work as a Zionist enterprise. He also receives a commission when he successfully recruits students.

“I decided I couldn’t allow my passion and drive to be wasted [in retirement] without doing something I feel is so important: to provide students the opportunity to get an education in Israel.

“I understood the cost of higher education in America and some other places and want to tell people loud and clear: there are options other than paying $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 per year for a bachelor’s degree, especially when we know a bachelor’s isn’t enough in today’s world. You need to go to grad school and people are carrying debt till the age of 50. Guys, open your eyes.”

Lifshitz’s initial goal is to bring 5,000 foreign students to Israel for long- and short-term programs.

“It can be for a summer course, a semester, a bachelor’s or master’s. We’re a one-stop shop for many study opportunities in Israel.”

The education maven says the Hebrew University Jewish Education MA will enable busy educators to get a master’s at the prestigious Melton Center almost entirely online.

“Let’s say you’re an American educator or working in a Jewish organization or a JCC or a Hillel. You can work while you’re doing it.”

The HU program, Lifshitz said, “is Israel Inside. There’s a lot of focus on Israel” in the curriculum.

Lifshitz hopes Jewish organizations and institutions in the U.S. will help their employees with the tuition costs (some scholarship funds may be available as well, and Jewish students can explore scholarships through MASA.)

“They’ll get a better employee. Hebrew U. is a top university,” he said.

Marcelo Dorfsman, Israel Inside’s coordinator, said the master’s is intended “to help Jewish communities around the world” train top-notch Jewish educators “in an open, pluralistic environment.”

Educators from all streams of Judaism are expected to take the course and spend six weeks in Jerusalem in the same classroom.

While overseas programs bring much-needed revenue to Israel’s cash-strapped universities, Lifshitz said, they are also an opportunity to share Israel’s innovation and expertise with Jewish and non-Jewish students who might otherwise never get to know Israel and its people.

“We have the greatest minds, the greatest scientists, the greatest high-tech. They don’t call us the Start-up Nation for nothing.”

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