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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Gerontology expert raises profile of Israeli college

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Ariela Lowenstein

Set in the midst of verdant green farmland, with the hills of the Galilee in the background, the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College attracts young adults primarily from the surrounding area.

Moshav Tel Adashim is nearby and practically across the street – actually it’s Highway 60 – is Kibbutz Mizra.

Not exactly household names, unless you live nearby, but the Yezreel Valley College can perhaps better be described by reference to better known locales. It is situated on the highway between Nazareth, to the north, and Afula, to the south.

If you haven’t yet heard about the Yezreel Valley College, well, Ariela Lowenstein would like to change that. Lowenstein is president of the college and she was in Toronto last week to meet a supporter of the school as well as a potential benefactor.

Raising the profile of the school in Canada was the primary reason for her visit, but as a grandparent, social worker and professor emeritus of Haifa University, she was also interested in attending  an event at the University of Toronto life course and aging institute.

The issue is near and dear to her heart and is one area of instruction she hopes to expand at the college, she said.

The school has 14 departments and confers two postgraduate degrees. Its nursing program is in great demand and it also offers instruction in communications, health systems managements, economics and management, and information systems management. It offers MA degrees in organizational development and consulting and in educational counselling.

Close to 5,000 students attend the college and another 1,000 are engaged in preparatory programs to get them ready for the demands of higher education.

“It has been a regional college under the auspices of Haifa University,” Lowenstein said in explaining the school’s origins. “About 17 years ago it became an independent college.”

It is one of 20 publicly funded colleges in Israel, six of which are in the Galilee. The Yezreel Valley College was located where it is to be more accessible to the local population, though it does draw students from as far away as Haifa.

Yezreel Valley College serves the many one-time “development towns” that date back to the origins of the State of Israel. In addition, the area is home to a substantial Arab population, who take advantage of the school’s educational programs. About 23 per cent of the student body is Arab, reflecting pretty closely the country’s demographics, Lowenstein said.

Arab students seem to prefer health-related professions, and about 50 per cent of the school’s nursing school are Arabs. The school also has students from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Many of the Ethiopian students also study nursing, she said.

About 400 students live in nearby residences in Afula and commute daily to the campus. “It’s  a very happy campus,” Lowenstein said. “We believe in multiculturalism. Good personal relations exist between students.”

Her personal interest is in gerontology – a field of growing interest in Israel. The country is third in the world in average lifespans “due to our health system and very developed services for the elderly.”

“Elders are resilient because of what we experience in Israel,” she said. “They have to cope.”

Israeli culture places great emphasis on family life. “The elders are very involved with their families” and vice versa, she said.

This impacts on quality of life in a positive way and, at 24 per cent, the elderly are not institutionalized to nearly the extent as in other advanced countries, she said.

They spend more time with their families “and that makes life more interesting, fulfilling and extends life expectancy,” she said.

But there are stresses on the family, particularly as women increasingly join the work force. It is an area ripe for study and Lowenstein hopes to establish a chair in aging and intergenerational family relations – if she can raise the funds.

Perhaps another trip to Canada is in the offing.

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