SAFED, Israel — The quiet, picturesque city of Safed in the Upper Galilee got a wake-up call late October when journalists, politicians and academics swarmed the city for the opening of Israel’s fifth medical school.
It was the first time in four decades that Israel opened a new faculty of medicine, and the first to be situated in the Galilee. Although the campus – which is under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University – is still under construction, students and faculty kicked off the first academic year on Oct. 30 with great fanfare and optimism. There are 124 Jewish and Arab students in the first class.
“The opening of Bar-Ilan University’s new medical school in Safed is a milestone event in the history of the State of Israel and the Jewish People,” said an exuberant Prof. Moshe Kaveh, the president of the university.
Two young residents of Safed present the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh with the scissors at the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the official opening of the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even held the weekly cabinet meeting at the new campus.
“I think that this is a festive day for the Galilee. Not just for medicine in the Galilee and in Israel but because we are also providing here an anchor for industry, for the industry of tomorrow in the life sciences, in medicine, in treating autism, in all kinds of other research. The creativity here will go forth from here to overseas,” said Netanyahu.
The government has allocated tens of millions of shekels to establish the faculty. But Kaveh says it was the foreign donations that really got the ball rolling.
“I’m very grateful to UIA [Federations] Canada and the three other foundations [UJIA of the United Kingdom, the Rashi Foundation of Israel and the Russell Berrie Foundation of New Jersey and New York] for supporting this initiative. They produced the first $10 million,” Kaveh said in an interview with The CJN.
“They provided funds immediately, and now the government has said it will match every dollar that was donated. This is a national project, a renaissance to the Galilee.”
The school is expected to grow to 1,000 students in the next several years. On Nov. 13, the university paid tribute to the founders of the faculty of medicine in the Galilee.
“Thanks to you, our students will be ambassadors of medicine and health in the Galilee and in other regions around the country,” said Prof. Ran Tur-Kaspa, dean of the faculty.
Moshe Shapiro, Chief Executive Officer of Yedidut Toronto and the Friedberg Charitable Foundation, who represented UIA Canada at the Bar-Ilan University event in their honour.
“This medical school is a precedent for how government and philanthropic foundations can co-operate with one another to bring about great things,” said Moshe Shapiro, CEO of Yedidut Toronto and the Friedberg Charitable Foundation, who represented UIA Federations Canada at the event.
Shapiro urged the four partners to continue working together in order to identify additional projects of national interest and oversee their successful implementation. “The fact that we succeeded with the medical school obligates us to try the miracle again,” he said.
“Canadian Jews are very attached to the State of Israel,” Gabi Weisfeld, national president of the Canadian Friends of Bar-Ilan University, told The CJN. “Even though Canada’s Jewish community is small, we do very big things and we should be very proud.”
The new medical school is being hailed as innovative, pioneering and groundbreaking.
Tur-Kaspa, an internationally renowned expert in liver disease, wrote in a Hebrew publication that the school’s location represents a commitment to developing Israel’s periphery and to enhancing the health and welfare of residents in those areas.
“We have a sense of what it is to build peripheral areas. We can relate to this because we see it happen in Canada,” Dov Altman, executive director of Canadian Friends of Bar-Ilan University, told The CJN. “In Ontario, we saw the development of a medical centre in northern Ontario for the same reasons they’re building a higher level of care for residents of the north in Israel.”
Before breaking ground on the new campus, Tur-Kaspa and Kaveh toured some 40 medical schools around the world.
“We don’t want to duplicate other medical schools. We want to make something new,” Kaveh said.
The faculty boasts an innovative curriculum and an integrative teaching approach that links core science and clinical studies while giving students a point of reference toward health promotion and disease prevention. The students will also be taught how to relate to patients and to interact with them in a respectful manner.
“Be clever and have a heart. Wisdom is clear. But you need to know how to treat the people,” said Kaveh. “It’s a community medical school… you have to know how to treat the people.”
Kaveh also said the medical school will house research centres devoted to the study of disease processes.
“I’m so excited. It’s beyond words,” said Altman. “I saw the site before when I was here in May… and I can’t believe we’re here and the school is opening. In my dreams I wouldn’t imagine it would happen so quickly.”
For many years, Israel has been suffering from “brain drain,” which Israeli President Shimon Peres mentioned at the school’s opening ceremony.
“You young people have chosen ‘brain gain,’ as opposed to ‘brain drain,’” Peres told the students. “By coming here, you have eagerly embraced the noble Zionist ideal of developing the northern part of our country. This is the beginning of unprecedented growth in the Galilee region.”
About half of the students in the first year began their medical studies abroad and were enticed back to Israel to finish their studies here, with the hope that they will stay and work in the Galilee region where there is a severe shortage of medical personnel. Of the teachers and researchers, 15 are Israeli scientists who are coming back to Israel from prestigious institutions abroad.
“We’re bringing back professors from the top of the top, from the best medical centres around the world. It’s a ‘brain gain,’” Kaveh told The CJN. “Here they’ll have the facilities to do the best research. I’m sure from these brains will be the next Nobel laureates.”
The Bar Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in Safed. This is one of six buildings that make up the initial site of the faculty in Safed. The permanent site of the 200 dunam faculty is expected to be ready in five years.