Jewish Humanitarian Award Goes to Karen Tal, Principal of Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, for Creating an Educational Community of Inclusion, Success and Achievement for Disadvantaged Youth in Israel
Karen Tal, who as principal of a school serving one of the most economically challenged and socially diverse student populations in Israel, has created and grown a model institution that infuses young lives with hope and grabs success and achievement from despair, is the 2011 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize.
Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize – and an accompanying $100,000 award – goes to a young humanitarian whose work is informed and fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global impact that can potentially change lives.
“Aspiring to create a world in which social justice, opportunity, and empowerment apply to those at the lowest and most disadvantaged rungs of society – often overlooked or deemed hopeless – is a historic driver for the Jewish people,” said James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and Chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn and Company, on behalf of the Prize judges.
“Through a unique and powerful educational model, Karen Tal teaches us all that by embracing and nurturing those most marginalized among us, we honor human dignity, strengthen societies and enlighten the world.”
Tal is the principal of the Bialik-Rogozin School in southern Tel Aviv, an area heavily populated by foreign workers, Jewish and Arab Israelis of low socio-economic backgrounds, new immigrants from such places as the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and refugees from Darfur, Sudan, Eritrea and other countries.
Many families are in cycles of hopelessness, poverty, social exclusion and intergenerational conflict, a scenario offering little promise for children, some with learning difficulties and preoccupied with daily family difficulties. More than half of students’ families are recipients of social services, and a majority are one-parent families.
Born in Morocco, Tal, 46, has devoted her life to education and its power to transform and uplift individual lives and strengthen society. She was an education officer in the IDF Air Force Technical School, and served as principal of Tel Aviv’s Shevach Mofet High School, helping to make it a highly regarded science and technology-focused school attracting many students from immigrant families.
Tal became principal of Bialik-Rogozin in 2005, determined to transform outlooks and outcomes and create an educational model for Israel and the world, one that recognizes the diversity and socio-economic challenges of high-risk students to create a normative, enriching, mutually respectful, tolerant and safe-haven environment where obstacles are overcome and potential is unfurled.
“I can think of no one who better exemplifies the most fundamental of Jewish values – love thy neighbor as thyself and remember that you were strangers in Egypt,” wrote Yediot Ahronot chief columnist and recipient of the State of Israel Prize, Nahum Barnea, in his nomination of Tal for The Charles Bronfman Prize. “Karen has embraced the weak native Israelis, as well as outsiders and strangers, and welcomed them into a framework which accepts, recognizes and loves. Karen is an inspiration for those who believe that being Jewish and Israeli implies social action that contributes to repairing a damaged world.”
Under Tal’s leadership and vision, the school – with 800 students in grades K to 12 – has morphed from a failing one to a highly successful and closely watched model for improving students’ lives and outlooks, strengthening and supporting families, advancing assimilation and socialization into Israeli society, and changing social and cultural attitudes toward respect of the other.
“I came to Israel as a new immigrant when I was a child, and I grew up in a difficult and challenging neighborhood in Jerusalem,” Tal said after being notified of receiving The Charles Bronfman Prize for 2011. “So I know what challenges these children face, and the strength it takes to overcome and move beyond them. They need support, they need encouragement, and they need role models.
“And I know as a Jew that we as a people are instilled with values that command us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. So while we cannot change the starting points of these young lives, we can with love and strength and courage and compassion help to influence their present and futures. This recognition by The Charles Bronfman Prize helps to shine light and hope into their lives and makes universal this Jewish mandate.”
Tal has recognized the diversity and challenges of students as strength and opportunity. Tolerance, pluralism, human rights, and social justice programming suffuse the genetic makeup of Bialik-Rogozin. The school has become an educational paradigm for humanitarianism and co-existence visited by national and international governmental and private sectors figures alike, underscoring its global emergence as a model of educational excellence and achievement.
“The way in which the school provides a warm home to children and youth, regardless of religion, race or gender, is a source of inspiration,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said after a recent visit. “The school is living proof that nowadays, a democratic society should not only provide the right to be equal, but should also provide the right to be different.”
A documentary film about the school, Strangers No More, won a 2011 Academy Award for best documentary short subject.
In six years at the helm, Tal’s leadership has driven the percentage of students completing matriculation exams from 28 percent to over 70 percent. And the percentage of students entering the IDF, a national indicator of assimilation and absorption into mainstream Israeli society, has jumped from 26 percent to near 70 percent. Her students talk of becoming doctors and lawyers and professional civil servants.
She has deftly leveraged public and private partnerships to strengthen the school, and to replicate the model elsewhere.
“What enabled these achievements is the wonderful and powerful support by and collaboration with the Municipality of Tel Aviv, the Ministry of Education, my committed and talented team, and hundreds of community volunteers and donors who help in so many countless ways,” Tal said.
There are striking examples of private support. Google inaugurated an earth simulator and related technological equipment at Bialik-Rogozin last year, making it the first school in the world to employ the technology to teach geography and greatly enhancing an educational experience and connection to roots for a student body representing dozens of backgrounds and nationalities. And, a joint initiative with Cisco Systems is training students in network administration.
In a significant step toward exporting the Bialik-Rogozin model to other challenged communities, Tal will direct the new Education Initiatives Center to empower principals in poor areas of Israel to create community and public-private partnerships that will transform weak schools into successes. The initiative, endorsed by the Israeli Minister of Education, will launch in September and will potentially touch thousands more disadvantaged students throughout the country.
“Karen Tal embodies the values, vision, and determination to effect transformation, not only in the lives of these young students and their families, but in peoples’ perceptions and understanding of what great need is, and their responsibility to act and be part of something greater,” said Charles Bronfman. “She is a thinker, an innovator, an educator and a doer, and she stands tall in any crowd. My hope is that this accolade will propel her higher still and give pause to anyone who doubts what one individual can do to have real impact in the world.”
2011 marks the seventh year that The Charles Bronfman Prize is being awarded. Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, along with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, established the Prize in honor of their father and his commitment to applying Jewish values to better the world and to inspire the next generations.
“By recognizing Karen Tal, we are honoring Jewish values that inspire action and impact change locally and broadly,” said Ellen Bronfman Hauptman. “Her courage, commitment and compassion have altered the course of many young lives, and the ripple effect will have longstanding implications for this community, for Israel, and indeed, the world. In all ways she embodies the purpose of The Charles Bronfman Prize and all it seeks to honor and encourage.”
Previous recipients are Jay Feinberg, Founder and Executive Director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; Dr. Alon Tal, Founder of Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; Dr. Amitai Ziv, Founder and Director of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation; Rachel Andres, Founder and Director of Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project; Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Co-Founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director of Mapendo International; and Jared Genser, Founder and President of Freedom Now.
About: The Charles Bronfman Prize is a humanitarian award that celebrates the vision and endeavor of an individual or team, under fifty years of age, whose humanitarian work has contributed significantly to the betterment of the world. Its goal is to bring public recognition to young, dynamic individuals whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments, and provide inspiration to the next generations. An internationally recognized panel of Judges selects the Prize recipient(s) and bestows an award of $100,000.
The Charles Bronfman Prize Foundation, a United States 501(c)(3) corporation headquartered in New York, administers the Prize. For more information about Charles Bronfman, The Prize or prior recipients and their accomplishments, please visit TheCharlesBronfmanPrize.com.