There are many success stories coming out of Israel. Take Nicole Menagid for one. She was born 26 years ago in Brooklyn to Israeli parents who moved back to Israel a year later.
Her sister suffered from manic depression and killed herself. Over the years her mother deteriorated, physically and mentally. Then her parents divorced.
“I didn’t have a family, a friend or a legitimate source of money,” she said at the American Friends of the Open University of Israel gala Oct. 21 at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan.
Bereft without family, friends or a legitimate source of money, Nicole found herself facing an unknown future.
At 18 she joined the army. She trained in a combat unit on the Jordan border. Meanwhile her mother worsened to such an extent that Nicole had to serve close to home to assist her. Over the next few years her connection to her father was cut off completely. The only economic support she ever had vanished. Nicole thought all was lost.
“Fortunately,” she said, “good people along the way encouraged me to believe that I deserved to dream, and dream to go far.” She discovered Open University as the only means to realize her dreams. “It welcomes everybody without exception, from any religion, race or level of education,” she said, including secular Jews, ultraorthodox Jews, Druze, and Moslem and Christian Arabs.
Along with a full-time job to support herself and her mother, Open University offered financial aid and merit scholarships and she earned a degree in psychology. She now works as an administrative director in a Tel Aviv law firm and spends quality time with patients in a psychiatric hospital. She also volunteers to work with autistic children and at a youth psychiatry ward.
She intends to complete a master’s degree and doctorate in clinical criminology.
“My greatest dream,” she said, “is to show others who have confronted hardships in their youth that they can overcome those obstacles.”
Her compelling story moved the 235 well-heeled guests, including David Klein, president of Leviev; Mitchell A. Davidson, managing director of Post Capital Partners; James Tisch; Marion and Elie Wiesel; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference; Open University president Kobi Metzer; Hadassah Lieberman, wife of the former Senator Joseph Lieberman; gala chair Mimi Hass-Perlman; Gail Propp; Florence Felig; Fanya Heller; and Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni.
Ingeborg Rennert, president of the American Friends of the Open University of Israel, presented the Yigal Alon Award to Kim and Larry Heyman. He is chief executive of the Heyman Enterprise investment firm; she was PR manager of the American arm of the Alberto Ferretti fashion house.
Rennert presented the Tzedek Award to Nina Rosenwald, founding president of the Gatestone Institute think tank. Her grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears Roebuck, teamed up with Booker T. Washington to build schoolhouses for African-American children throughout the South. Her father, William Rosenwald, was one of three founders of the UJA.
Ambassador Aharoni told how Israel was populated by divergent groups of people that impacted Israel’s creativity. “People today look at Israel and see not just problems and conflict but also opportunity, jobs and even a spouse.” Noting that nothing could have been achieved without philanthropy, he singled out Ira and Ingeborg Rennert as the outstanding philanthropists of our time.
Dorit Beinisch, retired after six years as chief justice of the Israel Supreme Court, was introduced as the new Open University chancellor. Her predecessor was Lord Harry Woolf, chief justice of England.
“Our desire to improve the landscape of Israeli society,” Beinisch said, “is based on two fundamental blocks: invest in education and culture, and support the laws and the courts to protect human rights.”