SRAEL is a land brimming with success stories. Take
Nicole Menagid for one. She started out with one blow after
another and ended up on top of the world.
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
"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 in October at the Pierre
Hotel in New York.
Nicole found herself facing an unknown
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 be by her side. 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
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. Nicole 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 said 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; attorney Leon Wildes; 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
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 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
"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."