The Charles Bronfman Prize Awarded to Israeli Educator Karen Tal
Karen Tal, an Israel educator who works with disadvantaged youth and pursues opportunity through education for those at the lowest rungs of Israeli society, formally received The Charles Bronfman Prize here on September 7.
Until this summer, Tal was the principal of the Bialik-Rogozin Campus in southern Tel Aviv, an area heavily populated by foreign workers, economically challenged Jewish and Arab Israelis, new immigrants, and refugees from Darfur, Sudan, Eritrea and other countries.
By creating an institution for one of the most socially diverse student populations in Israel and infusing it with hope, inclusion, and community support, she has transformed it from one of despair and in danger of closure to one of the country’s highest achieving schools.
“Karen is an inspired light for an inspiring people,” said Charles Bronfman, as he presented the Prize to her at a ceremony attended by hundreds of Israeli and international dignitaries, including the Canadian Ambassador to Israel, Paul Hunt, and Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada.
“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 a real impact in the world.”
Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize – and an accompanying $100,000 award – goes to a young humanitarian whose work is fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global impact that can potentially change lives and inspire the next generations. The Prize was first presented in 2004.
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.
“I am so happy and honored to receive this prize on behalf of so many children,” said Tal, in remarks in which she cited as integral partners her dedicated staff and school board, as well as a committed group of volunteers, governmental officials, private sector leaders and community members.
Guiding her work, she said, is a Talmudic principle that “all of Israel is responsible for one another.”
“Here are all of these children, with no one to help them. With the right support, there is a future for these children. The way we can judge our society is by how we treat those on the margins. The magic in this place comes from love and from the injunction to love the stranger among us.”
In a moving testament to the affection toward Tal by her students, and for the inspiring example she instills, two of them acted as masters of ceremony throughout the awards presentation. The Bialik-Rogozin Campus Choir, representing an assortment of ages and faces that illuminated the power of diversity and inclusion at the school, performed.
“Karen taught us to believe in ourselves, in the power of community and in a just society,” one student said.
Tal is now working to export the Bialik-Rogozin model to other challenged communities, directing the new Education Initiatives Center that will work with and empower principals in poor areas of Israel to create community and public-private partnerships to turn around weak elementary and high schools. The non-profit initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and municipalities, has the potential to touch thousands more disadvantaged students throughout the country.
As a longtime member of the judging panel for the Prize, and an advocate for human rights, Justice Abella delivered a moving address on Tal’s impact within the school’s walls, in the community, in Israel, and as an example to the world.
“Because these children are respected here, they will grow up respecting others; because they are treated with dignity, they will grow up treating others with dignity; because they are treated as equals, they will grow up understanding that equality means the right to integrate based on respect for difference; and because they are treated with fairness and compassion, they will grow up understanding what justice is.”
Tal’s work, Justice Abella said, personifies The Charles Bronfman Prize.
“The values that Karen has donated to this school, to these children, and to this country, are exactly the values Charles Bronfman has spent his entire life endlessly promoting – education, generosity, tolerance, fairness, respect, and dignity. It’s not about promoting being Jewish, it’s about promoting what being Jewish means. And what being Jewish means is promoting justice for everyone.”
Also speaking was Nahum Barnea, chief columnist for Yedioth Ahronot and recipient of the State of Israel Prize; Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa Ron Huldai; and, Israel’s Minister of Education, Gideon Sa’ar.
“I’ve met a lot of amazing educators, principals and teachers and people who touch and change the lives of children, but Karen Tal is really the top of the top,” Sa’ar said. “She wasn’t just the principal of a school. She is an educational leader and source of hope and strength for students and for the community at large.”
A percentage of her award will establish a scholarship fund for Bialik-Rogozin students to continue their educations, Tal said.
“I, myself, was only able to attend university and higher education because of scholarships,” she said.
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.
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.
The school has become an educational paradigm for humanitarianism and co-existence visited by national and international governmental and private sector figures alike, underscoring its global emergence as a model of educational excellence and achievement.
A documentary film about the school, Strangers No More, won the 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 90 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.
She has leveraged public and private partnerships to strengthen the school. Collaborations have been created with the Municipality of Tel Aviv, the Ministry of Education, community volunteers and donors, and the private sector.
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 Refuge Point; and Jared Genser, Founder and President of Freedom Now.
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 www.TheCharlesBronfmanPrize.com.