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Ivy League-inspired education in Israel

The sandstone path surrounded by a grassy meadow, which leads from the nearest bus stop to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, soon made it clear how wrong we were. This was not the ideal way to get to the IDC for someone trying to gain admission there as a student. The few students walking beside me and the hundreds of cars parked in the spacious parking lot were an ample demonstration of the traveling method most favored by its denizens.

This error vanished from my mind, though, the moment I saw the lovely small village just beyond the fence: A well-kept lawn, high trees, marble buildings covered with wood and glass – no trace of the abandoned air force base that had been here until 20 years ago, when the IDC was established. As any of its current or former students knows, the first stop when integrating into a new academic institution is the cafeteria. The first one I encountered was in the Sammy Ofer School of Communications building.

Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, April 2014. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

The preferred topics of discussion for those sitting around me were clothes, trips and the center’s upcoming student party in Eilat. The two young women standing behind me in line for coffee, wearing their best clothes, brought each other up-to-date on the latest skiing vacation and then talked about the clothing brands they liked best, including Urban Outfitters. “I bought a Brazilian swimsuit,” another young woman said, passing her iPhone around to show photos. “I wanted to buy another one, but it was really expensive and my father would kill me.”

You will not find many students showing up for class here wearing faded jeans and a simple T-shirt, in the best tradition of other academic institutions. Most of these young people are meticulously dressed. Even as I try to rid myself of the preconceived notions that I came with, and to give the place a chance, one of the female students I arrived with tells me that students call the path between the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science and the main cafeteria the catwalk, or the runway.

“On the first week of studies, some of the female students drop [fashion] bombshells and come wearing Louis Vuitton. Then things calm down a bit,” says Shiran, a 24-year-old student from Ra’anana in the communications program.

It seems that the IDC’s founder, Prof. Uriel Reichman, can mark his vision for the institution – inspired by the Ivy League model in the United States – as having been fulfilled. It’s certainly the one most resembling an overseas academic institution you’ll find in Israel.

Tomer Michelzon