The Ofanim Story Begins…

From the Outskirts of Beer Sheva

I would like to share with you a very personal story, the story of my encounter with Professor Bergman.  An experience that, in a way, planted the seed of my philanthropic involvement in general, and of Ofanim in particular. This story takes me all the way back to the summer after my first year in high school. At the time, my mother – a mother of 10 children- was working at a community center in Beer Sheba, Israel, as a cook. There she got to know a very nice American woman – Madeline “Maddy” Bergman – who worked at the center as a Ballet teacher. One day unexpectedly I arrived early to my parent’s home, and found Maddy Bergman and her husband, the Professor, having lunch with my Mom.

Professor Bergman, a very warm Zionist, and renowned computer scholar, made Aliyah to Israel to help the fledgling country by founding the first Computer Science department at Ben Gurion University in the Negev.  Over lunch, Professor Bergman asked me if I knew anything about computers.  Of course, I had no clue about computers.  At the time, I had little access to them and they were also not as ubiquitous as they are today.  So, the Professor invited me during that summer break to come over to the university to study and become acquainted with computers.  I was very lucky to receive six private lessons and have the chance to be exposed to computers.  Until this day I remember my first visit to the University.  Up to that moment, I considered the University to be like Olympus; that it belonged to the Gods. When I entered through the campus gates, I felt as if entering a shrine. After my military service, I applied to Ben Gurion to study computer science. When I finished my first degree, Professor Bergman invited me again to his home, and asked me “So, nu, what are you going to do now?”

My Personal Angel Emerged…

I was going to look for a job, I told him. “Would you consider advanced studies?” he replied.  I said that given my background, I was very content and satisfied with the fact that I had graduated from college; I considered it to be great achievement.  Professor Bergman was very surprised with my answer, and he responded with something I will never forget: “Why are you tying yourself down with artificial obstacles?”

I remember thinking of his question for few days after.  The idea, that if we only believe in ourselves we can get much further.  That most of the obstacles we think we have are artificial.  That our background and our starting-point in life should not become strings or constraints on our dreams and our imagination. A few weeks later, I applied for my master’s degree. Professor Bergman opened a new world for me.  In retrospect, I think that the Professor was my private angel.  A person who gave me a sense of direction, and who ignited my imagination and hope for a better future.

At the time, in 9th grade, I was very shy child.  I think that had I known that my mother was having guests for lunch, I probably would have shied away from the engagement. Professor Bergman saw through the barrier my shyness presented and made me aware of my potential.  This is the true meaning of empowerment. The lesson I’ve learned from this story is:  Angels do exist.  However, you never know when and where you are going to meet them.  So sometimes, it is OK to come uninvited and unplanned for lunch.

Each of Us has a Part in Tikkun Olam

Equipped with these lessons I spent 14 years in the United States – during which I founded my software company, took it public on the NASDAQ, and sold it in 1999.  That same year, I returned to live in Israel and decided to launch my personal “Tikkun Olam” initiative.  I knew my “Tikkun Olam” would revolve around children and education with the goal of empowering children from the most peripheral towns and village in Israel.  I knew I wanted to ignite their imagination the same way Professor Bergman ignited mine.

Seven years go by and Ofanim was still just a concept; a dream of equal opportunity for children who live in Israel’s small, weak and peripheral communities.  As Theodore Herzl famously put it, “If you will it, it is no dream.  Dreams and action are not as widely separated as many believe.  All the acts of men were dreams at first and become dreams again.”

Today, Ofanim is a strong reality. A reality that brings the message of hope to about 1,400 kids in small, remote, financially-weak villages throughout Israel.  In addition, we provided computer training activities for parents in some of these periphery communities to compliment and reinforce their children’s new skills.