July 19, 2007
By HAVIV RETTIG
Sapir Academic College near Sderot received on Tuesday night $1.7 million from the United Jewish Communities just two days after The Jerusalem Post reported that the college planned to seek funds overseas to help prevent its closure for the coming academic year.
Years of Kassam attacks on the college "were hidden under the rug," said MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), chairman of the college's board of governors and a former head of the local Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.
"The policy has been to emphasize Sapir's capabilities and minimize the significance of the attacks. But in the past two months, the situation has changed radically. Kassam attacks became more precise and frequent. The alarm [which sounds when a Kassam launch is detected] has become a daily reality."
The new reality has affected Sapir's expected registration for the upcoming academic year, creating a real concern that the country's biggest public college may not open at all. Sapir is the largest employer in the Shaar Hanegev region, and the anchor for a local high-tech industry (Amdocs opened a development center nearby) and for hundreds of students who move to Sderot each year.
To counter the closure threat - which would constitute "a victory for Hamas and an unprecedented employment crisis in the region," according to Hermesh - the college has sought some $7m. to provide half-tuition scholarships for its entire student body in a bid to bring them back to the college.
The $1.7m., from the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign, joins a similar donation from Israel's Council for Higher Education, in addition to donations from Israeli philanthropist Nochi Dankner and the Sacta-Rashi and Caesarea funds, among others. In all, Sapir has raised some $5.2m., and announced on Wednesday that it was beginning to offer the tuition scholarships.
The timetable is urgent since students must learn of the scholarships early in the summer's registration process, before they have signed up anywhere else.