Mission and History
ISEF’s mission is to narrow Israel’s socio-economic gap through higher education for gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our unique methodology combines scholarship grants with required community service, as well as training in leadership and social awareness.
ISEF’S core values are:
- Education as a means of individual and national development;
- Social awareness and advocacy;
- Pride in ethnic heritage as part of the Israeli culture; and
- Zionism, the commitment to the existence of a Jewish democratic state.
ISEF was founded in 1977 by Edmond J. Safra (z”l), Lily Safra, and Nina Weiner. The foundation supports Israelis who have completed military or national service. Though originally created by and for Sephardic Jews, today all cultural and ethnic groups in Israeli society who share the foundation’s values are represented in ISEF’s student body.
ISEF arose in response to the challenges Israel faced at its birth – fighting for survival while absorbing Jews from Asia, North Africa, and elsewhere. Many new immigrants, particularly those from Sephardic or Mizrahi communities, were ill-equipped to merge into Israel’s economic and social mainstream. By the 1970s, the plight of this underprivileged population had led world Jewry to create Project Renewal, to rehabilitate Israel’s poorest areas. But ISEF’s founders, Edmond J. Safra (z”l), his wife Lily Safra, and Nina Weiner, believed the real key to renewal lay in developing Israel’s intellectual capital.
In the 1990s, the organization changed its name to the ISEF Foundation, and its programs became open to all underprivileged Israelis, regardless of ethnic origin, who had completed army or national service. Today around one-half of ISEF’s more than 600 annual beneficiaries identify as Sephardic, with the rest representing other groups on society’s margins – Former Soviet Union, Ethiopians, Druze, and others. ISEF selects its beneficiaries based solely on financial need, scholastic excellence, and leadership potential.