Photo: Wexner Israel Fellows (Class 27) during graduation weekend 

On the morning of May 25th, the day before HKS graduation, Wexner Israel Fellows Class 27 gathered with their families to mark the end of their year at Harvard.  During the ceremony, they received certificates from the Foundation for having completed their year of seminars, institutes and learning.  The fellows shared reflections on the year and made public declarations about the commitments they would uphold as they stepped into their future.  Here are excerpts from a few of them.

Yogev Gradus
I like the word “commencement”, which means beginning.  In Hebrew we say tekes siyum, which means ending, but a beginning is much more suitable in my opinion.  The biggest thing I have gained this year is the beginning of being aware. Along those lines, I share part of a speech that was given by David Foster Wallace: 

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says “Morning, boys! How’s the water?”  And the two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” 

The point of the fish story is that the most obvious and important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.  The really significant education we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.

It might be a cliché, but this place wasn’t as much about filling me up with knowledge as it was about teaching me how to think.  This is, in my opinion, the value of a real education, which has less to do with facts and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that all the time that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.” “This is water.”

So my commitment is to keep learning, to be aware and to not take anything for granted.  I am also committed to listen and consider others’ opinions, no matter how difficult it will be.  Finally I am committed to devote time and effort for public service. 

Maria Ben-Assa
This program for me was nothing like anything I experienced before; it was extremely intensive and also extremely nurturing.  I am usually a very realistic and down-to-earth person and suddenly I found myself in this unrealistic, overwhelming experience.  The gift that I received is the ability to feel, think, experience and act on high-voltage levels, deepening and enriching the magnitude of every moment.  It was the first time I lived in English, learned how to “skim, scan and mostly skip” 200 pages a week and slept less than three hours a night. 

It was a tough year as well, especially on the family front.  Just a few weeks ago, in the middle of the finals, I unexpectedly lost my father  — the best of my friends, who did not get to see me graduate.  And in the hardest moment of all this, I was surrounded by this group of people who came to help me with my papers, who helped me to prepare for exams and who were there with me for every moment of my broken shiva.

What I want to commit to for the future is to work very hard to hold us all together and not to get lost in our everyday separate lives, because when you find friends in the middle of your life, you never let them go.

Yogev Gradus, WIF Alum (Class 27), serves as the Head of the State Budget Team in the Budget Department of the Ministry of Finance.  Yogev’s team is responsible for constructing the macro-fiscal strategy of the government and for managing the state budget process.  In addition, Yogev is in charge of the Israeli Culture and Sports Budgets and is a member of the Board of Directors and the Head of the Finance Committee of the Port of Haifa Company.  Prior to his current position he served in a few of the ministry’s departments and was the Parliamentary Assistant to Knesset Member Roni Bar-On.  Yogev holds a Master of Business Administration and a BA in Economics and Accounting (summa cum laude) from Hebrew University.  Yogev lives with Bella, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and their year-old daughter Gal.  Together with his family he enjoys trekking and hiking outdoors, scuba diving and taking care of their dog and cat. Yogev can be reached at

Maria Ben-Assa, WIF Alum (Class 27), is a Major in the IDF Medical Corps and as the Head of Central Pharmacy Services combines various disciplines in her responsibilities, including pharmacy, quality assurance and health policy.  She supports policy and operational decisions, improves the efficacy of medical treatments throughout the IDF, implements large-scale projects such as strategic planning and initiates research projects on patient’s health-improvement.  She holds a BSc (Pharmacy) from Hebrew University and an MA in Health Administration from Ben-Gurion University.  As part of her leadership vision, Maria has been investing in training a new generation of military pharmacists and medical personnel, building their professional capacity, developing their managerial skills and caring for their self-development and excellence.  Maria is married to Eyal and they have two children, Yuval and Tamar. Maria can be reached at