Helena Meyer’s journey epitomises the power of tenacity and education to make revolutionary change happen in one generation. To say that Helena’s childhood was tough would be an understatement. She was born into a large ultra-orthodox family with 11 brothers and sisters in a northern Israel industrial town. When she was 12 years old, her mother became ill and died, leaving her father to bring up the family on his salary as a factory worker.
From the age of 14 she went out to work to help her family. She did babysitting, waitressing, and even worked in a toy shop, in order to pay for the school trips and other expenses that her father could not cover.
At an early age, Helena realized that the key to escaping poverty was higher education, but her religious high school was not equipping her with the necessary tools to qualify for university. Against the wishes of her father and siblings, she set out on a course towards higher education. She first signed up for a year of national service, which in Israel is a pre-requisite for university entrance, and she enrolled in a “Mechina” preparatory course to study the subjects that were not taught at her school.
Helena’s national service took her to a hospital where she became interested in biological sciences. She also met nurses and doctors who encouraged her to strive towards her goals. She signed up to study advanced math, biology, chemistry, and English. Seeing how determined she was, Helena received extra help and encouragement from her teachers.
During this time she was living by herself in Jerusalem and working two jobs (and four jobs during vacations) to support herself. It took her six attempts to pass the university entrance examination, but she refused to give up on her dream!
Now in her second year studying biology, Helena is grateful for the support that she receives from the Moshal Scholarship Program. “I knew that securing a scholarship was crucial for someone in my position, but I had no idea how important it would be to have the support and encouragement of the Moshal family. After three years living on my own and feeling isolated in my struggle, I finally feel that I am fulfilling my dream.”
Helena is already thinking ahead beyond her first degree and planning to study neurobiology and go into research. “I used to dream about becoming a doctor, but today I see that in the world of scientific research you can make an even bigger contribution to society, helping thousands of people. Research is also more dynamic and exciting, particularly for someone like me who gets bored easily!”
Looking back at how far she has come, Helena reflects that she has built herself the life that she wanted. Through her determination and courage, she has broken free of the restrictions and limited options of her childhood and proved, in the words of Israel’s founding fathers, that “If you will it, it is no dream”.