Gideon Sheffer- Chairman of the Board

An Interview with Gideon Sheffer

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born into a religious family in Poland in 1948 – with the State of Israel. My family fled to Siberia right before the Germans entered our village. The Russians took my grandfather to fight during the war. He is one of the millions who went missing during the war. After the war, my family returned to Poland – to a new place, where my mother met my father who had been a partisan in the forest, they got married, and I was born.

My father passed away two weeks after I was born. My grandmother and my mother brought me to Israel in 1950. We arrived at the Atlit detention camp, and after about six months we moved to the Tirat HaCarmel transit camp. My mother was a seamstress and worked in Haifa, and my grandmother raised me. My mother remarried, and in 1955 we moved to housing in Kiryat Haim.

I was not an outstanding student and played a lot of football. We moved to Kiryat Eliezer when I was in 10th grade – there, I met my future wife Shosh. At school, as mentioned, I was not interested in studying, but instead preferred going to the beach. In the 11th grade, they wrote on my report card, “The above will continue, but not in our school.”

There is a slogan in the north: “For every failure – the ‘technical’ is the solution.” I went to study at the Air Force Technical School, where I graduated as an Electronics Technician. I enlisted as a communications technician at Ramat David Air Force Base. One day, one of the commanders asked me if I wanted to take part in a pilot’s course, and I answered “yes”. I was a ‘an experiment’ because I did not meet the criteria for admission into the course. However, the experiment turned out to be a success. In my third solo flight on the Fouga jet, I forgot to lower the wheels on landing. I was sure that would be the end of the course for me, but I was given a second chance. In November 1968, at the end of the pilot’s course, I joined the ‘War of Attrition’. During the Yom Kippur War, I was a young leader in the Phantom Squadron. We lost planes and friends during the war; a war known to have left huge devastation.


During your years as a pilot, you went through an extraordinary experience, tell us about it.


Two weeks after the end of the war, during the ceasefire, as part of a high-altitude photo shoot, at a height of about 20 km, we flew over Egypt. The Egyptians ambushed us with surface-to-air missiles and fired 11 missiles at my jet. It was impossible to escape the missiles. The third missile hit us directly and the plane filled with shrapnel. After the fifth missile hit us, my pressure suit inflated – a sign of damage to the aircraft canopy. I asked my navigator if his suit had inflated as well, but there was no answer. At that point, I had to make the decision whether or not to eject from the jet. I would like to point out that there was never an ejection from a jet at such a high altitude (17 km from the ground) and twice the speed of sound. I told my navigator, Ofer Sidon to jump, but there was no response.  I was happy to still be alive.

At this point, I’m 17 km from the ground, my seat rolled in the air. From this height you could see all the way from the Nile triangle to Alexandria, the Sinai coast, towards Gaza and Ashdod, Tel Aviv. The sky was purple – I will never forget this image.

In those moments that seem like an eternity, when you wait for your parachute to open, I thought about family, my wife, everything I had ever done and everything else I planned to do. After about 10 minutes the parachute opened and I had another fifteen minutes of parachuting. I knew I would land on Egyptian soil and fall captive. This whole time, I did not see my navigator. Everything was very quiet and as I got closer to the ground, I heard shots and shouts in Arabic, “Israeli pilot is coming” – I understood those were the Egyptians.

Over the next two weeks I ‘spent’ my time in complete isolation in an Egyptian prison hospital. I knew that relative to my friends who had been captured by the Syrians – my conditions were pretty good. The doctor who would come to treat me did not exactly treat my main injuries, which were a crushed nose and jaw and a dislocated shoulder. In captivity, my goal was to convey a message to the country.

We – the navigator and the pilot – had a cover story in case we were captured. Based on the questions I was asked, I realized that there were two possibilities: either the navigator was silent or he was dead. Meanwhile, in Israel, the Egyptians announced that two pilots had been captured, one dead and one wounded.

Of course, our families at home did not know who was alive and who was dead. After about a week, the Tel Nof base commander, Ran Packer, visited Shosh and told her that I was the wounded prisoner. While in captivity, I knew I would return home soon because they had started treating my wounds. I knew Israel would bring me home. Among those captured who were returned the same day I was, I was the only one who in a hospital gown. When we landed, Moshe Dayan came onto the airplane and told me, “An Israeli pilot does not get off the plane in his pajamas.” I waited on the airplane an additional half an hour after everyone else disembarked, until they brought my uniform so I could disembark.

The rehabilitation process took about a year, and an additional year passed before I returned to fly. The Air Force chief doctor claimed that a pilot with a paralyzed shoulder could not continue to fly. We went all the way up to the Air Force commander Benny Peled, who made a command decision and allowed me to fly again.

Initially, I flew helicopters, and later went back to flying fighter jets. I returned to the 119th Squadron in Tel Nof. I was the deputy commander of Tel Nof. I became a farmer after I was discharged. The Air Force commander asked me to reenlist: “I need you as a squadron commander.” After a week of deliberation, I agreed. I served as a squadron commander for two combat squadrons and for the Operations Department, commander of the Hatzor base, head of the air squad, head of the Air Force headquarters, head of the ACA. I was discharged in 1998 and served 20 years in the reserve as Air Force Pit Commander. I am the most decorated pilot in the Air Force during 52 years of service, while simultaneously voluntarily managing five or six charities, specifically in the field of education. I served as president of the Israel Trauma Coalition, which provides direct trauma care and counseling in Resilience Centers for 9th grade youths who have been unsuccessful in their studies, until they succeed in their matriculation exams and enlist in the IDF with a 95% success rate. A great mitzvah, and activities include amazing educational approaches. Anything is possible! To take disadvantaged children and to encourage them into achieving amazing results. For 20 years, I was a member of the Achva Academic College General Assembly, and for the past five years I served as the Chairman of the Assembly. At the same time, I worked as VP of Strategy and Development of Israel’s Business at Elbit Systems. Elbit increased in value from $300 million to $5 billion.

In addition, in 2018 I formed a political party together with Adina Bar Shalom and Michael Bitton. The intention was to offer something different. Shortly before the first election, we withdrew due to our low chances of success.


And beyond that? In your personal life?

Shosh and I have four children and nine grandchildren. Most live in Moshav Bitzaron, one daughter lives in Mazkeret Batya. My day begins by taking my grandchildren to kindergarten and school, and along the way I teach them about nature and the world. I love the ocean, so I do sup surfing in the morning, and then go back to my business.

The college is a destination in itself. Doing the right thing. We have a diverse student population at the college, where education will advance and carry them to new places. The investment is great, the possibilities are great, and the contribution to the State of Israel and its citizens is enormous.


I aspire to continue to be involved in charity. I’m sure joining the college will lead to great results.


You have so much mileage in the world of education, both as an educator and your involvement in educational charities. Can you tell us about your worldview or some key perceptions about the role of academia within the overall picture?

The world of education is divided into three:

  1. Early childhood – in which we, unfortunately, are quite ‘behind’. It is currently the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, and not under the responsibility of an educational body – this is an adjustment that must be made. It is important for the development of character, and for the ability to realize it is in the best interest for the future of a young child.
  2. Primary and high school – our educational system is overwhelmed, and the results are not acceptable. There are many reforms that have been made, and charities that are trying to assist. Among other things, this includes identifying youths with failing grades, from low social-economic backgrounds. In Beit Jann, for example, they adopted this approach, and have been leading for five years in the percentage of those eligible for matriculation. How do you do that? You tell each and every one that they can, and it’s true.
  3. The most important is the academic chapter, which significantly advances the population. A home that has at least one family member who has studied in academia will be a home that raises children who move ahead. The role of academia in to enable people to progress. The establishment of colleges helped tremendously in advancing the entire population. Today, we understand the importance of their establishment and development.

Our competition is great. We are required to be the best in all areas: to offer the best and most interesting courses, the best lecturers, and to make sure that students who come to our campus enjoy their studies, and also to want to stay and contribute to the development of the area. There is a need for talented graduates in various fields especially in the periphery. We must therefore address the issue of creating decent jobs. The college does this through the Center for Excellence, the Kinneret Innovation Center, Outstanding Youth Program, and more, and with great success.


In a utopian world, in your opinion, what would the connection between the world of employment and academia look like? Should academia be focused on scholarship and research, or more focused towards the needs of industry in Israel?


We are about to begin working on the five-year plan, and we are busy developing the strategy. The questions we want to answer are: What do students want to learn, and why? After all, if there is no adequate match between academia and the job market – students will go study in colleges where there is a match. Students are interested in learning a profession that will advance them on a personal level, and also want to know that they can practice their profession. In the humanities: We are encountering challenges, like other institutions, securing employment for graduates of the program. However, in engineering, the State of Israel needs many engineers.


How do you picture the Board of Directors operating and how do you see yourself leading it?

When there is an organization that works and functions well, the board should be ‘part-time’, and should handle matters at the strategic level and not the day-to-day management. The college is functioning exceptionally. It’s very successful despite its challenging location. There are capable professionals who run the college. We are currently working on the five-year plan – this is currently the central goal of the Board of Directors as well.


If we were to interview you again in about two or three years, what would be the goals that would lead you to say you are satisfied?

Maintaining the academic quality of the college, student numbers – Student numbers are important for the college’s ability to continue to operate effectively and to be innovative, and to be able to recruit senior faculty members. Overall, I would be satisfied if the college continued to grow and develop academically including in research and development. That in itself would bring people to study and teach here.


Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend? What songs do you like to listen to?

I love to read books, ‘Me Before You’ by JoJo Moyes, ‘Peacocks on the Roof’ – a story about residents of the Gaza Envelope. Reading broadens horizons, helps you to discover hidden emotions. I like to listen to the songs of the good old Land of Israel. I am less connected to contemporary music. My favorite song is “The Brotherhood” (Shir HaRe’ut).


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