It’s safe to assume that running the Mossad is a pretty challenging job. So where do you go for a little stimulation once you’ve been there and done that? Back to school, says a former chief of the spy agency, Ephraim Halevy.
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At 79, Halevy has just finished a course at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Management on analyzing financial statements. It’s the second course he has completed at the special executive-education program there.
Asked what motivated him to go back to school, Halevy told Haaretz he needed a basic understanding of financial statements now that he’s a board director at public companies. “I have a responsibility and I want to carry out this responsibility with the necessary tools at my disposal,” he says.
Born in London, Halevy moved to Israel at age 14 and headed the Mossad between 1998 and 2002 – the culmination of a 28-year career at the agency. Known for his close relationship with King Hussein, Halevy played a key role in the 1994 peace deal with Jordan. In 2002 he headed the National Security Council.
Though he’s a board member, the former spymaster says he’s “not too good at math.” He even admits he didn’t complete all his assignments in the course.
“For me it was important to understand the basics, to be able to analyze the data in a way that serves my interests,” he says. "I didn’t think this was going to be a new career for me, especially at my age, so the question of how good I was in math and whether I could work with all the figures on the board – that was of lesser importance.”
So what’s it like going back to school at 79?
“It brings you in touch with day-to-day realities. The class was made up of people from all walks of life and ages. There were very young people who work in government institutions. There were people in business, in law, and people like me who wanted to get a handle on how things should be run,” Halevy says.
“I think that one way to keep up in life and keep your marbles is to exercise your brain and challenge your brain; not only new information but new methodologies. I very often feel that the more I learn the less I really know.”
In recent weeks Halevy has also experienced the classroom from the other side. He has a 10-year-old granddaughter who invited him to lecture her fourth-grade class as part of an enrichment program. The subject: Why is it necessary to spy?
“I have to admit that for me it was a very challenging task,” Halevy says. “As the day drew near I got very tense and concerned, more than I usually am when I speak in public – and I speak in public a lot. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to maintain a semblance of order in class – I’d be failing myself, and even worse, I’d be failing my granddaughter because it would embarrass her.”
But the former Mossad chief got the job done. ”The class was quiet and well-behaved; many of the kids asked questions and waited for their turn, and my granddaughter was absolutely elated by the results.”