Portrait Project

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Assaf Harlap

Too overweight to ever be chosen for football practice, uninspired by school, dealing with a family divorce and spending several unforgettable days in a bomb shelter — sweating and shivering in my gas mask during the Gulf War — my childhood years were challenging at best. In fact, they almost caused me to stop believing in myself.

Many were my teachers. A tenacious and caring mother who motivated me through long nights memorizing Jewish history. A military officer who forced me to wash floors all weekend as punishment for a minor misconduct. Kashiwagi Sensei, my formidable and energetic Japanese teacher — the tallest 4'10 woman I have ever met. The lesson was consistent: They expected more from me, a lot more.

In 2004 I took these lessons and have doubled down my bets on education, the power of human potential and high expectations. I started MEET, a top-level education program for tomorrow's most promising Israeli and Palestinian high school students. The uncertain future of our region challenges these students to have high expectations from themselves. Their belief in themselves and others will determine the future our region. I constantly remind them of just that.

I will never be that doubtful boy again. I have come to learn that expectations are self-fulfilling. I will have high expectations. High expectations of my countrymen, my family, my peers, my wife and most importantly — high expectations of myself.

— Assaf Harlap