Hillary Clinton snapped up Israeli preschool plan for Arkansas, Bill recalls
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Hillary Clinton snapped up Israeli preschool plan for Arkansas, Bill recalls

In ‘first gentleman’ speech, ex-president says his ‘change-maker’ wife flew over Hebrew University prof. to kickstart initiative now in 23 states

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Hillary Clinton and Sara Netanyahu visiting the HIPPY program in Jerusalem, December 13, 1998.  (GPO)
Hillary Clinton and Sara Netanyahu visiting the HIPPY program in Jerusalem, December 13, 1998. (GPO)

Among wedding proposals, Halloween parties, parental loss and movie marathons, Israel played a small but touching role in Bill Clinton’s tour through the life and achievements of his wife Hillary during what he terms his “first gentleman” speech to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night.

“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” he began before launching into a 42-minute lilting story that spanned decades and states across America’s heartland, describing the newly crowned Democratic nominee as a “magnetic” young student, a “fine” mother, his best friend and the “best darn change-maker” Americans could hope for in a president.

Casting himself, the 42nd President of the United States, as a passenger in his wife’s life, Bill Clinton detailed numerous examples of initiatives started by Hillary, describing at one point how she changed the US education system by introducing an Israeli-created preschool program in their home state of Arkansas, which was eventually rolled out nationwide.

“Hillary told me about a preschool program developed in Israel called HIPPY, Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters. The idea was to teach low-income parents, even those that couldn’t read, to be their children’s first teachers,” he told the clapping and cheering crowd.

“She said she thought it would work in Arkansas. I said that’s great, what are we going to do about it? She said, oh, I already did it. I called the woman who started the program in Israel, she’ll be here in about 10 days and help us get started.”

File: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to supporters as her husband former president Bill Clinton, second from right, Chelsea Clinton, second from left, and her husband Marc Mezvinsky, join on stage Saturday, June 13, 2015, on Roosevelt Island in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to supporters in New York with her husband Bill Clinton, daughter and son-in-law, June 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The program, which still runs in Israel, was started by Hebrew University’s Dr. Avima Lombard in 1969 to help immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East prepare for life in their new country. It was introduced in the United States in 1980 with the help the National Council for Jewish Women’s Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

HIPPY, or Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, is designed to help low-income parents prepare their 3- to 5-year-old children to start school. Parents receive a weekly curriculum and are given books on a schedule — every week or every other week — including a new book that teaches them how to become their child’s first teacher.

From left, Linda Frank, chair of HIPPY USA's trustees, and home visitors Sonia Sorto and Idis Argueta displaying some of the books and matching curricula given free to families in the HIPPY program. (Suzanne Pollak/via JTA)
From left, Linda Frank, chair of HIPPY USA’s trustees, and home visitors Sonia Sorto and Idis Argueta displaying some of the books and matching curricula given free to families in the HIPPY program. (Suzanne Pollak/via JTA)

The program also sponsors monthly meetings for parents to get to know each other while learning. Some topics during recent meetings have included bullying, tax preparation and domestic violence prevention. The program is provided free to the families, with most of the funding coming from the federal government’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

“Now, 20 years of research has shown how well this program works to improve readiness for school and academic achievement,” Bill Clinton added. “There are a lot of young adults in America who have no idea Hillary had anything to do with it who are enjoying better lives because they were in that program.”

Today there are 140 HIPPY sites in 23 states across the US.

In 1999, on a state visit to Israel as first lady, Hillary visited the Israeli HIPPY program at Yad Rachel Community Center in Jerusalem.

JTA, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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