A trailblazing medical researcher, a food bank chairman, an educator, a solar energy pioneer and the creator of the “Dry Bones” comic strip were among the first winners of a Nefesh B’Nefesh prize recognizing immigrants to Israel from English-speaking countries, presented at the Knesset on Thursday.
More than 200 immigrants from English-speaking countries — including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, the US and Canada — were nominated for the Bonei Zion (Builders of Zion) Prize, which was awarded in six categories as well as for lifetime achievement. All seven winners originally hail from the US.
The award, which includes a $10,000 prize to each recipient, aims to formally recognize outstanding “Anglo” olim, veteran and recent, who encapsulate the spirit of modern-day Zionism by contributing in a significant way toward the State of Israel.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who opened the ceremony and presented the prizes, hailed the Western immigrant contribution to Israel. Edelstein recalled how, soon after he made aliyah from the Soviet Union in 1987, he was pleased to overhear someone describing him as looking “so like an Israeli… There was nobody happier than me at that moment,” he said. But with time, he had come to internalize that he didn’t need to be “like an Israeli.” He was, rather, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who had moved to Israel and was now “as Israeli as any other” citizen of the country.
All immigrants and notably all of the prize winners, Edelstein said, “are as we are, as we immigrated, as we grew up, from all over the world. And each of us makes our contribution here to the State of Israel — as equal citizens. And that is precisely the State of Israel that I want to see, and that is precisely the State of Israel to which you are contributing.”
Lifetime award winner Professor Shimon Glick, who helped found Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Medicine and who spoke on behalf of all the winners, quoted Winston Churchill in declaring that there was “still so much more to do” in encouraging millions more immigrants to make their lives in Israel.
The ceremony was also attended by US-born Knesset member Dov Lipman, and entertained by Edan Tamler, a US-born 17-year-old immigrant and former “The Voice” contestant who sang Arik Einstein’s “Ani Ve’Ata” (You and I will change the world).”
The 2014 prize recipients were:
Community and Non-Profit: Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel
Education: Rabbanit Malke Bina, founder and chancellor of “Matan”
Entrepreneurship and Technology: Yosef Abramowitz, CEO and co-founder of Energiya Global Capital and co-founder of the Arava Power Company
Science and Medicine: Professor Jeffrey Hausdorff, Professor at Tel Aviv University and director of the Neurodynamics and Gait Research Laboratory at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center
Culture, Sports and Arts: Yaakov Kirschen, creator of the “Dry Bones” cartoon
IDF and National Service Young Leadership: Lt. Nira Lee, head of “Hasbara” at the headquarters of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)
Lifetime Achievement: Professor Shimon Glick, professor and dean emeritus of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University.
Joseph Gitler, who made aliyah in 2000, won in the Community and Non-Profit category for his work as founder and chairman of Leket Israel, a national food bank that provides food for more than 140,000 people weekly.
The founder and chancellor of the women’s learning center Matan, Malke Bina, received the award in the Education category. Bina, who was one of the first educators in Israel to teach Talmud and Jewish law to female students, made aliyah in 1971.
The recipient for Entrepreneurship and Technology was Yosef Abramowitz, the CEO and a co-founder of Energiya Global Capital as well as a co-founder of the Arava Power Company. Abramowitz, whom Nefesh B’Nefesh dubbed “Israel’s premier solar energy pioneer,” made aliyah in 2006.
Jeffery Hausdorff, the recipient in the Science and Medicine category, left a faculty appointment at Harvard Medical School in 2000 to make aliyah and is now a professor at Tel Aviv University and director of the Neurodynamics and Gait Research Laboratory at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. Hausdorff has contributed to research in neuroscience and aging in Israel and worldwide.
Yaakov Kirschen, creator of the popular “Dry Bones” comic strip, received the prize in the Culture, Sports and Arts category. Kirschen made aliyah in 1972.
Lt. Nira Lee, head of hasbara at the headquarters of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, received the prize in the IDF and National Service Young Leadership category. The Arizona native has served in the Israel Defense Forces for three years; she made aliyah in 2010. Lee received the President’s Citation of Excellence in 2013.
The Lifetime Achievement winner was Shimon Glick, a professor and dean emeritus of the health sciences faculty at Ben Gurion University. He made aliyah in 1974 to help found the university’s faculty of medicine.
“We hope that accentuating the achievements of Anglo olim will serve as a catalyst to inspire others to make aliyah as well as highlight the achievements of these olim who are helping to make a difference to our homeland,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the executive director and a co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, in a statement.
The panel of judges included retired Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff for the Israel Defense Forces; Dr. David Breakstone, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization; David Gerstein, a prominent painter and sculptor; Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director of The Destiny Foundation; Yehuda Avner, an author and a former diplomat and prime ministerial adviser; Barbara Goldstein, the deputy executive director of Hadassah in Israel, and Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz.