Russia-born actor Vladimir Friedman and Ukraine-born inventor Kira Radinsky, a young trailblazer in the field of predictive data mining, were honored Thursday for their contributions to Israeli society as immigrants to the country.
Two doctors born in France and Ethiopia and an Argentine-born taekwondo practitioner who is a world leader in making the sport available for special needs children were also awarded an annual prize for immigrants who have made an impact on the state since moving to Israel from abroad.
The awards were given out at a ceremony at the President’s Residence Thursday attended by President Isaac Herzog and Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.
“Israel would not be what it is today without immigration, not in numbers and not in quality,” Herzog said at the ceremony.
Friedman has been a mainstay of the Israeli theater scene since moving here in 1991. He has also acted in several award-winning films, including 2017’s “Golden Voice,” about a Russian couple who move to Israel as part of the influx from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Radinsky was honored for her work as head of Diagnostic Robotics, which uses big data and artificial intelligence to improve health care. The Kyiv native, who moved to Israel in 1990 at the age of 4 and received a doctorate from the Technion at age 26, has won accolades around the world for her pioneering research using algorithms to predict outcomes, being named to MIT’s 35 Young Innovators Under 35 list in 2013 and Forbes’s 30 under 30 in 2015.
Another honoree working to improve health care was Dr. Irene-Rina Fremont, a leader in the field of pharmacological safety. Fremont moved to Israel from France in 2013, setting up an Israeli chapter of the International Society of Pharmacovigilance. She is also a co-founder of Eranim, the Israeli Society for Medication and Vaccine Safety.
Dr. Sefefe Aitchek, who moved to Israel from Ethiopia in 1987, was recognized for his work in preventative health in the Amharic-speaking community. Among other activities, Aitchek helped found Tene Briut, which has pioneered health care outreach for Ethiopian immigrants and their families.
Taekwondoin Leonardo Oros Duek, who moved to Israel from Argentina in 2002, received the award in recognition of his work advancing the sport in Israel and helping push Israeli taekwondo onto the international stage. He has authored a book on making taekwondo accessible to special needs persons and is president of the All-Europe Taekwon-Do Federation and the Israeli Taekwon-Do Association.
The awards were handed out days after prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal that will hand MK Avi Maoz, of the far-right homophobic Noam party, control of Nativ, a government program that is responsible for facilitating immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Maoz has come out strongly against the Law of Return, which offers automatic citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, provided that they don’t practice another religion, and some fear he may use the Nativ position to make the process of proving eligibility for citizenship far more cumbersome than it already is, imposing a higher barrier to entry that would keep some applicants out when there is ambiguity or uncertainty.
The new government being put together by Netanyahu is set to replace Tamano-Shata with an immigration minister from the Religious Zionism party, which is allied with Maoz, according to a deal announced Thursday evening. Reports have indicated that the post will go to MK Ofer Sofer.
In comments to the ceremony, Tamano-Shata paid homage to the variegated societal rainbow created by immigrants.
“The winners … made Israel into something much more beautiful and varied, and for that we recognize you, together with all the new and veteran immigrants,” she said.
The award is separate from the $10,000 Bonei Zion Prize awarded annually by Nefesh B’Nefesh to immigrants from English-speaking countries who have made a major impact on Israel.