During a ceremony in the Knesset on Thursday, Nefesh B’Nefesh presented seven “outstanding olim” with the aliyah organization’s Bonei Zion (Builders of Zion) Award.
The $10,000 award recognizes English speaking immigrants who have made a substantial contribution to Israeli society.
Knesset Speaker Edelstein, who opened the ceremony, said: ”Oftentimes new olim feel as though they arrived here when everything has already been built and their contribution to the State (is limited to the fact that) they are `new olim`. The `Bonei Zion` award proves that this is not so. The new immigrants not only fill the role of `new olim,` their contribution to society is a contribution which is invaluable.”
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.”
The Knesset speaker added that that no oleh should feel “less Israeli” than Jews who were born here. ”Without new immigrants we would have no state,” he told the attendees.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the executive director and a co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said during the ceremony that he was motivated to create the award in order to showcase to Diaspora Jewry the success that immigrants can achieve in Israel as well as to show the Israeli public the outsized influence that he believes the English-speaking community has attained. ”The ripple effect of the Anglo [native English speaking] community here in Israel is undeniably extraordinary,” he said.
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 Prize, which was awarded in six categories as well as for lifetime achievement.
The seven winners originally hail from the US:
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.
The panel of judges included retired Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief of staff; 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; Ambassador Yehuda Avner; former MK Collete Avital; Barbara Goldstein, the deputy executive director of Hadassah in Israel; Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz; Vera Golovensky, senior advisor to the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; Dr. Daniel Gordis, senior vice president – The Shalem Center; Professor Yonatan Halevy, director general of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Professor Chaim Waxman, research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace; Michael Eisenberg, partner at Aleph, an early stage capital fund; Rabbi Paul Freedman, USCJ Director Israel Strategic Partnerships; Gabriela Shalev, former Ambassador to the UN and current president of the Higher Academic Council at Ono Academic College; and Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund.