Dr. Rania Ogby (a Bedouin beauty) and Avishay Braverman, Jewish history professor, past president of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and now a member of Israel’s Knesset were both honored at the September 17 American Associates Ben-Gurion “One Vision” gala. The event celebrated the 100th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s aliya to Israel, and the university’s 36th anniversary. During our pre-dinner chat, Ogby, Israel’s first Bedouin woman physician (who graduated from the university’s Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School with a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology), told me that when her father, an insurance agent, wanted a second wife: “My mother, a fashion designer, divorced [him] and left with [six] children.” A video with a jazzy soundtrack that included The Beatles’ “Help!” treated the crowd at The Pierre Hotel to a fast-paced overview of Braverman’s indefatigable style and persona, which, during his 15-year tenure as president, helped transform the university into a world-class institution. His vision created 30 new buildings, three campuses and 17,000 students. It left the university fiscally sound and made it the number-one choice of Israeli undergraduates, boasted Roy Zuckerman, gala and board of governors chairman. The dinner journal notes tout: The university’s mandate to develop the Negev and reach out to its underprivileged neighbors… nearly 40% of its student population [is] involved in community projects and it is the country’s only academic center for Bedouin studies and development.
“The secret of my success was timing and luck,” Braverman said. “The university was bankrupt, no one wanted the position and [I was looking] to change Israel.… So I took it on.” Braverman attributed BGU’s success to “idealists… not because of Israel… but the people abroad who stood by the university…. Then… [we] capitalized on the Russian immigrants. They [became] the backbone of the transformation of Ben-Gurion….The university, the desert is more important than any of us. We have a competitive edge…we have incredible young people… the future is in water conservation, alternative energies… solar energy, high tech, bio-and nanotechnology.”
Reflecting on his departure from academia for politics, Braverman paraphrased John Lennon: “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans.” He alluded to a Stanford University professor’s formula on “how to transform a mediocre company into a great company: Get the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus.” Braverman vowed to use that formula to (radically) change the government. It was an all-out attack on the Knesset’s “structure… 14 ministries… a graveyard full of people for whom there is no replacement… [the need to] expose corruption.” He fumed: “If you go to war — be prepared! It takes three to four months of preparation. “He proclaimed, “We are in the beginning of the transformation of Israel [and] must bring back trust and morality.… “We must be responsible to the people!…. Thank you for training me so I can do a good job.”
Dr. Rivka Carmi, who assumed the role of president this past May, vowed to continue the work begun by her predecessor. Most recently she was credited with offering the university’s housing and resources to families, refugees and students fleeing the bombardment in Northern Israel. The evening concluded with a performance by Yevgeny Shapovalov, who, according to the program, notes, is known as the Israeli Pavarotti.
“I have the misfortune of living next to the U.N.,” said Yossi Olmert, keynote speaker at the Jewish National Fund’s September 18 Tree of Life gala, held at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. “It’s not only the traffic, but the [recent presence] of the president of Iran who vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the map…. We take him seriously…. Not since Hitler, has a world leader threatened to destroy another nation…. Last year 1,400 Jews were killed as a result of terrorism — the equivalent of 40,000 in the U.S.,” informed Middle East scholar Olmert, a columnist for Yediot Aharonot, soccer commentator on Israel radio and brother of Ehud Olmert. “Ours is a culture of growth,” Olmert said turning the spotlight on JNF’s response to Hezbollah’s assault on the Galilee’s parks and forests — Israel’s jewels of the north and one of its major tourist attractions.
A JNF information summary noted: At the start of the war, JNF launched Operation Security Blanket, an emergency campaign that raised more than $5 million in less than five weeks. Nearly 10,000 children… in bomb shelters up north were sent to summer camps in central Israel away from rocket fire. Emergency firefighting equipment and fire trucks were purchased to help battle the fires caused by Katyusha rockets, as were shrapnel vests and helmets to enable volunteers to fight the fires. Two million trees and 20,000 acres of land — 20% of the forests in northern Israel — were burned, more than are normally lost to forest fires over five years…. The fires [also] degraded the soil quality, which
took 50 years to develop. In some areas, the soil was baked into a hard outer crust preventing the infiltration of rainwater… increasing soil erosion, floods and mudslides. There is also the destruction of the food chain, and of the habitat of forest-dwelling wildlife, nesting and roosting sites. Dens and lairs have been decimated, and while larger animals managed to escape the fires, most slow-moving animals reptiles and insects were killed.
Adding pizzazz to the evening were performances by 2005 JNF honoree TV/theatre actress Jana Robbins and the indefatigable song and shtick artist Jake Ehrenreich, producer, director and star of the long-running autobiographical “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” whose evocative laughathon follows his journey from a son of Holocaust survivors to an all-American entertainer in the Catskills. The evening’s JNF Tree of Life recipients included Rabbi Mark Golub, president/CEO of Russian Media Group, which distributes 10 television and radio channels to Russian Jews throughout the United States, and Stephen Greenwald, president of Metropolitan College of New York, whose assorted legal credits include a pro bono attorney in capital cases, for which he received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The evening’s goody bag was a single evergreen plant ready for potting.
Several of my potted seedlings from dinners past are now nearly 3 feet high.
At the Israel Cancer Research Fund’s September 13 Annual Scientific Awards evening at the Center for Jewish History, ICRF trustee Kenneth Goodman announced that $1.65 million in grants for cancer research will be awarded to 52 Israeli scientists for the 2006/2007 academic years. Since its 1975 inception, there have been 1,578 grants with a total value of $33.09 million. In 2004, two ICRF awardees — Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology — received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of ubiquitin. This led to the drug Velcade, used to treat multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.
But philanthropy is not limited to adult donors. Among the evening’s guests was 12-year old Sari Joshowitz from Pittsburgh; she raised more than $1,700 for ICRF by baking and selling 203 dozen cookies as her ICRF Junior Partner bat mitzvah project. In preparation for becoming a bat mitzvah, Shari said, “I learned that, according to the famous 12th-century scholar Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the highest level of charity is when a person helps somebody by entering into a partnership with him…. I decided that I wanted to do a charity project and dedicate it to the memory of my grandmother, Peppy Senders… who battled ovarian cancer and passed away two-and-a-half years ago…. I am so proud to be the junior partner in the effort to [help] cure cancer.”
Never at a loss for a verbal zinger, Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, who died September 13 at age 73 of esophageal cancer, was at her verbal best when she was honored at the May 4, 2004 Spirit of Achievement luncheon of the National Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, held at the Waldorf-Astoria. She got more than 15 minutes of fame with her oft-quoted reference to president George Bush at the 1988 Democratic convention: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” At the Albert Einstein luncheon she joshed about having enough titanium in her mouth to set off metal detectors, and of her battle with osteoporosis, she noted: “I take a new medication that builds my bone mass… I am counting on research to come up with a cure for [what] the next few years might bring…. Not long ago, women were not even included in clinical trials for new drugs and treatments at the National Institutes of Health.… Like a doctor friend of mine said, “Even the lab rats were white males.”