Exactly two weeks before he concludes his seven-year term of office, President Shimon Peres on Thursday presented Presidential Medals of Distinction to Ruth Dayan, Stef Wertheimer, Kamal Mansour, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and to the son of the late Prof. Reuven Feuerstein who accepted for his father.

Usually, Peres is the most senior person in the room, but Dayan, the first wife of defense minister Moshe Dayan, is more than six years older. She celebrated her 97th birthday on March 7, and remains active in social welfare projects. Peres will celebrate his 91st birthday on August 2.

Peres said the five honorees, representing different fields of endeavor, were chosen because they are superb role models for the younger generation. Each one had to struggle against odds – either by force of circumstance or because most people did not believe in what they were doing and tried to discourage them. But they persevered and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Dayan was honored for her humane values and her contributions to society. Always ready to help an underdog, regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation, she has tirelessly worked on projects that bring Arabs and Jews, particularly Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, together. In the past she set up the Maskit stores to encourage new immigrants to continue practicing traditional arts and crafts, which sold like hot cakes to tourists and enabled hundreds of families – many of them illiterate – to make a respectable living.

Wertheimer, 87, a former MK, is one of the country’s industrial pioneers. He started with a small tool cutting factory in the backyard of his home in Nahariya, and built the ISCAR hi-tech empire which includes industrial parks in the Galilee and the Negev where Jews and Arabs work side by side. Wertheimer built museums and cultural centers in these industrial parks that combine industry and art. He believes that Arabs who are gainfully employed without discrimination are less likely to resort to terrorism.

Mansour, born in 1931, served every president of Israel since Zalman Shazar appointed him half a century ago. A Druse from the village of Usfiya, Mansour has dedicated himself to closing the gap between the minority populations and mainstream Israel.

A gifted writer who has written books as well as speeches in different languages for prominent Israeli personalities, Peres said, “He speaks eight languages, but the most important language he speaks is the language of peace.”

Peres noted that Lau was a child Holocaust survivor who came out of the camps and became a great spiritual leader in Israel and instrument of Holocaust memory.

Lau, 77, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a former chief rabbi of Israel, has had an impact on all sectors of society through the power of his oratory.

Feuerstein created a revolution in cognitive psychology and education, teaching children with developmental problems how to overcome them to develop their full potential. He died on April 29.

His son Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, who is carrying on his work, accepted the medal in his name.

It is not known whether President-elect Reuven Rivlin will continue to present the award, which was a Peres initiative aimed at recognizing outstanding civilians in the same way as the army recognizes outstanding soldiers.

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