Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi presented BGU’s Lifetime
Achievement Award at a ceremony in Beersheba on Tuesday to South African Jewish
businessman and philanthropist Bertie Lubner.
The event, attended by a
few hundred people, was held outdoors on a balmy evening in the spectacular
setting of the Kreitman Plaza at the BGU Marcus Family Campus, in the framework
of the 43rd board of governors meeting.
Calling Lubner “a most remarkable
and beloved friend of Ben-Gurion University and indeed of humanity,” Carmi noted
that he had been a major figure in the university and its board of governors
“Brought up in a home where the values of caring and giving
were taught and treasured, Bertie has over the years supported our students and
encouraged them with projects and prizes to give to the less fortunate and to
take responsible roles in society,” Carmi said. “He is a role model par
excellence, dedicated and devoted to us as well as to the underprivileged
communities in South Africa, and most worthy of the honor bestowed upon him this
In accepting the award, the gracious and charming Lubner said
he had been inspired by three people: his late father, Morrie Lubner, a
prominent entrepreneur in Johannesburg; Israel’s first prime minister, David
Ben-Gurion; and former South African president Nelson Mandela.
them in their own way had to pursue a life of hard work and sacrifice for them
to succeed in their goals so that they, in turn, could add value to the lives of
many people around the world,” he said. “What a great privilege I’ve had to have
been associated with Nelson Mandela since his release [from jail] in
1990. Through his friendship, Ben- Gurion University was able to offer
him a doctorate, which he accepted with delight.”
Lubner was asked to
become the president of the South African Associates of BGU in 1975 by the
second president of BGU, Joseph Tekoa.
“Even though I didn’t know what I
was letting myself in for, I agreed, because you know, everyone wants to be a
president,” he quipped.
Lubner said that two factors had motivated his
involvement with the university.
“The first was meeting the quality of
people who made up the university in those days. They represented to me true
Zionists who were prepared to devote their lives to education at a desert
institute, whereas they could have secured wonderful posts
“The second and almost as important was when I was shown the
newly established faculties which were working on how to perform the
university’s mandate – not only survival, but succeeding in the
He praised BGU’s success in helping to realize Ben-Gurion’s
dream of making the desert bloom.
“Like everything in life, it needs a
vision like Ben-Gurion himself to create what became this miracle. This
university was created with very little, and its success is undoubtedly all
about the triumph of the human spirit. In fact, its triumph is a microcosm of
Israel and Zionism itself,” Lubner said. “How could I have imagined that 38
years later we would be enrolling nearly 20,000 students, who I can say have
become, quite beautifully, the water in the desert in their own way.”
also issued an appeal for Jews around the world to forge close relationships
with other communities in their home countries, and to speak out against
injustice and poverty.
“Unless we as a people around the world are united
with others who make up the fabric of any country, we can never win any war on
human rights, on identity, on overcoming poverty; unless we stop working in
silence. Let’s unite together!” Lubner, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by
BGU in 1987, has made philanthropy a key part of his life and inculcated the
importance of giving in his four children.
Both in South Africa and
Israel, he and his family have supported many worthy causes – especially
children and adults with special needs.
As a businessman, he was awarded
South Africa’s highest honor, The Order of Meritorious Special Service, for his
contribution to the country’s economy. As a philanthropist, he and the late
Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris founded Afrika Tikkun, which looks after 18,000
beneficiaries in six townships. He and his brother Ronnie founded The Field Band
Foundation, which supports 42 bands incorporating some 6,000 children. The
Lubner family also set up the Lubner Kibbutz for mentally challenged
He sponsors The Lubner Family Annual Prize for Excellence in
Innovation and Research Endowment Fund at BGU, and has also endowed the Lubner
Family Chair in Child Health and Development at Soroka University Medical
The Jerusalem Post included Lubner on its list of the 50 most
influential Jews in the world in 2011.
Among the six outstanding
individuals bestowed honorary doctorates from BGU at the ceremony emceed by the
IBA’s Leah Zinder on Tuesday night was – most notably – Cherie Blair (UK), who
dedicated her award to Bangladeshi women fighting for their right to
“This is a big moment for a girl from Liverpool,” Blair
beamed. “As the first in my family to go to university, I never thought I would
have a collection of honorary doctorates.”
Turning to the plight of
Bangladeshi women, she said: “Too many women don’t have access to the education
we take for granted. I dedicate this honorary degree to the women of Chittagong
who want to prove that education is their right.”
Blair, the wife of
Quartet envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair, is the chancellor of
a new Bangladeshi women’s university, The Asian University for Women, which will
graduate its first class later this month.
Honorary doctorates were also
• Prof. Patrick Aebischer (Switzerland), the president of Ecole
Polytechnique de Lausanne, professor of neurosciences and head of the
Neurodegenerative Disease Laboratory at the EPL;
• Prof. Joshua Blau (Israel),
the Max Schloessinger Professor emeritus of Arabic Language at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and one of the world’s top scholars on medieval
• Prof. Mario Capecchi (US), the 2007 Nobel laureate in physiology
and medicine, and distinguished professor of human genetics and biology at the
University of Utah, known for his pioneering work on the development of gene
targeting in mouse embryo-derived stem cells;
• Ruth Flinkman-Marandy (US), a
national vice president on the board of the American Associates who was elected
to BGU’s board of governors in May 2012 and is president of Flinkman Management,
Inc., a family-owned real estate management company in Santa Monica, California;
• Prof. Robert Langer (US), the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, a
biomedical engineer who has developed novel drug delivery systems including
time-delayed ones, and polymers that help prevent tumors from recruiting blood
vessels, among many other systems.