Alberto Moscona: The man behind the EMET prize

A father figure – a modest, but generous philanthropist and a lover of Israel – Arie Dubson reminisces about EMET prize co-founder, the late Alberto Moscona.

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May 14, 2017 14:53
4 minute read.
Alberto Moscona

Alberto Moscona. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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When Alberto Moscona, an immigrant from Mexico, made aliya in 1949, his stay in Israel barely lasted a year. His love of Israel, though, remained eternal.

“Alberto Moscona was an example of the old guard,” Arie Dubson, Chairman of the A.M.N. Foundation, says with a smile as he talks about his friend, colleague and mentor.

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“He was born before Israel was born; a Jew without a state.”

Although he loved Israel from afar – specifically from his hometown of Mexico City – Moscona never ceased contributing to the Jewish state. In addition to the $1 million EMET prize that has been awarded annually since 2002, the optometrist donated millions of dollars to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Haifa and Tel Aviv Universities, and the Medical Centers Assaf Harofeh and Rambam for many years.

Currently, the prize money sits in a trust that – at a minimum – generates the $1 million prize that is divided among five categories: exact sciences, life sciences, social sciences, humanities, Judaism and art.

Any extra money in any given year is given to scientific institutions in Israel.

For decades, Moscona made these donations in secret.

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“Alberto never wanted people to know he was a donor. Every project he ever contributed to in Israel, was done anonymously,” Dubson explains.

Accordingly, Dubson’s attempts to name the prize the “Alberto Moscona Prize,” were rebuked and instead it was given the acronym A.M.N. Foundation (Alberto Moscana Nissim), so Moscona’s identity would still be able to remain somewhat anonymous.

Growing up, Moscona was transfixed by the Nobel Prize and always wondered why more Israelis were not let into that exclusive club.

Dubson is not sure where his affinity for the Nobel Prize stemmed from, but speculates that his lack of a formal education may have fueled his desire to award excellence for those who pour themselves into their studies.

“Unlike other prestigious prizes in Israel, this prize is exclusively for Israelis,” Dubson notes.

Although the EMET prize is now celebrating its 15th year, the path to creating the prize wasn’t a smooth one. In search for a government seal of approval, the idea for the prize was initially rejected by the president, who was Ezer Weizman at the time. When Dubson and Moscana approached Benjamin Netanyahu during his first stint as prime minister, he approved of the idea.

When the government changed hands and Ehud Barak became prime minister, the process slowed to a near halt after Barak signed the agreement, but, eventually, after much hand-wringing and ultimatums, the first prize was awarded by Ariel Sharon.

For Dubson, overseeing the EMET prize is one of the two hats he wears. As founder of Voyage Capital Partners – a hedge fund management company – Dubson’s work at the EMET prize is his way of giving back to Israel.

“I always felt it was not enough to live in Israel – I wanted to contribute beyond paying taxes. When [Alberto] said he had the idea of the prize, I saw it as a way to do that,” Dubson, who made aliya from Mexico when he was 24, says.

“This was my way of giving back. It rewards excellence. The EMET Prize is the Zionist element of my life and Voyage Capital feeds me and pays the EMET prize bills,” he smiles.

For Dubson, Moscona represents something unique about immigrants from his generation: the unwavering desire to perpetually give to the State of Israel.

“Alberto’s generation – the ones who didn’t come to Israel, became big donors. In Israel, we didn’t live up to being so generous. There isn’t a big culture of giving here,” he laments, saying that most Israelis donate, but not in the same league as Jews in the Diaspora.

“Jews in the Diaspora need to feel a link. Israelis here, we go to the army, we [already] give a lot to Israel,” he explains.

At times, Dubson is asked why the prize rewards those who are already very successful.

Dubson is quick to note the subject of nominations is out of his hands – the eight-person committee is presented with nominations and does not come up with the names themselves. Further, he notes that the prize is intended to reward someone at the pinnacle of his or her career.

Why is rewarding excellence so important to the Jewish people, especially those in the diaspora? Dubson brushes off notions of tikun olam – healing the world.

Instead, he believes recognizing and paying tribute to extraordinary work is an internal drive prevalent among the Jewish people.

“I don’t believe in tikun olam. We have a tradition of studying and excellence; we needed it to survive.

This is an internal drive for us,” he asserts.

Whether the needs are external or internal, EMET has spent the past 15 years awarding the best of the best in Israel and hopes to do so for years to come.

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