TECHNOLOGY AND science are high on the agenda of President Shimon Peres, who aims to make Jerusalem the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Peres is also highly conscious of the fact that technology and science will be significant factors in the realization of his Peace Valley dream of a joint initiative on the banks of the Jordan River between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Peres has used every opportunity at home and abroad to advocate the potential of water, agricultural, tourism and industry projects that could develop in the Peace Valley. He did so at the beginning of this year when he was in Davos, where he discussed the Peace Valley with bankers, economists and people in hi-tech, among them representatives of Citibank and Google. Last week, he met with Google Vice President Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer, who acquainted him with the perks that Google gives to its employees. For Peres, who for years has been directly or indirectly involved in trying to solve the conflicts between the Histadrut and the Treasury, with the former demanding better rights and conditions for workers, the idea of a company going out of its way to create a generously fun-filled environment for its employees is a revolutionary concept. Then again, if one looks at Google's success record, it becomes perfectly obvious that reward fosters motivation. No one wants to leave a place in which they enjoy working, but all the Google people know that in order to stay on board they have to prove their worth. Mayer heads the product management efforts on Google's search products - Web search, images, groups, news, Froogle, the Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Labs and more. She joined the company in 1999 as its first female engineer and led the user interface and webserver teams at that time. She has been involved in designing and developing Google's search interface, internationalizing the site to more than 100 languages, defining Google News, Gmail, and Orkut, and launching more than 100 features and products on Google.com. Several patents have been filed on her work in artificial intelligence and interface design. In her spare time, Mayer also organizes Google Movies - outings a few times a year to see the latest blockbusters - for 6,000-plus people (employees plus family members and friends). Concurrent with her full-time work at Google, Mayer has taught introductory computer programming classes at Stanford University to more than 3,000 students. Stanford has recognized her with the Centennial Teaching Award and the Forsythe Award for her outstanding contribution to undergraduate education. Prior to joining Google, she worked at the UBS research lab (Ubilab) in Zurich, Switzerland and at SRI International in Menlo Park, California.
ONE OF Israel's most affluent citizens, Sammy Ofer ranks 226 on the Forbes List of the world's richest people. That's a slight drop for him. In 2006, he ranked 224. That doesn't necessarily mean that he has less money than he had before. What it may mean is that two people, who previously had less money than he did, made enough to leapfrog past him on the list. An international tycoon, whose business interests include shipping, real estate, tourism, banking, chemicals, semiconductors, oil refineries - and then some Ofer is also a generous philanthropist who has given huge sums of money to a large number and variety of projects in Israel, in education, health and the arts. Last year, he established an $8 million fund to purchase life-saving drugs not included in the health basket, for people who needed them but could not afford them. He funded the school of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and before that the Observation Gallery in the 30-story Eshkol Tower on the campus of the University of Haifa. A $20m. donation that he had pledged to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, was withdrawn after other previous donors objected to the museum being renamed for Ofer and his wife Aviva. The widely publicized conflict created so much controversy, that Ofer, who is believed to have one of the largest and most valuable private art collections in Israel, decided to donate the money elsewhere. His most recent gifts, announced over the weekend in Yediot Aharonot, are multi-million dollar donations to three hospitals: Ichilov in Tel Aviv, Rambam in Haifa and Soroka in Beersheba. Ichilov will be the main beneficiary, and will receive $40m. towards the construction of a new wing dedicated to heart and blood diseases. The new wing will include an underground unit to be used in emergency situations if and when Tel Aviv is under attack and patients need to be moved to safer premises. During non-emergency situations, the underground unit will serve as a learning facility for doctors and nurses. Rambam built a temporary underground unit last year during the Second Lebanon War because some of the rockets that landed in Haifa fell dangerously close to the hospital. The underground unit, which is still in service, will receive $25m. from Ofer, enabling expansion of the whole underground department, which will include 500 beds. Soroka will receive $7m. towards new emergency facilities and open heart surgery. The total value of the tri-hospital gift is $72m. - and there's a lot more left for Ofer to invest, to buy more paintings and to give to other causes.
THE HEAD of the investigations division at the Israel Securities Authority Atalia Arad, has notified ISA chairman Moshe Tery of her intention to step down. Arad, 52, joined the ISA three years ago after a 25-year career with the Israel Police Force, where she started out as a Tel Aviv District psychologist and worked her way up through the ranks to become a highly respected investigator in the National Fraud Squad. Specializing in white collar crimes, Arad handled the case involving Israel's seventh president, the late Ezer Weizman, who was forced to resign in the middle of his second term. She also investigated allegations against cabinet ministers, members of Knesset and heads of local councils. She will be replaced by attorney Nir Bar-On, 40, who has been her deputy for the past three years and who is also an excellent investigator. Bar-On's appointment becomes effective January . Tery accepted Arad's resignation with regret, saying she was a top professional who through her thoroughness, her efficiency, her effectiveness and her achievements, had brought the ISA's investigations division to new heights.
THE VETERAN accounting firm Donski, Yakar, Knobl, & Partners, established in 1971 by Herzl Donski, has taken on Alon Friedlander as a new partner. Friedlander will focus on developing the division that will comply with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) that transcend national borders and improve the quality of financial reporting to meet the needs of international investors. The firm has 26 employees engaged in various areas of specialization, with combined expertise in high-tech, public companies, capital markets, government bodies, foreign investment, etc.
THE ASHDOD Port Company has announced the appointment of Yaacov Tzemach as captain of the Port of Ashdod. Tzemach, 53, spent five years as a captain and executive officer with the ZIM shipping company. In his new position, he will be responsible for the efficient running of the port including maintaining contact with all the ships that are anchored in Ashdod .
GAON INVESTMENTS has announced the appointment of Gadi Greenstein, 40, as general manager replacing Shay Barak. Greenstein has extensive experience in Israel's capital markets having worked inter alia with Clal Pension, Bank Yahav and Bank Discount. Gaon Investments is interested in expanding its financial services and activities and believes that Greenstein is the person who can lead the company along this path.
GETTER-TECH has appointed Reuven Hefer as sales manager for Konica-Minolta products. His main task will be to increase Konica-Minolta's market share in the Israeli business sector, especially with regard to solutions and printing. Before joining Getter-Tech, Hefer was a sales manager for Xerox Israel.
WORK TENSIONS take their toll on people's health. Approximately eight years ago, Yoram Ben Porat, the CEO of Mishkenot Clal and the Mediterranean Towers, weighed 112 kilos suffered from back pains and shortness of breath. His health was a disaster and he was advised that unless he took up some form of sport, his days might well be numbered. Now, at age 48, Ben Porat is an Iron Man enthusiast who enters local and overseas competitions. Most recently, the lean and muscular Ben Porat participated in the Iron Man contest in Austria, after swimming for four kilometers, riding a bike for 180 kilometers and running a 41 kilometer marathon, he romped into 226th place from among 4,000 contestants. Not bad for a man of his age, and certainly a triumph for a man who used to weigh in at 112 kilos. Given his new energy, strength, trim figure and zest for life, Ben Porat, a resident of Caesarea, wanted to share his good fortune with his buddies and the residents of the projects that he heads so they, too, could feel good about themselves. It started in a small way, with just a few people, but gradually gained in popularity with small groups forming to engage in bicycling, swimming against the stream, water exercises, power walking, along the sea shore, Yoga, Tai Chi, belly dancing, venting anger on African drums, ping pong, et al. The groups got bigger, and Ben Porat prides himself on the fact that he has added to the quality of life of a number of senior citizens who now feel younger and fitter and who compete successfully in a variety of athletic competitions.
THE RECENTLY established Azrieli Fellows Program that seeks to promote and encourage academic excellence and leadership among Israeli and international students who undertake advanced studies in Israeli universities, has announced the first 11 recipients of advanced studies' grants. The Program, funded by the Azrieli Foundation, created by architect and real estate developer David Azrieli, seeks to promote PhD students of Interdisciplinary and Applied Sciences at Israeli universities, with preference for research in nano-sciences and nano-technology, bioengineering, genetics and genetic engineering, as well as other complex research fields. The Program also supports graduate students in the fields of Education, Architecture and Urban Planning. Based in Canada, the Azrieli Foundation earmarks more than 50% of its assets to activities in Israel, and through the Azrieli Fellows Program, the Azrieli family will inject $1m. into higher education in Israel on an annual basis. According to Naomi Azrieli PhD, executive director of the program, |"It aspires to create a cadre of leading professionals and academics with an end to enriching Israel's academic and technological human resources so as to elevate Israel's global positioning and foster strong ties between Israel and other countries." In its initial phase, the program will focus on students from Israel, however, at a later stage the program will be open to Canadian and international students who wishes to study in Israel.
CISCO HAS initiated the establishment what is believed to be the first youth technology club in the Mediterranean basin in partnership with the Peres Center for Peace and ICTDAR - Information and Communication Technology for Development in the Arab Region - with the aim of creating a spirit of tolerance and understanding, bridging the digital divide and providing access to information. (ICTDAR is a part of UNDP -United Nations Development Program).
The program, which was launched in Marakesh is geared primarily for socio-economically deprived youth aged 15-18 from the Palestinian Authority, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Portugal, Turkey and Cyprus. Guest of honor at the launching ceremony was Andre Azoulay - an adviser to Mohammad VI, the King of Morocco. The next training session is scheduled to take place in Egypt in October. The first cycle of the program including establishing an advanced virtual infrastructure involves an estimated investment of $1.5m. The students' recruitment to the program will begin in November, while the studies will begin in December 2007 in all countries. Subsequent sessions are expected to open in September of each year, together with the start of the school year.
This new project is based on the Net@ program, successfully established by Cisco four years ago in Israel, with 23 branches now operating around the country.