On Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, the eve of Hannukah, the inauguration ceremony of the Victor Hai Guèze Recuperation Compound for the Empowerment of Children was held in Nitzana. The compound, which contains three brand-new well-equipped buildings (out of a planned future total of eight), was built with the help of a donation from Victor Hai Guèze, a ninety-year-old native of Tunisia who emigrated to France. A Friend of KKL-JNF France, Victor Guèze lost his daughter Aline to serious illness when she was still young, and when he heard of the project from the late Mr. Lova Eliav, he immediately became involved and provided extensive financial help to turn the vision into reality.
The center, which was built at a cost of 12 million NIS, is the first of its kind in Israel: it helps to teach children recovering from serious or chronic illness how to lead healthier lives, and also educates overweight youngsters. The unique desert conditions will be used to improve the children’s self-confidence and help them to acquire habits that will give them a healthier lifestyle.
The new center is also known as Empowerment House, as it is designed to place special emphasis on empowering the children and strengthening their self-confidence by introducing them to the animals and plants that populate the Negev’s desert environment.
Empowerment House will run week-long courses that will provide the children with the tools they need to lead a normal life despite illness – such as proper diet and physical exercise. The teaching staff will include the finest professionals in the field, including a medical team, dieticians and physical training instructors. The curriculum was developed by the people at Nitzana Educational Youth Village, in conjunction with Hadassah Optimal and Soroka Hospital.
The new compound includes buildings that have been specially adapted to meet the children’s needs. These include a hostel with disabled-accessible facilities, classrooms, a computer center, creativity workshops, an exercise room, yoga, etc. The children will also have access to Nitzana’s own facilities, which include a gym, a solar park, a solar pool, a physiology lab and a recycling study center.
The inauguration ceremony was planned as a tribute to Victor Guèze’s contribution and activities. Shortly before it could take place, however, the organizers learned that Mr. Guèze was unwell and had been taken to hospital, and so would be unable to attend the event to be held in his honor. After consultation with family and friends who were present, it was decided that a shortened form of the ceremony should be held nonetheless, and that the subsequent program would proceed as planned.
Among those present at the ceremony were Victor Guèze’s family and friends, including his colleague and close friend Mr. Trabulsi, who had come over from France that morning especially for the occasion; Yitzhak Mufsik, KKL-JNF’s Advisor on Funds and Estates, who performed the duties of Master of Ceremonies; David Lazarus, KKL-JNF’s Treasurer; Etti Lankri, of KKL-JNF’s French Desk; Asher Grinbaum, Deputy CEO of Israel Chemicals, who hosted those present; Rany Trainin, head of Yoav Regional Council and Deputy Chair of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors; Shmuel Rifman, head of Ramat Negev Regional Council; Eyal Eliav, son of Lova Eliav of blessed memory. Dr. Skolnik, CEO of Netanya’s Laniado Hospital was also present.
During the ceremony great appreciation was expressed for Victor Guèze’s many activities, and best wishes were sent to him for improved health and a speedy recovery. Yitzhak Mufsik explained that the idea for the recuperation center was the result of collaboration with the Soroka Medical Center for the treatment of children with cancer. The donors wanted to establish the center at Nitzana, which they regarded as the natural site for a project of this kind. “Mr. Guèze heard about the project and expressed a desire to help set it up,” he said. “He wanted to construct three buildings for the children, in memory of his daughter, his wife and his parents. Mr. Guèze was keen to continue and accompany the rest of the project,” he added. Mr. Mufsik said that, although Nitzana belongs to the Jewish Agency, KKL-JNF regards it as one of its flagship projects in southern Israel, and there are other buildings in the vicinity that have been established with the help of donations from Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including the Uri Gordon Community Education Building.
The speakers described the life work of Lova Eliav, who had realized David Ben
Gurion’s vision of settling the Negev, and reviewed the new projects being developed at Nitzana in the fields of ecology, sustainability and the environment.
Rany Trainin pointed out that “no time could be more appropriate than Hannukah for the opening of a youth center, as Hannukah symbolizes light, and this center will bring light into the lives of children who have difficult circumstances to contend with. Above all, Nitzana symbolizes the settlement of the Land of Israel, and especially that of the Negev,” he concluded.
Shmuel Rifman added: “The inauguration of Empowerment House in Nitzana is just one part of the overall plans. We at the local council regard Nitzana as a community like any other, which will grow and develop in the future.”
A delegation from Soroka Hospital gave Mr. Trabulsi a present for Mr. Guèze – a picture taken by sick children as part of the child photographers’ project. Mr. Trabulsi thanked the delegation with great emotion, and said, “Mr. Guèze feels very close to the Land of Israel, and mentions it every time we speak. It’s very sad that today of all days he cannot be here with us.”
KKL-JNF Treasurer David Lazarus said that, as a gesture of appreciation for Victor Guèze’s donation, KKL-JNF had entered his name in the Golden Book, the organization’s most important Book of Honor. The recuperation center, he added “will be the first of its kind in Israel for children who have suffered grave illness, and it provides hope that other similar centers will be added in the future.”
After the speeches were over, mezuzahs were affixed to the buildings by Mr. Trabulsi and Mr. Grinbaum, and two plaques in memory of members of Mr. Guèze’s family were unveiled. The event continued with a festive lunch for the guests, during which warmest wishes for a speedy recovery were sent to Mr. Guèze.
Etti Lankri said at the end of the meal, “Despite the festive atmosphere I feel very sad that Mr. Guèze was unable to attend the ceremony and this event that was specially planned for him. I should like to wish him a swift recovery and make mention of his large, precious and vital donation.”
The day’s events culminated in a torch race for which Mr. Trabulsi served as starter. The competitors in this event, whose starting point was the square adjacent to the Uri Gordon building, were youngsters who, for the most part, had recently immigrated from the former Soviet Union, France and elsewhere.
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