Six olim from English-speaking countries who have made outstanding contributions to Israeli society were awarded the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion 2015 Prizes on Tuesday during a special ceremony at the Knesset hosted by MK Tzachi Hanegbi.
The honorees represent a cross-section of Israel society, and received awards for science and medicine, entrepreneurship and technology, community and non-profit, education, culture, sports and art and national service.
Recipients included publisher and editor Asher Weill; OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved; Prof. Charles Sprung, director of intensive care at Hadassah University Medical Center; ITIM founder Rabbi Seth Farber; Kaleidoscope founder Chana Reifman Zweiter; and St.-Sgt. Asaf Stein, PhD, from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion.
Additionally, a lifetime- achievement award was presented to Tal Brody, ambassador of goodwill for the State of Israel, for his contribution to shaping and helping Israel through sports and dedicated hasbara (public diplomacy) efforts.
“You have all made a choice to make aliya and join the millions of olim from across the world who have united in Israel over the years since the founding of the State of Israel,” said Hanegbi. “In itself, this represents a contribution to Israeli society, its resilience, and its strength.”
“You are part of the fascinating puzzle of languages and cultures out of which the country has developed over the years, and in the merit of which it becomes increasingly stronger,” he continued.
“If that were not enough, your contribution to the State did not end with your choosing to live here, to build your homes and families here: Each of you has chosen a way of life characterized by an indelible contribution to the community and to Israeli society.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh founder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass described the recipients as “everyday heroes who are the foundation of the Jewish State and the lifeblood of this great nation.”
“In the period bridging the national celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut [Independence Day] and Yom Yerushalayim [Jerusalem Day], it is inspiring to take a step back and reflect on what made this country so great,” he said.
“As these awards highlight, Israel’s strength and success draw on the many outstanding olim who have come to this land and contributed in all fields of endeavor. These awards acknowledge those who encapsulate the spirit of modern-day Zionism by contributing in a significant way towards developing the State of Israel,” Fass added.
After achieving his original dream of making aliya in 1990, Sprung described the honor as a “second dream come true.”
“I think every oleh thinks it’s special to come to Israel and try to make a contribution, and that was a dream come true,” he said. “I can get up every morning and look out the window and I can’t believe I’m living in Jerusalem and that I get to work at Hadassah.”
Asked what advice he would impart to new olim or those considering making aliya, Sprung noted the importance of tenacity.
“I’d say it’s not easy, and never give up,” he said. “In Israel, like most other places – but especially in Israel – no doesn’t necessarily mean no, and if you keep plugging you can really make a difference.”
Meanwhile, Medved said it is particularly important for English-speaking olim to share Israel’s message of hope, decency and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable international criticism and adversity.
“In a world where they criticize us and they dare to boycott us, we know the reality – and there is no one better to bring that message out to the world than those of us who speak English as a native language who have come here to contribute,” he said.
“When we talk about Israel, we need to talk about the fact that we’re the most volunteeristic society in the world... We have companies that are letting the infirm walk, and companies that are letting the blind see.
“And there are millions still who have yet to come, and this story is not over,” Medved continued.
“We still have a long way to go.”
Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with the government and the Jewish Agency, is dedicated to revitalizing aliya from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliya.
According to the organization, the support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its 42,000 newcomers has ensured that more than 90 percent of its olim have remained in Israel.