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(photo credit: Channel 10)
A music-filled evening celebrating the most recent batch of 100 Heseg scholarship recipients at Binyanei Ha'uma on Tuesday was the scene of a few sad moments of remembrance for St.-Sgt. Michael Levine, the American oleh who fell in battle in Lebanon on August 1.
The moment came when Levine's platoon commander handed Levine's firearm to Canadian business duo and philanthropists Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, the financial backers of the Heseg project.
For Schwartz and Reisman, the gesture was especially poignant, coming a year after Levine, in a similar Heseg award ceremony, bestowed his own hard-earned paratrooper pin to the couple in appreciation for their efforts on behalf of lone soldiers in Israel.
The Heseg Fund grants lone soldiers full university tuition and a living wage following their army service. Its 12-member advisory board, which determines the recipients each year, is chaired by Tel Aviv University president and former Israeli ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich.
Several senior politicians attended the event, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. Other attendees included Rabinovich, Association for Israel's Soldiers head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Itzik Eitan and Heseg board members Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog and Ofra Strauss.
In congratulating the recipients, Olmert said, "none of you are alone here right now. You are all embraced by us all."
He said Heseg recipients demonstrated that although "there are many places in the world that are more comfortable to live in, there is no place in which Jews are at home quite like here."
The prime minister went on to declare that "the fact that you came here despite everything demonstrates that we [in Israel] have a great future. No crisis and no threat can defeat us because we have you."
"Our dream was to see you remain in Israel," Schwartz told the recipients. "We have been under your protection, and now you are under ours."