New J’lem institute promotes expat Israeli academics' return

Cornerstone for NIS 100m. center to be laid today.

May 30, 2010 05:15
2 minute read.
Dr. Leonard Polonsky and Dr. Georgette Bennett

Dr. Leonard Polonsky and Dr. Georgette Bennett 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The cornerstone for an institute that aims, among other things, at bringing back home young Israeli scholars in the humanities and social sciences will be laid on Sunday, right next to the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a short distance from Beit Hanassi. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will attend the ceremony.

The target date for completion is early 2013.

The Polonsky Academy for Advanced Studies will cost NIS 100 million, which has been donated by Dr. Leonard Polonsky and his wife, Dr. Georgette Bennett. They have also set up a NIS 100m. endowment fund to finance 30 post-doctoral fellows from Israel and other countries at the new institute.

Every fellow will enjoy a fellowship worth $200,000 for up to five years, making it possible for outstanding scholars to focus on their research and develop their academic standing in an incubator-like atmosphere, until they find a post at an Israeli academic institution. The donors hope that the new institution will become a vibrant center of academic research and an intellectual home where the scholars can pursue their work without disturbance.

Van Leer director and initiator of the idea, Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, noted that the Polonsky Academy will be an important new factor in promoting research and cultivating top-level young scholars who will go on to be leaders in their fields and create new knowledge, develop thought and forge a better society.

The future institute’s neighbor, President Shimon
Peres, will hold a reception for the donors at his home before the ceremony, which will be attended by the donors, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities president Prof. Menahem Yaari, Motzkin and university heads.

Polonsky, a businessman in the UK, grew up in New York, completed his undergraduate studies at age 18 and acquired his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne. He then taught languages for several years before turning to a successful career in financial services. He devotes much of his time and efforts to philanthropic work in education and art and is a trustee of several universities around the world, including the Hebrew University, giving scholarships to Ethiopian-Israeli students.

Bennett, a sociologist, journalist, marketing expert and author, is the founder and president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York.

The new building, which will occupy the southern edge of the Van Leer compound, will blend into the existing structures and preserve the design principles of the area and the Talbieh neighborhood in which it is located. It will contain 30 offices for fellows, opening onto inner courtyards, an academic research library, seminar and conference rooms, an auditorium, gym and cafeteria.

As work proceeds on the building, Van Leer will speed up the process of awarding stipends until the full roster of 30 fellows a year has been filled; so far, seven fellows have been chosen, including Dr. Salman Bashir, a Druse scholar who is studying mysticism, and Dr. Michal Raz, who is focusing on deficiencies in medical care.

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