Even before the establishment of the President’s Prize for Volunteerism, Israel was a country with a history of volunteerism that extended back well before the advent of the Zionist movement.
Part of it had to do with the poverty and illness that wracked the country 200-300 years ago. People with little or no income had to help each other.
In the early 1970s, when Golda Meir was prime minister and the ratio of underprivileged, undernourished children in the population was still much too high, she commissioned a survey on poverty in general and child poverty in particular. She was so shocked by the findings that she asked Esther Herlitz to establish a national umbrella for volunteerism that would publicly recognize the most outstanding of volunteers. Thus the Center for Volunteer Services came into being, working closely with the President’s Office.
Last Wednesday, for the 42nd consecutive year, the President’s Award for Volunteerism was given to 12 individuals and organizations at an emotional ceremony at the President’s Residence attended by family members, activists in volunteer organizations and some of the beneficiaries of the various volunteer organizations.
In a world in which cynicism and corruption prevail, ceremonies such as this serve as a reminder that there are good and decent people in the world who care about the welfare of others and give of themselves in many different ways to make the world a better place.
This year, in keeping with President Reuven Rivlin’s project for integrating what he calls the different tribes of Israel’s society through the promotion of dialogue and bridge building, the recipients of the awards were individuals and organizations that had distinguished themselves in these areas. In fact, the words bridge building and dialogue were the most frequently used expressions throughout the evening.
In presenting the 12 awards, Rivlin noted that because support and help are part of the national DNA, Israel’s social fabric is intertwined, healthy and strong. Bridging differences, he added, makes for a better and more tolerant society.
Recipients of the award included:
• Ohel Hamitnadvim (Tent of the Volunteers), which was established in Beersheba in 2000 and links Beduin and Jewish volunteers aged mostly between 15 and 25 to assist in helping to overcome a variety of community needs.
• Eliav Betito, 18, a 12th-grade student at the Amit School in Afula and a former chairman of the northern branch of the National Student Council, who encourages dialogue among students from different backgrounds and attempts to bridge the gap between youth from the periphery and those from the center of the country.
• Tissir Jabarin, 73, from Umm el-Fahm, a retired schoolteacher and vice principal who promotes coexistence and good relations between Arabs and Jews. He works in numerous volunteer projects, including teaching Hebrew to students and his neighbors, in a purely voluntary capacity.
Confined to a wheelchair since 2004, he also works on behalf of people with limited mobility on all issues related to their rights.
• Giborim Ketanim (Small Heroes) is an organization that promotes tolerance and understanding for and among intellectually challenged youth and adults. Established in 2001 to provide special education for youth, including those with autism and special needs, it currently operates in 35 schools, from Tiberias and Nahariya in the North to Beersheba in the South, and has thousands of active volunteers.
• Druse Zionists, who represent a living bridge between Israel’s Druse and Jewish communities. Active since 1975, the organization involves thousands of young people and adults from all walks of life from towns and villages in the Golan Heights, the Galilee and the Carmel area.
• Levav Weinberg, 34, from Metulla, who utilizes sport as a bridge for dialogue.
He was the founder of the Canada Israel ice hockey school at the Canada Center in Metulla, which he manages in a voluntary capacity. The school currently caters to some 400 youngsters aged six to 18, mostly from the north of the country.
• Le’Oro Nelech (Walking toward his Light), an umbrella education center established in 2000, which promotes dialogue between religious and secular high school students, including those from yeshivot and ulpanot. The students are brought together in joint volunteer activities and, in working together for a common cause, find a common language. The dialogue presently incorporates students from schools in 80 cities, towns and villages throughout the country.
• Rabbanit Esther Landman, wife of the chief rabbi of Holon, was born in the USSR, and came to Israel in 1949. She works in many volunteer organizations, and is particularly concerned with the welfare of the weaker segments of the population. She promotes cooperation between different ethnic groups and since 1985 has managed the Holon branch of Yad Sarah, which serves every sector of the population.
• Yoel Marshak, a member of Kibbutz Geva and head of the Kibbutz Movement’s task force, which encourages demobilized soldiers to join Jordan Valley settlements in areas under Israeli control. Marshak’s focus is on security and settlement, and he initiates many activities in these two fields.
• Negev Bar-Kayma (Sustainable Development for the Negev), an organization dedicated to environmental awareness, education toward dialogue and the preservation of nature in the Negev by promoting interaction between decision-makers and representatives of all sectors of the population of the Negev, to ensure that future planning of the development of the Negev takes into account the needs of all sectors of the population and ensures that development will not be harmful to health or the quality of life.
• Shai Rishoni, 50, who suffers from ALS and works on behalf of others stricken with ALS. Formerly a businessman and an active and competitive sportsman, Rishoni was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, and the illness has now progressed to the extent that he can no longer talk and spends most of his time in a wheelchair with special breathing apparatus attached.
Nonetheless, he continues to battle on behalf of others with ALS.
• Raya Strauss Ben-Dror is arguably the least anonymous of the awardees. As a prominent member of the Strauss family whose dairy products can be found in the refrigerators of most Israeli households, she is also a familiar face on the society circuit.
Like many affluent people, she is devoted to social causes, especially those in the Galilee, where the main Strauss production plants are located. As co-president of the Strauss Investment Group, which has a policy of giving back to the community, she has been involved on many fronts in the creation of a better society, and many of her activities are hands-on. One of her chief interests since 1995 is Beit Hashanti, which provides a haven, training and employment for homeless youth at risk. She was also in the forefront of the organization Youth Mobilizing Change.
■ STILL ON the subject of volunteerism, but not in relation to the President’s Prize, is the annual B’nai B’rith World Center’s Award for Journalism Recognizing Excellence in Diaspora Reportage in memory of Wolf and Hilda Matsdorf.
In recent years, in addition to awards conferred on journalists, citations have also been given to members of the entertainment industry who have distinguished themselves in promoting and advancing Jewish unity and inclusiveness. The special citation for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts was initiated in 2014, with previous recipients being Nurit Hirsh and David D’Or.
This year’s recipient will be musician and composer Idan Raichel, who with his special music project with members of the Ethiopian community has boosted the local Ethiopian community’s self-esteem and has promoted its music and its rights when performing abroad. In May of this year, Raichel was presented with an Unsung Heroes Award by Martin Luther King III in recognition and appreciation of what he has done to elevate Ethiopian pride and self-image and to create broader awareness of Ethiopian culture.
The award ceremony will take place on Thursday, July 7, at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem. The journalists who will be honored will be Amanda Borschel-Dan of The Times of Israel and Allison Kaplan Sommer of Haaretz, both of whom previously worked for several years at The Jerusalem Post – the latter, while still living in America and continuing after she made aliya.
The recipient of the Life Achievement Award in memory of Luis and Trudi Schydlowsky will be Israel Prize laureate and veteran radio and television broadcaster Yaakov Ahimeir.
Guest speaker for the evening will be Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. Dermer can be counted as a scribe, if not exactly a journalist, although he has contributed op-ed pieces to various publications. He is credited with having been one of the most talented of speechwriters for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has succeeded in delivering his speeches as if he had written them email@example.com