On the surface, it appeared that NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. was the odd man out at the ceremony for the conferment of doctorates honoris causa at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan this week, because he was the only one of the nine recipients who isn’t Jewish.
But then again, Bolden has had an extraordinary close relationship with Israel and with the family of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, even before Ramon’s death when the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it was reentering earth on February 1, 2003. The Ramons have been embraced as part of the NASA family. Bolden’s cheer squad at the conferment ceremony included his wife, a NASA delegation and representatives of the US Embassy.
The other honorees were the Bnei Akiva youth movement; Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky, who is a living bridge between Israeli civil and rabbinic law; physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Serge Harouche, who was in Israel for the first time and looking very excited at his reason for being here; composer Nurit Hirsh, whose melodies are embedded in Israel’s cultural fabric; Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler; Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, whose father, Rabbi Joseph Hyman Lookstein, was for nine years the acting president of BIU, when the university was still in its infancy, and who in 1966 was named chancellor; and Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in the IDF and, because of her love and support for the army, has become an icon on the international lecture circuit. “Who would believe that the transit camp daughter of illiterate parents would receive a doctorate?” exclaimed Peretz. The ninth recipient (in alphabetical order) was retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, known for his concern for human dignity and his commitment to moral values.
For Leibler, who has had a long connection with Bar-Ilan, and who earlier this year donated to the university his extensive Judaica library, believed to be the largest private Judaica library in the world, the event in terms of audience and even fellow honorees was like a kaleidescope of his life. Leibler held the top leadership positions in Australian Jewry before making aliya, and also held executive positions in international Jewish organizations.
There were loads of Australians in the audience coming from Kibbutz Lavi, Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Modi’in and even Australia itself.
He was head of Australian Bnei Akiva in his youth. There were lots of past and present Bnei Akiva people on hand. Leibler was the most prominent Australian figure in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and there were former Prisoners of Zion present. In Israel, he belongs to the Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Jerusalem, and there was large turnout of fellow congregants, including past and present presidents. Leibler is also active in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which was well represented. Leibler’s wife, Naomi, is the honorary president of World Emunah, and there was a large showing of Emunah, including chairwoman of Emunah Israel Liora Minka. But what moved Leibler most was the fact that the event was attended by four generations of his family.
■ EVEN THOUGH there are haredi congregations in Tel Aviv, the city is generally characterized as secular and not terribly interested in religion, though in recent years the city’s secular yeshiva has gained in popularity. Inasmuch as it’s a secular city, Tel Aviv is also a bastion of pluralism, and this will be reflected in the very special Shavuot happening on Saturday night, where there literally will be something for everyone, though not everyone will necessarily go for all the options.
Despite the sleepless night that so many people endure as they go synagogue hopping to listen to lectures or to participate in community singing appropriate to Shavuot, there are those who are quite happy to keep on doing it. Because Shavuot is regarded in many circles as a dairy products festival, some people take it even a step further and dress in white for the occasion.
But Tel Aviv, the White City, has gone even further and is hosting what organizers call a different kind of White Night. The traditional White Night in Tel Aviv includes numerous musical and theatrical events in streets, galleries, pubs and coffee shops all over the city. This time it’s a little different in that the activity is taking place at WeWork in Sarona, beginning at 10 p.m. on Saturday, and ending at 3.30 a.m.
The all-night event is expected to attract some 500 participants, including MKs Stav Shaffir and Tamar Zandberg, Kolot facilitator Tidhar Gutman, former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, comedian Benji Lovitt, Netaly Ophir-Flint of the Reut Group, Taglit-Birthright Israel educator Dr. Zohar Raviv and rabbis Gary Sheva and Shlomo Chayen.
The event, which is open to the public, will be particularly poignant in view of Wednesday night’s terrorist attack, and will include a nonstop supply of the traditional cheesecake, coffee, beer, snacks and more, while participants learn together about Jewish wisdom and Jewish community. Lectures will be in English and Hebrew. Sponsors include the Jewish Renaissance Women’s Project, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Hineni, Kolot, Limmud Tel Aviv, Shabbat Tel Aviv and WeWork.
■ MANY PARENTS and teachers believe that adolescence is the worst time in a young person’s life. It’s a period in which uncertainty and a yearning for independence dance a grim tango with each other, often turning adolescents into moody, uncooperative individuals.
Some 20 years back, Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, through its International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies, came up with a partial cure for this malady. It created an annual international contest called the Manuel Hirsch Groskopf My Family Story International Competition, in which 12- to 15-year-olds were asked to research their family stories against the broader backdrop of Jewish history. This year the competition attracted 20,000 students from 155 schools in Israel, USA, Canada, Argentina, Morocco, Georgia, France, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Costa Rica, Spain, Austria, Greece, Colombia, Paraguay and Australia. The competition is a fun thing for pupils, teachers and parents, and the exploration of family stories, genealogy, and traditions paves the way for new bonding.
Based on the information they are able to glean, participants prepare installations, the best of which are exhibited at Beit Hatfutsot, and the youngsters who made them are given a free trip to Israel. As a teacher and a Jewish mother, Julie Fisher, the wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, was curious to see what youngsters from different countries had produced and showed up at the awards ceremony at Beit Hatfutsot this past Wednesday. Accompanying her was Polina Levy Eskenazi, the cultural program specialist at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. They were welcomed by Beit Hatfutsot CEO Dan Tadmor; Enia Zeevi Kupfer, director of the Israel and Europe desk; and Dr. Orit Shaham Gover, the chief curator of the museum, who also guided Fisher through the new wing of the museum.
■ AT AMERICA House in Jerusalem last week, Sarah Perle Benazera and Ohood Murqaten, co-chairmen of the YaLa Young Leaders Core Leadership Group, received the 2016 International Institute of Education Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East for their roles leading the charge for peace and positive social change in their communities and in the region.
They are part of a dynamic and talented leadership team that has made YaLa Young Leaders the broadest and fastest-growing Middle East peace movement today, with nearly a million members from all across the MENA region, hailing from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Qatar. The prize, which includes a $10,000 check, was established and endowed in 2005 by Victor J. Goldberg, a retired IBM executive, who is a longtime trustee of the New York-based IIE. American consul-general Donald Blome also attended the ceremony. An online movement led by young adults, for young adults, YaLa focuses on dialogue and engagement as a means to securing a safe, productive, and peaceful region, capitalizing on the catalyzing power of social networks, media and technology to lead their generation to a better future.
Benazera and Murqaten coordinate a diverse Middle Eastern team of administrators who manage the YaLa Young Leaders’ Facebook page, reaching an average of 65,000 people per day. During times of high tension in the region, the YaLa page provides a safe environment for young people on both sides to search for a different point of view on the situation, and to find partners for dialogue.
The group also created the YaLa Press blog platform to share more in-depth personal stories and experiences and show the human face of the Middle East. It is believed to be the first-ever blog platform to connect young Arabs and Israelis from across the region, and now has more than 270 blog posts online.
Benazera is a peace believer, peace activist, storyteller and educator, with years of hands-on experience in international and intercultural dialogue working at the people-to-people level for a better Middle East. In addition to working as a project manager at YaLa Young Leaders, she has been involved in various peace and cooperation projects, organizing conferences, participating in panels and programs about peace. Murqaten has a BA in television and media studies from Al-Quds University and more than five years of experience in the media, communications, social justice and peace-building sectors in Palestine.