Grapevine April 21, 2019: From shtetl to stage

A round of of news from around Israel.

Professor Rivka Carmi 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Professor Rivka Carmi 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It would be wonderful if actor and singer Mike Burstyn, who is on a frequent commute between the United States and Israel, could bring to Tel Aviv the program in which he appeared last week at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The program, From Shtetl to Stage, was part of a citywide festival on “Migrations – the Making of America.” Support for the Russian and Eastern European Jewish segments of the festival came from the Polonsky Foundation, and the key supporters of the festival in general were the Ford Foundation, the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund and Igor Tulchinsky.
The Polonsky Foundation has been an extremely generous donor to several projects in Israel, and could perhaps be persuaded to bring From Shtetl to Stage to the Holy Land.
In addition to Burstyn, the diverse bevy of Yiddish talent included, Evgeny Kissin, David Krakauer, Katrina Lenk, Eleanor Reissa and Gil Shaham. The program included songs from Yiddish theater, Yiddish vaudeville, art songs, classical music and klezmer in a melodic, poetic and humorous exploration of Eastern European Jewish culture, and its interaction with and contribution to American culture. After all, some of the relatives of the Eastern European Jews who opted for America decided that they’d rather go to Israel, so the show would be a great hit here as well.
■ DESPITE THE efforts to prevent the establishment of a school of medicine at Ariel University, one of the last things Naftali Bennett did while still a member of the government, was to push through approval for the project. Given the shortage of doctors here, and the long waiting periods at hospitals, chances are that the naysayers will, in the final analysis, be very pleased that there is another medical school in the country, and may even approve the construction of an adjacent hospital, because the existing facilities cannot cope with the demand. Meanwhile, Ariel is on the verge of making history by being the only university in the country with a wine research center. The cornerstone for the Samson Family Wine Research Center at Ariel University was laid last week. This is the university whose elevation of status from college to university was strongly opposed by the Council for Higher Education, but which nonetheless succeeded in making the transition. Research will include investigating the latest technologies in wine making.
The idea is to promote Israel’s wine industry along with the identification of ancient Israeli grape varieties and their assimilation in vineyards in Israel.
The ceremony was hosted by Ariel University Vice President Yakov Gaon in the presence of many guests from Israel and abroad, including the university’s president, Prof. Yehuda Danon, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofer Akunis, the university’s chancellor, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, Rector Prof. Michael Zinigrad, Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro, Eastern R&D Director Prof. Miriam Billig and Wine Research Director Shivi Drori, among other notable personalities.
The generosity of Lee Samson of Los Angeles has made the establishment of the Wine Research Center possible. Samson noted the uniqueness of research in Israel, which on one hand develops the launch of a spacecraft to the moon, and on the other hand learns how to renew varieties of ancient wine.
Akunis said that during his tenure as science technology and space minister, investment in Judea and Samaria was the highest it has ever been. When he was first appointed, he said, he had pressed for doubling resources for the Eastern R&D Center to help Ariel University continue to grow and pioneer research and knowledge. He pledged to continue to do so in any position that the prime minister asks him to fill in the upcoming government.
■ HILTON HOTELS around the world, including Israel, are celebrating the company’s centenary. Founder Conrad Hilton and president Shimon Peres shared an identical philosophy. “To achieve big things, you have to have big dreams.” The difference was that Peres, on surveying what Israel had achieved in less than three-quarters of a century, used to say that the problem was that “we didn’t dream big enough.” Both men were great believers in innovation and Hilton Hotels & Resorts continued to grow and to innovate long after Conrad Hilton’s death. Centenary celebrations in Hilton hotels around the globe will continue throughout 2019. In the span of 100 years, Hilton has grown from a single hotel in Cisco, Texas, to nearly 5,500 hotels in 106 countries, collectively hosting more than 3 billion guests and enlisting nearly 10 million Team Members in the company’s mission “to fill the Earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” Celebrating the chain’s achievements in Israel, Ronnie Fortis, Hilton director for Israel, hosted more than 300 guests at Cinema City in Ramat Hasharon, where they were entertained by “dishes and drinks” invented at Hiltons all over the world. After their palates had been satisfied, they viewed an historical movie containing footage that captured the 100-year saga of achievement in hospitality and innovation.
■ THE WORD “via” usually means by way of but in the lexicon of IDC Herzliya and the Jewish Agency it is an acronym for Value in Action. The two enterprises got together last week when the IDC’s Raphael Recanati International School hosted an event honoring international Zionist youth movements.
The event was attended by more than 700 young people from 17 different Zionist youth movements. They came from 21 countries, including inter alia Canada, Argentina, Australia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador and the United States. The event included special workshops and discussions on fighting antisemitism. More than a thousand members of Zionist youth movements arrive in Israel annually to participate in a variety of programs after which they return to their home countries where they integrate in the leadership of their movements and local and worldwide student unions.
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog told the assembled youth: “Rather than talking only about the threats, let’s talk about the future. You have each chosen to be a leader by the mere fact that you joined a youth movement committed to the whole notion of Zionism. The upcoming challenge is mostly up to you, young Jewish people from all over the world, either living here or leading communities all abroad. You can deal with the various threats imposed on Israel but you can also present the great case of Israel. Be proud of your Jewish and Zionist identity.”
Jonathan Davis, IDC’s vice president for external relations and head of the Raphael Recanati International School, told the crowd: “IDC Herzliya is a Zionist university and therefore you will always be welcomed here. Also, remember that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, two values that we have to cherish.”
The Raphael Recanati International School is open to students from around the world who want to deepen their bond with Israel while simultaneously earning internationally recognized academic degrees. It currently hosts more than 2,000 students from 90 countries, who collectively represent more than a third of the IDC student body. Many of the graduates opt to remain in Israel permanently.
■ FORMER PRESIDENT of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. Rivka Carmi will be conferred with an honorary doctorate by Brandeis University at its traditional commencement and awards ceremony at Waltham, Massachusetts, on May 19.
Carmi, who was elected as president of BGU in 2005, retired in 2018. She made history twice – initially as the first woman to be appointed dean of a health sciences faculty in Israel, serving in this capacity at BGU from 2000-2005, and then as the first woman to head an Israeli university.
As a scientist, Carmi had a distinguished career in genetic research concentrating on minority groups in the Negev. Her work focused mainly on the characterization of clinical manifestations and the molecular basis of genetic diseases in the Negev Arab-Bedouin population. Her research includes the identification of 12 new genes and the description of three new syndromes, one of which is known as the Carmi syndrome. Her community outreach projects aim at preventing hereditary diseases and advancing women’s education in the Bedouin community.
In addition to these achievements, Carmi was instrumental in establishing the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev and also served as director of the Genetics Institute at Soroka-University Medical Center.
In its award announcement Brandeis University wrote to Carmi:
“After smashing the glass ceiling twice – as the first woman to serve as dean of an Israeli medical school and the first woman to serve as president of an Israeli university – you are helping other women scale to the same heights. Throughout your career, and especially as chair of Israel’s Association of University Heads, you have promoted policies that give women an equal shot at holding leadership roles within medicine and academia.
“This same determination fueled your scientific pursuits from your earliest years. As a teenager, you insisted on studying the sciences. You went on to become a distinguished geneticist who, among many other accomplishments, oversaw work that sought to prevent hereditary diseases within the Bedouin community...” The letter went on to state that Carmi was being honored in recognition of the principled example she set as a pioneer in higher education, her dedication to achieving gender equality, and her lasting achievements in the fields of science education and genetics.
In response, Carmi said the honorary doctorate was both a gratifying recognition of her personal accomplishments and an encouraging push for Israel’s academic establishment to continue focusing on making academic careers possible for women.
“I am so moved to have been chosen for this honor,” she said, “and especially thrilled to be included as part of this distinguished group. Both as a young researcher and later as president, I enjoyed a terrific network of personal support, from the university community and of course from my family. Their encouragement enabled me to achieve so much, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pave the way for more women to succeed in academia.
“It is also particularly special to receive an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University. Scholars from BGU and Brandeis have a long history of successful research collaboration, and the university’s commitment to Jewish values continues to inspire me. I see this honorary degree as a recognition of that relationship, as well as of my tenure as president,” she added.
Current BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, in congratulating Carmi, said her career continues to be a source of inspiration to men and women alike.
BGU, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, has been ranked among the top 500 universities in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, but is likely to soon be listed among the top 100 now that Beersheba has become Israel’s cyber capital. In January of this year, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s leading defense company signed a strategic agreement with BGU’s technology commercialization company BGN Technologies Ltd., for collaboration on research in the fields of cybersecurity, smart mobility, robotics and artificial intelligence.
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