Grapevine: New president at BGU

Volunteers for Leket Israel collect hot meals for the organization [illustrative] (photo credit: COURTESY LEKET ISRAEL)
Volunteers for Leket Israel collect hot meals for the organization [illustrative]
 In all probability, Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, the president-elect of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who takes up his new role on January 1, succeeding outgoing president Prof. Rivka Carmi, who is stepping after 12 years, will attend the December 30 ceremony at which honorary doctorates will be conferred on several distinguished personalities.
Chamovitz will be BGU’s seventh president since the installation of Moshe Prywes in 1973. The other presidents included Yosef Tekoah, Shlomo Gazit, Chaim Elata, and Avishay Braverman, who has the distinction of having served the longest period. He was president of the university for 16 years.
A native of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Chamovitz studied at both Columbia University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received his PhD in genetics. Most recently, he served as dean of the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University, where he was awarded the prestigious Alon Fellowship for outstanding young researchers.
While at TAU, Chamovitz founded its Manna Center Program for Food Safety and Security. He has published more than 50 academic articles and book chapters, and serves on the editorial boards for several leading academic journals in his field. Chamovitz’s critically acclaimed What a Plant Knows (2012) has been translated into 18 languages.
“Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a different mandate from any other university in Israel,” says Chamovitz. “Of course, BGU must aim for research excellence – that is the essence of academia. At the same time, however, we must take care not to detract from our ability to impact the wider community, in Beersheba and throughout the Negev region.
“We have a tremendous advantage: our students. They certainly have keen eyes to identify the human and environmental capital that give this region so much potential, and I’m looking forward to working together with them to maximize it.”
Chamovitz emphasizes that BGU is uniquely positioned to take a leading role on the national and international stages to become a global university with a local impact.
“For a long time, the university has offered a wide range of academic subjects in the exact sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities, as well as professional programs, and successfully attracted excellent researchers who choose to begin their academic careers here.
Our modern campus, which will expand with the North Campus, as well as the Advanced Technologies Park, present opportunities for entrepreneurship and interaction with the private sector that we could only have dreamt about in the past,” he says.
Chamovitz intends to strive for excellence in research, academia and social outreach.
Due to the rapid development of Beersheba in recent years, it will be easier for him to realize these aims than it was for his predecessors, especially since the IDF has relocated its main training bases to the Negev and is setting up a tech campus in Beersheba that will house its Intelligence Directorate and Communications Division as well as its wide-ranging school of technology and maintenance. It goes without saying that there will be cooperation between the IDF and BGU.
The honorary doctorate awards ceremony was originally scheduled for November, with Rona Ramon as one of the recipients. Ramon succumbed to cancer on December 17.
It is not known whether she would have found the strength to attend the November ceremony, which was postponed due to rocket fire on the Gaza Strip.
The ceremony usually takes place within the framework of events commemorating Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion on the anniversary of his death.
Noa, Tal and Yiftach Ramon, the surviving children of Rona and Ilan Ramon, who was Israel’s first astronaut, will attend the ceremony to accept the award in memory of their mother. The text on Rona Ramon’s honorary doctorate scroll reads: “With deep appreciation for an outstanding public activist, whose commitment to fostering youth and promoting Israel’s involvement in space exploration has left an indelible mark on the nation’s research, industry and education; in acknowledgment of a courageous and inspiring woman, who despite profound personal grief found the strength to harness her prodigious talents and energies in service of the greater good, in the name of her loved ones Ilan and Assaf Ramon; in homage to the founder of the Ramon Foundation, dedicated to nurturing excellence, social leadership and values among the next generation and expanding the horizons of hundreds of thousands of children every year, including those at the Ramon Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; with gratitude to a co-creator of Israel’s space week, for her passionate and fruitful dedication to the establishment of space and science centers, providing scholarships and assistance to scientific, educational and social initiatives across the country; and in tribute to a singular spokesperson for the State of Israel across myriad global stages, for her unique contribution to social cohesion through uncompromising personal devotion, and her wholehearted commitment to the greater good and prosperity of the State of Israel for the benefit of all its citizens.”
In addition to Rona Ramon, honorary doctorate recipients include: investigative journalist Dr. Ilana Dayan; basketball champion Anat Draigor, a former captain of Israel’s national team, the first Israeli woman to play on a leading European team and the recipient of the Israel Olympic Committee’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement; businessman Imad Telhami, for his contribution and commitment to multiculturalism and women’s empowerment; Arno Gerlach, a prominent activist on behalf of humanitarian causes in Germany and Eastern Europe, as well as a staunch supporter of Israel-Germany relations; and eminent legal scholar and Israel Prize laureate Prof.
Nili Cohen, who is president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
■ AT THIS time of the year as well as Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Israeli citizens are bombarded with requests from organizations that supply food to the needy. One never knows exactly how many hungry people there are in Israel, because the figures quoted by each organization, when added up, total far in excess of half the nation’s population. Feeding the poor is a very noble cause, but doing so in a more efficient and dignified manner would be much easier, if all these organizations united and worked together for the common cause. There could then be a single, uniform policy, better records of people who are impoverished and an improved means of ensuring that every child in Israel, regardless of religion, ethnic background or nationality, receives at least two nutritious meals a day. If such meals are served in community centers, the children can benefit simultaneously from educational programs which would reduce juvenile delinquency and would steer youngsters toward a more promising future.
Among the better known organizations that feed the poor is Leket Israel – The National Food Bank, which late this month hosted its annual donor event at its logistics center in Central Israel. Guests from Israel and abroad joined in celebrating Leket Israel’s 15 years of service to Israel’s needy through the rescue and distribution of fresh, excess food from hundreds of suppliers all across the country. The special evening, “Leket on the Move,” was dedicated to Leket Israel’s growth and continued expansion in its food rescue operation. Among the honored guests were former prime minister Ehud Olmert and MK Eli Alalouf, chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Leket’s founder and chairman, Joseph Gitler, said that much more has to be done on behalf of Israel’s poor, but noted that what already has been done could not have been achieved without Leket’s 57,000 volunteers, dedicated supporters and the generous food donors, who together ensure that Leket can continue to provide nutritious food to more than 175,000 needy Israelis each week.
■ ON DECEMBER 16, Hebrew-language aficionados commemorated the 96th anniversary of the death of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who is credited with reviving the spoken Hebrew language. On January 7, they will celebrate the 161st anniversary of his birth.
The challenge for him was, and the continuing challenge for the Hebrew Language Academy is, to find suitable Hebrew substitutes for foreign words, and not all the ideas they have come up with take hold. For instance, the icon associated with social media, was initially referred to as strudel by Hebrew-speakers, and was changed to kruchit in Hebrew, but though kruchit is used by a lot of people, strudel has not disappeared from the social media vocabulary.
On the other hand, Ben-Yehuda’s own suggestion of sah rahok for a long-distance telephone conversation never ever took hold.
Hebrew-language expert Ruth Almagor-Ramon, who has long been correcting the mistakes made by broadcasters on the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority and more recently Kan 11, focuses not only on vocabulary but also on grammar and correct pronunciation. It is amazing how many language mistakes are made in the Israeli print and electronic media by people who have university degrees in communication and journalism. But that’s not really surprising, considering that Israel is a country of immigrants whose own languages have left their mark on Hebrew.
For instance, the word “balagan,” meaning mess or chaos, can also be found in Russian and Polish, and was there long before it reached the Hebrew lexicon. When people want to use a derogatory term against someone whose ideas are somewhat off the wall, they say “psychi” in Hebrew. In English they would say “psycho.” In either case, the word derives from the Greek.
No matter how hard they try at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, modern Hebrew continues to be peppered with foreign words and phrases.
Regardless of that, however, one of the wonders of the Jewish world is the number of people outside of Israel who have a fluent command of Hebrew. Whenever a catastrophe or some newsworthy item occurs anywhere in the world, including the smallest and most far-flung island in the Pacific, an Israeli radio station will find someone on that island who speaks Hebrew and can give an eyewitness report. It’s true that sometimes members of Israeli embassies abroad become instant reporters and do a very good job, all things considered, but anyone who listens to Elihu Ben-Onn’s weekly radio program The Israeli Connection on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet knows that there are lots of other people out there who call in for telephone interviews from all parts of the world. Not all of them are Jewish. Not all have ever lived in Israel. But nonetheless they speak Hebrew, and the mistakes they make are irrelevant in relation to the fact that they can make themselves understood.
Modern Hebrew is, after all, a work in progress – a developing language in which expressions change meaning from the literal to the opposite. Consider “haval al hazman,” which literally translates as “a shame to waste time,” but which in current jargon means really cool – and that’s not a reference to the temperature.
Hebrew is just one of the languages of the Jewish people, but one suspects that there are more people outside of Israel who can speak Hebrew than are those who can speak Yiddish, Ladino or Judeo-Arabic. That would probably bring great satisfaction to Ben-Yehuda.