They Made Aliyah, and made a difference

Hundreds of Olim were nominated for the Bonei Zion prize for outstanding contribution to the State of Israel.

They Made Aliyah, and made a difference (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
They Made Aliyah, and made a difference
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
When Joseph Gitler made aliyah in 2000, he held a law degree from Fordham University in New York and started working at a family software business. He never dreamed that he would found Israel’s first National Food Bank, Leket, and turn it into Israel’s largest food rescue network.
“When I came to Israel I never expected to see this new poverty of people who were left behind, and struggling to feed their families,” says Gitler. “I was so unnerved by this, so dispirited; I knew that I had to do something.”
Gitler is one of seven outstanding Olim from English-speaking countries who were awarded Nefesh B’Nefesh’s (NBN) first Bonei Zion (Building Zion) prize for outstanding contribution to the State of Israel. Gitler received the award in the field of community and non-profit.
The awards were presented at an official ceremony in the Knesset, hosted by the Speaker of the Knesset MK Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, who was a Refusenik in Russia and made aliyah in 1987. “Since its establishment, the State of Israel has absorbed millions of immigrants from numerous countries, immigrants who speak various languages and have rich cultural backgrounds,” said Edelstein. “Nowadays it is impossible to imagine Israeli society without the involvement of the new Olim in every possible sphere.”
“The Knesset is proud to host the award ceremony for this noteworthy prize, which I hope will become a traditional reward for Olim who excel in their contribution to the State of Israel and its society,” continued Edelstein.
Hundreds of Olim were nominated for the prize, and the winners, all from North America, are pioneers in their respective fields. The prizes were given in the categories of science and medicine, education, community and non-profit, entrepreneurship and technology, culture, sports and art and IDF and national service young leadership.
Rabbanit Malke Bina (education), made aliyah from the US in 1971 and received the award for her groundbreaking work in women’s religious studies. Forty years ago, Israeli women’s voices were rarely heard teaching advanced level Torah and Jewish law; they were excluded from leadership and the resulting decisions that influenced their lives.
Rabbanit Bina had a revolutionary dream to open a Beit Midrash for women to learn Torah at the highest levels, creating women educators and leaders. In 1988, she founded Matan, which she continues to lead today, changing forever the way Israeli society views women’s status and the need for advanced Jewish studies for women.
The recipient in the science and medicine field, Professor Jeffrey Hausdorff , made aliyah from Boston with his wife and three children in 2,000, two weeks before the outbreak of the second Intifada. “My wife Sharon and I felt that Israel was the place to be and we wanted to contribute to it in some way.”
Hausdorff left his faculty appointment at Harvard Medical School and is now a professor at Tel Aviv University and Director of the Neurodynamics and Gait Research Laboratory at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. Hausdorff directs an internationally renowned team that conducts pioneering and award-winning clinical and translational research in mobility, cognitive function, fall risk and quality of life for the aged.
“There are so many new immigrants doing amazing work in the sciences and medicine,” says Hausdorff. “I was very humbled and excited to receive the Bonei Zion award. I felt that this was in recognition for all of us.”
In the culture, sports and arts field, 76-year-old Yaakov Kirschen, creator of the “Dry Bones” comic series, took the prize.
Making aliyah in 1971 from New York City, Kirschen was a computer expert as well as a cartoonist. While at an Absorption Center in Jerusalem he drew cartoons of the trials and tribulations of aliyah which resonated with so many olim. This grew into “Dry Bones”, published daily in the Jerusalem Post and now mailed out by Kirschen to almost 5,000 e-mail subscribers.
“In this post-literate world cartoons are becoming more and more powerful,” says Kirschen. “Dry Bones no longer critiques Israeli society; it is speaking to the outside world about Israel and has turned into a voice of Zionism.”
Kirschen was “really proud” to receive the Bonei Zion award. “I came to this country after the Six Day War to be part of rebuilding it and for 40 years I am defending the Jewish people against ongoing, horrifying attacks.”
CEO and Co-Founder of Energiya Global Capital and Co-Founder of the Arava Power Company Yossi Abramowitz, received the award for entrepreneurship and technology.
A Nobel-Prize-nominated educator and activist-turned-solar energy entrepreneur, Abramowitz is Israel’s solar energy pioneer.
Lt. Nira Lee, who made aliyah in 2010 from Arizona, is now Head of Hasbara at the headquarters of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). She previously served as an assistant foreign liaison officer to international organizations in Gaza, where she was charged with ensuring that international humanitarian aid made it to the Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
She received the President’s Citation of Excellence in 2013, and the Bonei Zion award in the IDF and national service young leadership category.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Professor Shimon Glick, who made aliyah in 1974 from the US, and helped to found Ben Gurion University’s prestigious Faculty of Medicine. He is a world leader in the teaching and practice of medical humanism and medical ethics, and developed the curriculum in medical ethics at BGU. Still active in his 80’s, Glick continues to serve as a role model for students worldwide.
The prize recipients were chosen by a committee comprised of leading figures from each of the respective award categories, and received a $10,000 prize.
“Aliyah from English-speaking countries has contributed significantly to Israeli society and the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, NBN Co-Founder and Executive Director. “The Bonei Zion Prize represents a formal recognition of its impact.
We hope that highlighting the achievements of Anglo Olim who are helping to make a difference to our homeland will serve as a catalyst to inspire others to make Aliyah.“
The article was made possible with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh