Grapevine March 19, 2023: Women of distinction

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Dana International, Rivka Michaeli and Noa Kirel. (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
FROM LEFT: Dana International, Rivka Michaeli and Noa Kirel.
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)

The Medal of Distinction, initiated by president Shimon Peres as Israel’s highest recognition of civilian endeavor and accomplishments, was never awarded by President Reuven Rivlin. It was revived by President Isaac Herzog, who changed its name to the Medal of Honor. This did not sit well with the people at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. It was almost like a slap in the face to the memory of Israel’s ninth president.

A decision had been made earlier to perpetuate the Medal of Distinction, with a slight change that Peres Center people knew would have been approved by its founder. They decided to award it to outstanding women in the period before, during or soon after International Women’s Day. As the month of March has been declared International Women’s month, it was entirely appropriate to award it last week.

The award is presented to women who break through societal barriers to create opportunities for other women and contribute to gender equality, diversity and inclusion; role models who set an example for girls and women worldwide and whose work helps to make the world a better place.

Addressing the laureates, Peres Center Chairman Chemi Peres said, “We live in a time of distress, concern and worry that I also share but on this particular day, I want to convey an optimistic message because this place was founded by an optimistic person. When I see such courage, I know there is huge room for optimism. Shimon Peres said that it is a privilege to be an equal and a privilege to be different and our female heroines are indeed very equal and very different but each one is a role model and this comes with great responsibility. I ask you to make your voices heard and help Israel to grow. Lead and change our country for the better.”

Peres Center CEO Efrat Duvdevani said she was happy to continue the tradition of presenting the award for the third consecutive year to “distinguished groundbreaking women, opening doors, creating opportunities for other women and contributing to gender equality, diversity and inclusion. These women of distinction are outstanding examples and role models.”

Noa Kirel, who will be representing Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest said that she hoped that in these difficult times, she could bring some joy to the nation.

Dana International, who already did so in 1998, was also among the recipients of the Medal of Distinction in the category of Life Achievement awards, as was veteran actress, television hostess, comedienne, singer and dancer Rivka Michaeli, who has numerous other awards to her credit.

Among the other laureates was Rachel Pisam, an ultra-Orthodox mother of eleven children and grandmother of eighteen, who was appointed head of the Human Resources Division in Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services. She is the first woman to attain the rank of Assistant Fire Commissioner (equivalent to a General in the IDF).

Outstanding women in the Arab and Ethiopian communities were also honored. One of them was Nariman Seliman, who began her working career as a cashier and today is the director of the Rayan Program – a nationwide initiative to integrate, advance and empower Arab society in employment and training. Seliman spearheaded social changes in Arab society, emphasizing advancement in employment.

In addition to her work at Rayan, she manages the social networking at Be-Atzmi, an organization working towards integration and promotion in employment for populations lacking opportunities, occupational rehabilitation and education towards ambition. Seliman is also a group facilitator director and member of the MAOZ Fellows Program.

Yet another recipient was Ziva Mekonen-Dago, a social justice activist and one of the founders of Imahot Al Hamishmar, an organization for Ethiopian immigrants. She was the long-time CEO of the Israeli Association of Ethiopian Jews and is a graduate of the Mandel Educational Leadership Program. Mekonen-Dago has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bar-Ilan University and is a graduate of the Yehuda Beit Midrash for Jewish Leadership.

Other Medal of Distinction honorees work in hi-tech, female empowerment, neuroscience, gynecology, fertility treatment, sport, body positivity, prevention of violence against women, law, a cleaner environment and encouraging young people not to stand on the sidelines when they perceive any form of violence.

Age-wise, honorees ranged from teens to early 80s.

■ IT’S HARD to tell how many good ideas have fallen by the wayside for lack of funding for their implementation. The Jerusalem Foundation Inc. (JFI), based in New York, is determined to help translate some of those ideas into action and has raised more than $2.5 million (NIS 9.2 m.) for its 2023 Innovation Fund and awarded grants to 65 recipients across Jerusalem’s social and cultural landscape.

Established in 2020 in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Innovation Fund seeks to ensure Jerusalem’s present and future vitality by supporting initiatives by cultural and community-based organizations across the city with an emphasis on promoting multilateral collaboration and enhancing the rich tapestry of communities that defines Jerusalem’s unique signature. Now in its third grant-making year, the Innovation Fund has raised a combined total of more than $6 m. (NIS 23 m.) and invested in more than 160 projects to date.

For 2023, the Innovation Fund’s call-for-proposals drew 212 submissions, including proposals from prior year grantees both to expand on the success of earlier initiatives and to support new undertakings, enabling the Fund to promote continuity in its mission and to build on the success of previous grantmaking cycles. Grantees received awards of $50,000 (NIS 183,221), $25,000 (NIS 91,610) and $10,000 (NIS 36,644) toward cultural initiatives across the full spectrum of visual and performing arts and toward community-based initiatives in support of education, economic opportunity and growth, healthcare and technological advancement and urban sustainability from public spaces to rooftops.

Among this year’s grantees are:

• Downtown Art Takeover: A collaborative undertaking among five art schools – Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, School of Visual Theatre and Center for Middle Eastern Classical Music – whose campuses have all moved to the center of the city, empowering education in creative making as a driver for urban growth.

• Embroidery among Cultures: An Ethiopian, Palestinian and Moroccan Collaboration: A cross-cultural embroidery bank created by three organizations – Studio of Her Own, Maroc Impact and Studio Roots – together with the US Embassy in Jerusalem to archive the legacy of Middle Eastern and African embroidery and to build a model for economic empowerment and international engagement for women.

• Day of Choice: A collaboration between Out for Change, Judah’s Yard and the Jerusalem Theatre, creating a multidisciplinary performing arts series by and for young LGBTQ+ adults reflecting on their departure from their ultra-Orthodox communities.

• Steps+: A gap-year preparatory program created jointly by Bakchila, Jerusalem Venture Partners and ELEVATE for young Arab adults focusing on technology and entrepreneurship between high school and higher education.

• Citywide Food Rescue System: Expanding a successful neighborhood project by the Jerusalem Food Rescuers to deploy a network of food rescuers, discount markets and food pantries across the city, converting hunger and waste into nutrition and sustainability.

• Integrative Community Orchestra: A collaboration between SHEKEL and the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance to bring together professional musicians, Palestinians and Israelis with and without disabilities to deliver community-based culture and economic opportunity to otherwise marginalized aspiring musicians.

FOR 88 years the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has been lovingly nourishing the city’s creative talent (credit: Wikimedia Commons)FOR 88 years the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has been lovingly nourishing the city’s creative talent (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“We are thrilled by the response to our third annual Innovation Fund grant-making cycle and notably by the generous outpouring of philanthropic support and the impressive diversity and strength of applicants and grantees,” said JFI Chairman of the Board Alan Hassenfeld. Despite economic downturns, the number of donors increases annually.

■ UK SECRETARY of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch, who is also the Minister for Women and Equalities, visited the Teva Pharmaceuticals industry and research laboratories in Kfar Saba in the framework of her first official overseas visit. She was greeted by Teva Senior Deputy CEO Eli Shani, Jody Forest, site general manager for Teva Pharmaceuticals and Dr. Yael Maranz, the global deputy president of Teva.

Badenoch was accompanied by British Ambassador Neil Wigan, for whom this was not his first visit to Teva. During the visit, Badenoch was briefed on the nature of Teva’s research, on its innovative products and demonstrated profound interest by asking question after question.

Badenoch, who was in Israel against the backdrop of the renewal of the Free Trade Agreement between the UK in Israel, spoke of the importance of strengthening the already impressive trade relationship between the countries in light of new challenges and opportunities. She was well aware of the fact that Teva is among the world’s leading producers of generic drugs.

The visit culminated with a luncheon in Badenoch’s honor.

■ MEMBERS OF Thailand’s Royal family are deeply interested and personally involved in various branches of medicine. Those who visit Israel make a point of including at least one hospital or medical research facility in their itineraries. The most recent Thai royal to visit Israel was Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Krom Phra Srisavangavadhana, who was here this month.

Amongst the places she visited was the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, where she signed an MOU between Koret and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Thailand’s Kasetsart University. The princess was briefed on the curriculum and activities of the school and observed surgery performed on a dog.

She also visited Hadassah Medical Center, where she was introduced to the latest medical technologies and met various department heads.