Grapevine June 30, 2023: A literary week

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with some of his junior guests from the TALI school (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with some of his junior guests from the TALI school
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Hebrew Book Week combined with Book Reading Month generated numerous literary events including at the President’s Residence. Even before hosting such events, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal joined other bookworms in perusing Book Week displays in Jerusalem.

But on Tuesday of this week, the president devoted much of the day to the literature of one kind or another. In the morning he was visited by Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, who presented him with English and Hebrew copies of his latest book Shabbat: A Day to Create Yourself. Soon after their meeting, at which Goldstein told the president that the Sabbath, which is an integral part of Jewish identity, takes precedence over politics, Herzog hosted a group of first graders from the TALI school for an hour of storytelling. The school operates in accordance with the Montessori method of education in which students, though guided by teachers, are self-led and self-paced. The youngsters sang and read to the Herzogs who later conversed with them, and were obviously impressed by the children’s reading proficiency. Both Herzog and his wife emphasized the importance of reading books.

In the evening, they hosted some 150 adults who came together to mark the 150th anniversary year of the birth of noted poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, who had a profound influence on the culture of the state in the making. The date of the gathering was closer to the anniversary of his death. Bialik was born in January 1873 and died on July 4, 1934. Presumably at this time next year, there will be events to commemorate the 90th anniversary of his passing.

■ THE SAGOL Center for Composite Materials, was inaugurated at the Haifa Technion during the institution’s meeting of its Board of Governors. The ceremony took place in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering with Tova, Sami, and Itzhak Sagol and their family, and the Technion management all in attendance.

Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan, in thanking the Sagols, referred to Sami Sagol, who is an alumnus of the Technion’s Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, as a “true friend of the Technion and a role model for Technion alumni around the world.” Sagol is an international businessman and philanthropist. In recognition of his activities throughout the years, the Technion awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2019. He is also a Guardian, a distinction reserved for supporters who have made the highest level of commitment to the Technion. Sagol and his wife Tova direct their resources towards doing good through constant involvement and a strong commitment to the future of the State of Israel. Sivan had no doubt that their contribution to the establishment of the Sagol Center will have a significant impact on the advancement of Israeli society and of humanity as a whole.

MICHAL HERZOG accepts a floral tribute from a junior guest who is a pupil at the TALI school (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
MICHAL HERZOG accepts a floral tribute from a junior guest who is a pupil at the TALI school (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Prof. Peretz Lavie, chairman of the Israel Friends of the Technion, said: “Sami Sagol has made ‘Tikkun Olam’ (repairing the world) the guideline of his life. In his philanthropic activity, as much as in his business, he sees what’s to come before anyone else, and acts for a better future for Israel and the whole world. The new building for composite materials, which will carry his name, will ensure the continued excellence of the faculty, which already boasts a Nobel laureate amongst its members.”

“Composite materials, which will be at the heart of the new Center’s activities, are truly revolutionary in a variety of fields, including aviation, green energy production and storage, interfaces with the human body, construction, and civil engineering.

It will enable the Technion’s researchers to develop better materials in terms of their strength, weight, cost, and durability,” said Dean of the Faculty Prof. Gitti Frey.

Sami Sagol was born in Turkey. His family immigrated to Israel when he was a boy. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry at the Technion. Under his leadership, Keter Plastic, a small family business founded by his father, became an international enterprise.

THE ABRAHAM Accords have led to cooperation in many fields between Israel and the Gulf States. Early this month, Prof. Niron Hashai, dean of the Arison School of Business at Reichman University, participated in a Tech Talk panel at INSEAD Business School’s campus in Abu Dhabi.

The panel dealt with innovations in teaching and research in business administration using virtual reality. The panel, moderated by Prof. Victoria Woo of INSEAD San Francisco, also included Prof. Peter Zemsky, dean of innovation at INSEAD, and Prof. Steven King, chief innovations officer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Hashai presented Reichman University’s innovation in producing VR-based events and his view that in the future, such case studies will replace the written case studies that are used today. “Gen Z has less patience for reading 30-page case studies, and using VR both eliminates the need for this and also offers the participants a very profound immersive experience in which they feel like an integral part of business situations that they need to address,” he explained. Hashai also noted the challenges involved in using VR-based events, and especially the need to make the classes in which the technology is used smooth: “VR teaching should be less like American football, in which there are many breaks, and more like European football, which flows,” said Hashai.

The panel was part of the first conference on teaching and research using VR with the participation of representatives from leading universities in Europe and the US. It was broadcast live to hundreds of people around the world.

■ LOVE CONQUERS all is more than just a trite slogan as witnessed in Jerusalem’s Old City last week. In a heartwarming and meticulously planned scenario, Alon Paz, who is fully paralyzed and reliant on a ventilator in order to breathe, proposed marriage to Yaffit, his girlfriend of several years – and she accepted. The emotional ceremony took place on Tuesday, which according to Jewish tradition is a lucky day because it is the third day of creation and the only day on which God twice said that it was good.

The scene for the proposal was the square of the historic Hurva Synagogue. The meaningful event was able to take place thanks to the assistance of a United Hatzalah intensive care ambulance team.

Alon cannot recall the exact details of the cause of the severe car accident which he suffered several years ago while on his way to meet a friend in Netanya. The vehicle he was driving collided with a concrete partition wall, leaving him paralyzed and unable to move any part of his body from the neck down.

Prior to the accident, Alon had been very active. Since the accident, he has been unable to leave his home aside from the occasional excursions that United Hatzalah’s “ambulance of dreams” takes him on every few months. Recently, he had a special request. He asked for help in planning a unique excursion that would include him proposing to his long-time girlfriend Yaffit in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Agreement came, of course, instantly.

The actual day included a visit to his mother’s grave and from there to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and then on to Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. A team of volunteers including paramedics and EMTS accompanied him all the way.

Meanwhile, teams from the logistics and operations departments of United Hatzalah were busy setting up the square in the Old City in order to fulfill Alon’s dream proposal.

Curious passersby gradually started to gather around the red carpet, adorned with a large sign, in the square next to the Hurva Synagogue. Everyone was waiting for the moment when the proposal would take place.

After all the arrangements had been completed, the intensive care ambulance pulled up at the nearby parking lot in the old city and Alon was transported to the square in the ambulance bed. The team carefully transferred Alon’s bed and the ventilator from the ambulance, with his girlfriend standing beside him.

As the music began playing softly in the background, confetti flew through the air, and the medical team guided the bed down the red carpet, Alon held the special ring he had purchased, mustered his courage, and proposed. Without hesitation, Yaffit joyfully responded with a resounding “Yes.”

People in the crowd, most of them total strangers, came forward to offer their congratulations to the happy couple, and then began dancing joyfully.

Alon spoke about his constant battle to maintain a spirit of optimism given his condition. “If a person wants something badly enough, they have to fight for it. The Creator of the World will hear and the Creator of the world won’t say no… I love life and I want to continue my life. I want to establish a home, a Jewish home, a warm home, a kosher home, a home according to the Torah of Moshe and Yisrael.”

Yaffit was profuse in thanking United Hatzalah for all their efforts on Alon’s behalf and in making the proposal as special as it was. “The whole thing was really terrific. I want to thank everyone who was involved in this, and who participated and brought us joy. Thank you so much.”

If names mean anything, Alon and Yaffit were made for each other. His name means golden oak and hers means beauty. Oak is a sturdy, evergreen tree, which may explain Alon’s determination to make the most of his life despite his condition. As for Yaffit, her decision to stay with him, and her positive response to his proposal, indicates that she is beautiful both inside and out.