Among the recipients of honorary doctorates conferred this week by Bar-Ilan University, was Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, who earned his MA and PhD from BIU, and who responded on behalf of his fellow honorees – Yoram Cohen, the former director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency); Etgarim-Challenge, the rehabilitative organization for people with mental and physical disabilities; Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; the IDF Orchestra, which also performed; Israeli poet Agi Mishol; and Ronnie Stern, the president of the American Friends of BIU.
Performing with the IDF in a medley of time-honored Israeli songs were two female soldiers, whose singing did not seem to bother any of the rabbis and other orthodox men in the audience.
Lau recalled that 34 years earlier, his late father Naphtali Lau-Lavie had received an honorary doctorate from BIU, and 13 years ago, his uncle Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau had also been the recipient of an honorary doctorate.
What he didn’t say was that his uncle is about to be honored yet again by the university, almost immediately after Shavuot, when he will receive BIU’s Ingeborg Rennert Guardian of Zion Award at a gala dinner at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
Lau described Bar-Ilan as an educational institution that combines Torah and science, Judaism and democracy, and tradition and innovation Traditionally at such ceremonies, each recipient is gowned by small groups culled from among the board of governors or board of trustees or senior university officials. When it was Hoenlein’s turn, one of the group placing the academic shawl on Hoenlein’s shoulders was outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who hugged him. This is not only because they are good friends, but because Hoenlein was the founding executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Earlier in the day, Hoenlein told the writer of this column and Jerusalem Report Editor- in-Chief Steve Linde that the reason the struggle for Soviet Jewry had succeeded was because it was a movement and not an organization. As such, it was a catalyst for Jewish unity because it was a human-rights issue that spoke to Jews regardless of their religious or political affiliations.
Hoenlein also made it clear that contrary to reports in numerous Jewish publications, he is not stepping down completely from his work with the conference, but is stepping aside to ensure the smooth transition of his successor and the continuity of what he worked so hard to achieve in a period of 32 years.
There have already been numerous applications to replace him from highly talented and capable people, he said. He will remain involved with the conference, albeit in a non-executive capacity.
The erroneous report was however a balm for the ego. Hoenlein has been inundated with lucrative offers from across the US and Israel, but he prefers to stay with the conference. “I was never interested in money,” he said.
Before starting with the conference, he was offered another job where the salary would have been much higher, but he wanted to work where he believed he could make a difference in the Jewish world. He is currently very worried about the challenges facing the Jewish world, especially the rise in antisemitism. He worries that while the focus is so much on what is happening in Europe, people fail to realize the seriousness of growing antisemitism in America.
■ AS IS customary at award events of any kind, there were video presentations in relation to each of the recipients of the honorary doctorates. In the audience was a large contingent of Etgarim members and volunteers, who cheered loudly every time the video showed their founder – prize-winning filmmaker Yoel Sharon, who had been the commander of an armored-personnel carrier during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
The APC was hit by a shell from an Egyptian tank, and 16 of the 129 soldiers in the APC were killed. Sharon received a severe spinal injury that left him a paraplegic, but that did not hinder his resolve to continue with the plans that he had prior to his injury, and thus became Israel’s first film director in a wheelchair. Faced with many physical challenges, he founded Etgarim-Challenge for others like him, who were prepared to take on sports-related challenges that few people thought they could overcome.
But, with each member acting as an inspiration to the others, they triumph.
In the video, Sharon said: “I can’t walk, but I can fly. There are no limits in dreams.”
■ US PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s decision not to attend the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem has not affected international media interest, says Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen, who notes that more than 300 international journalists have applied for GPO cards in order to cover the event.
Already, 65 journalists from the US, 41 from Great Britain, 38 from France, 24 from Japan and 23 from Germany arrived in Israel over the past week, and it is anticipated that more will come during the next few days.
After the Giro d’Italia bike race last week, and the US Embassy move this coming week – which will be followed by the moving of the Guatemalan Embassy – television viewers around the world will have a much broader and more objective view of Jerusalem.
■ RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Alexander Shein will not be among the diplomats attending the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. He won’t even be at the Russia Day celebration in June, because he won’t be in Israel.
Shein has completed his tour of duty, and was going to be feted on Thursday at a luncheon hosted at the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem by the Protocol Department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
However, on Thursday morning, the Protocol Office was informed that he was feeling unwell and would be unable to attend, so the luncheon was canceled.
He is due to leave Israel on Saturday. All ambassadors come to Jerusalem to present their credentials, and those who stay around for the formal farewell also come to Jerusalem to say goodbye.
If they had their embassies in Jerusalem, it would be more convenient for everyone.
■ ALSO MISSING out on the American ceremony, is Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the president of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, who will join Christian American leaders in Washington to co-host a threeday summit that will celebrate both the embassy move and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel.
In addition to Bühler, speakers at the event in Washington will include Susan Michael, the ICEJ-USA national director and founder of American Christian Leaders for Israel; Gordon Robertson, the president and CEO of Christian Broadcasting Network; Dr. Jerry Johnson, the president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB); Dr. Jim Showers, the president of Friends of Israel (FOI); Gary Bauer, the director of CUFI Action Fund; Deborah Minotti, the president of Operation Exodus USA; Jim Solberg, the US director of Bridges for Peace (BFP); Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council (FRC); and Daniel Williams, Israel Allies Foundation.
■ ALONG WITH the creation of the State of Israel 70 years ago, was the creation of several national entities and institutions, including the Israel Defense Forces and Sheba Medical Center – the largest facility of its kind in Israel and the Middle East, where cutting-edge, multifaceted care has been provided to millions of people – Israelis, and non-Israelis alike.
People come from all over the world to be treated at Sheba.
The Israeli government recently asked the Sheba Medical Center to take yet another forward step and conceive and build the country’s first “City of Health” campus, where innovative medical technologies will be used to, not only treat patients, but also provide healthy solutions for everyday living.
In addition to celebrating its 70th anniversary in Israel, Sheba – which has supporters across America – will be holding several 70th anniversary events in the US at which Israeli- born actress and model Moran Atias will be the master of ceremonies.
Atias, who initially won fame in Italy, has starred in numerous Hollywood prime-time TV series, including 24, Tyrant, current Fox- TV medical drama The Resident, and the new Fall NBC show The Village.
Sheba’s groundbreaking innovations and commitment to helping and healing wherever in the world the services of its top-ranking professionals is needed, has undertaken humanitarian missions to Haiti, Zambia and elsewhere – and has provided compassionate care to children fighting cancer, including Palestinian children.
Providing treatment to the sick, regardless of who they are, is the epitome of “Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world), said Atias, adding that she was honored to be associated with Sheba’s “incredible work.”
Yoel Har-Even, Sheba’s chief-of-staff, commented: “As we celebrate Sheba’s 70 years of medical achievements across North America, we could think of no one more qualified than Moran [Atias] to enhance the image of the hospital. Moran has also participated in various global humanitarian missions, where she has witnessed the tireless efforts of our doctors on the ground.”