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Issues of the Day Beautiful Israel: Doers of Good Works Honored by Pres. Peres

On Tuesday evening I had the privilege of attending the President’s Award for  Volunteerism ceremony. Conducted in Jerusalem at Beit HaNasi, the official residence of Israel President Shimon Peres, the event was a vivid portrait of Israel at its best.

I was invited to the ceremony by my dear friend, Dr. Ada Aharoni, a writer, poet, scholar and activist who was one of the eleven award winners. Ada was recognized for her outstanding contributions since the early 1970s on behalf of “peace culture between Arabs and Jews.” I have come to know Ada in the context of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC), a group active all over the world and composed of people of letters dedicated to the advancement of peace. Ada, who immigrated alone to Israel from Egypt at the age of seventeen, is a former chair of the World Congress of Egyptian Jews and a tireless fighter for the coexistence and understanding.


Volunteerism: An Israel Core Value

Despite the afternoon heat, President Peres actively participated in the ceremony. His words conveyed wisdom, experience and benevolence and he was warmly received. He spoke about the vital role volunteerism played in the state-building process. He asserts that it remains a core value of the Israeli national ethos.


One of the President’s most incisive remarks related to the rising role that civil society and volunteer organizations play in public affairs. He believes that government authority is being replaced around the world by civil initiatives and popular will channeled into action.  I believe that the

President, who is keenly aware of emerging trends, is right on the mark and this is one of the basic messages I make in Rise, A Novel of Contemporary Israel, where the Rise movement is the instrument of change at a time when the government is unwilling or unable to advance the interests of the country’s citizenry.  

A Cross-Section of Israel


In addition to Ada Aharoni the, recipients of the Presidential Awards for Volunteerism included two wheelchair-bound activists, one from an Arab town in the center of the country and the one a former pilot and colonel in the Israel Air Force. Both men have successfully raised consciousness and prompted change concerning disabled citizens.  The soldiers of Air Force Unit 121 were recognized for their volunteer activities on behalf of hospitalized children.


Another organization works to provide home environments for youth  at-risk while an activist on behalf or battered women and their children was also honored. A Druze sheik received the award for his efforts at furthering inter-faith understanding and a community activist from  the desert town of Dimona was cited for her works on behalf of her community and adjacent ones. An organization dedicated to the social and occupational integration of college-educated citizens of Ethiopian origin was recognized, as was a group dedicated to closing social gaps by using technological and scientific tools.


A sixteen year old youth from a suburb north of Haifa received the citation for his activities with the elderly and the hungry,  which he has undertaken since he was nine years old.       


Heroes , Movers and Shakers


The first recipient of the President’s award was twenty-four year old Nadav Ben-Yehuda who in May 2012 was 350 meters short of realizing his goal of being the youngest Israeli to scale Mount Everest when he found another climber, a Turkish citizen, prone and unconscious in the snow.  Without consideration for his own wellbeing, Ben-Yehuda carried the fallen mountaineer for eight hours down the slope to medical assistance. Both men survived, though they suffered severe frostbite. Citing values he gained during his service in the Israel Defense Forces, Nadav Ben-Yehuda says he has no regret about saving the life of a fellow climber, though he still faces the prospect of losing several of his fingers due to the injuries he incurred.


Musical and dance performances, including one by the Wheel in a Circle troupe -- half of whose members danced using the wheelchairs --  along with aperitifs and the humor of Natan Danker, who moderated the evening enhanced the ceremony.


What truly made the event a resounding success was the spirit of cooperation and initiative demonstrated by the honorees. It is individuals and organizations such as these who hold the key to Israel’s future. This theme was echoed in President Peres’ remarks as well as the eloquent comments of Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University, who chairs the Advisory Board for the Presidential Award for Volunteerism. 

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved