Science and Zionism Bloom Side by Side in the Desert

“It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel shall be tested,” David Ben-Gurion once famously said. Israel’s first prime minister was a passionate advocate of developing the sparsely populated and barren southern desert into a thriving center of learning, technology, culture and innovation. Three decades after his death, a university named in his honor is carrying out his vision. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), with campuses in Beer-Sheva, Sde Boker and Eilat, has as its central mission the goal of developing the Negev by attracting bright scholars to the region, conducting world-class research, promoting industry and agriculture in the desert, improving education, investing in the surrounding immigrant communities, and pioneering green technology and arid zone research.

To highlight the university’s recent advances and contributions to Israel and the world, the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University hosted a symposium and dinner on April 11 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. The evening, titled “David Ben-Gurion’s Vision in Los Angeles: Science, the Negev and Israel’s Future,” drew more than 150 attendees, including former Jewish Federation head John Fishel and his wife Karen, and local philanthropists Ruth Flinkman, Larry Field, Yitzhak Parviz, Pouran Nazarian and Dr. Gabriel Rubanenko.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan greeted the audience, acknowledging the somber date — Yom HaShoah — and connecting it with the importance of supporting Israel and the mission of BGU as a response to current existential threats. “People constantly ask why Israel is not responding to the threat of Iran. Every new house we build in the Negev is a response to Iran. Every innovation, every new technology and advancement is a response. We chose not to be victims anymore, but heroes. We are sending the message that we are here, we’re going to stay, and we’re going to prevail.”
“The Negev is the future of Israel,” said Rivka Carmi, president of BGU and the first female president of an Israeli university, in a recorded video message. “The Israeli government knows this … the students know this … the country knows this. The Negev is where the pioneering spirit of Israel still thrives.”

Three prominent BGU professors shared their work during the symposium. Dr. Tuvia Friling, a scholar of Israeli history, Zionism and the Holocaust, gave a brief overview of David Ben-Gurion’s historical significance in “Propelling and Living the Zionist Dream.” Dr. Alon Monsonego’s research focuses on neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases, and his presentation was on “Developing a Vaccine for Alzheimer’s Disease and Novel Treatments for the Sick Brain.” He demonstrated how he and his BGU colleagues and students are pioneering new strategies to reverse the damage of Alzheimer’s.
Professor David Faiman, a leading authority on solar energy, spoke of his work developing solar-power-generated electricity at a fraction of the cost of other existing technologies. The head of Israel’s National Solar Energy Center, Faiman illustrated in a detailed business model the feasibility and sustainability of duplicating this system (already in operation at Kibbutz Yavne in Israel) for use around the world.

The evening’s moderator, Judge Leon S. Kaplan, described Faiman’s work as a literal “light onto nations,” which is an oft-used biblical phrase that Ben-Gurion University strives to embody.