Nefesh B'Nefesh | Making an Impact

Every year, Nefesh B’Nefesh awards the Bonei Zion prize to Anglo olim who have made exceptional contributions to Israeli society. Among those who were honored in 2020 are a top diplomat, a senior hematologist and a young social entrepreneur

Rebecca Kopans
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New olim from North America arriving on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight
New olim from North America arriving on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flightCredit: Sasson Tiram
Rebecca Kopans
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Founded in 2002, Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) in partnership with Israel's Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA, facilitates the process of making Aliyah from North America and the UK by minimizing financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles. By providing comprehensive long-term support and social services to new olim from these countries, Nefesh B'Nefesh softens their absorption into Israeli society and ensures that each Aliyah story is a success. Of the 65,000 new immigrants the organization has assisted to date, over 90% have remained in Israel.

In addition to providing complete pre- and post-Aliyah information and counseling, Nefesh B’Nefesh coordinates special charter and group Aliyah flights, and helps expedite the entire Aliyah process. NBN Aliyah Advisors also assist new olim with career counseling, educational options for children and more.

The Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize was established in order to formally recognize the achievements of outstanding Anglo olim and their contribution to the State of Israel. Every year, the prize is awarded in each of six categories: Community & Nonprofit, Education, Global Impact, Science & Medicine, Young Leadership, and Culture, Art & Sports, as well as for Lifetime Achievement. Usually, a festive ceremony is held in Jerusalem honoring the prize laureates, however this year's ceremony has been temporarily postponed due to the coronavirus.

Bonei Zion prizes at last year's ceremonyCredit: Yonit Schiller

The seven recipients of the 2020 Bonei Zion prize come from diverse backgrounds and occupations, but they hold in common the fact that they all made Aliyah from English speaking countries, and have made a significant impact on their new homeland by excelling in their field. 

Amb. Dore Gold, foreign policy legend

Ambassador Dore Gold, who made Aliyah from the U.S. in 1980, received the 2020 Bonei Zion prize in the Global Impact category. As a prominent figure in the world of Israeli diplomacy practically from the moment he arrived in Israel, it is difficult to overstate Amb. Gold’s contribution to Israel’s foreign affairs. He has held such key government positions as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, advisor on international issues to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and official envoy to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. Today, Amb. Gold is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is regularly called upon to share his expertise. He has written books on the Middle East, including three New York Times bestsellers, and his articles appear in major international publications.

Amb. Dore GoldCredit: Jared Bernstein

As a student at Columbia University, where he received BA, MA and PhD degrees, Dore Gold was part of a group of students who had a strong connection to Israel. Four of them decided to make Aliyah together. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do as Jews coming from America to help with Israel’s resurrection?’ The answer for me was becoming involved in Israeli foreign policy, and bringing the experience we had acquired in academia,” he says. Gold settled in Jerusalem without a clear plan of action, but “things happened,” he says, and one opportunity led to another. 

Looking back at his upbringing after 40 years in Israel, Dore Gold muses that the American concept of freedom has remained an important value for him. He recalls being impressed as a child whenever he saw a New Hampshire license plate with the state’s motto “Live Free or Die.” “American values were something I incorporated in Israel. Appreciation of freedom as part of a foreign policy agenda is very much what I grew up with,” he notes. But when asked what he misses about the U.S., Gold replies: “only the New England sea air and maple syrup.”

Amb. Gold is very appreciative of receiving the Bonei Zion prize. “What can I do with this prize to give motivation to other American olim?” he asks. “I haven’t become burned out or cynical about Israel. All these years I maintained that kind of young idealism. It’s important not to be jaded,” he advises newcomers.

Prof. Deborah Rund, pioneering medical researcher

Professor Rund is the 2020 Bonei Zion prize recipient for Science & Medicine. Originally from New York, she arrived in Israel in 1987 at age 37 along with her husband and two small children (the third was later born in Israel), after completing her medical training as a hematologist. Rund was a Zionist from a young age and was always determined to make Aliyah. From the moment she arrived in Israel, she embarked on an impressive career path at Hadassah Hospital that was grounded in her work in a lab at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital focusing on genetics of blood disease.

Prof. Deborah RundCredit: Jared Bernstein

Prof. Rund was the first researcher in Israel to use the PCR technique, and she introduced the use of PCR as a diagnostic tool for better understanding the causes of hereditary anemias in different populations in Israel.

Indeed, over the years, Rund has contributed her vast clinical, research and teaching skills to improving the lives of patients with hematological disorders in Israel and she has made profound contributions in the field of hematology on a global level. Moreover, she serves as Associate Editor of the British Journal of Hematology, has been awarded the Faculty Prize for Research and the Faculty Prize for Teaching from Hadassah Hebrew University and was listed in Forbes Best Doctors in Israel 2017-2018.

“I was very lucky and also very stubborn. I was in the right place at the right time,” Rund insists, looking back on her prestigious career. She remembers her early days in Israel as challenging.

“At first, people didn’t respect me because of my Hebrew. I had no time for ulpan. I spoke Biblical Hebrew with an Ashkenazi accent. People died laughing whenever I opened my mouth!” she remembers.

Her advice to new olim: “Remain humble. Let people help you. For me, the key is humility and altruism.” Prof. Rund was shocked to receive the Bonei Zion prize. “I don’t deserve it! It’s a great honor to be among the other awardees. It’s a very moving experience.”

Zo Flamenbaum, social entrepreneur

This year’s Bonei Zion Prize for Young Leadership was awarded to Zo Flamenbaum, an energetic go-getter who made Aliyah ten years ago from New Jersey when she was 25. “I realized that there were lots of opportunities in the U.S., but there is a different depth in Israel – a ‘soul’ that I didn’t feel in the States,” she says. Zo discovered her calling as a social entrepreneur in her first few years in Israel, during which she missed her friends from home and felt a lack of community.

Zo FlamenbaumCredit: Jared Bernstein

“I discovered the ‘Science of Happiness’ and started to gather friends for positive activities such as volunteering,” she explains. “I created a women’s circle for English-speakers so that we could learn about ourselves together.”

These initiatives grew into the School of Shine, a value-based platform for empowering women seeking a sense of community and more purposeful living. Since opening in 2014, School of Shine has impacted thousands of women in Israel and beyond through interactive workshops, online programs, mentorship matching and wellness retreats.

“There were no English resources for personal development in Israel,” Zo elaborates, adding that School of Shine caters to women from diverse backgrounds and inspires positive actions through activities such as picking up trash, pop-up yoga, breast cancer awareness fundraisers and a Soul Sisters Community Festival on International Women’s Day.

“Receiving the Bonei Zion prize is a beautiful reflection that I’m on the right path and making an impact,” says Flamenbaum. “The prize is very meaningful and shows that I’m making a difference and that people are appreciative of my work.”

For more information about the Bonei Zion prize or to nominate a worthy candidate, go to: Deadline for 2021 prize nominations is: December 31, 2020