Goldman Sonnenfeldt Foundation to Donate $20 Million Naming Gift to the School of Sustainability and Climate Change

Michael Sonnenfeldt and Katja Goldman announced a $20 million donation to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's new School of Sustainability and Climate Change, which will be inaugurated at the 52nd Annual Board of Governors Meeting next week. The school will be renamed The Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change.

"This transformational gift is a tremendous vote of confidence in BGU's ability to effect change. For over 50 years we have been researching how to live in our desert. As the world is now coming to BGU to learn from this experience, with this gift, we are poised to leverage our experience for tackling a truly global problem, " says BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz.

“BGU is leading the world in adaptability research for climate change," says Michael Sonnenfeldt, Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Foundation Inc. co-founder and president. “For decades, their researchers have been developing leading-edge technology to help Israel adapt to a harsh desert climate. Now that much of the rest of the world face similar conditions, this research has global and urgent applicability. We are proud to contribute to BGU's mission to address a global challenge with revolutionary solutions that allows humanity to survive, and thrive, amid global climate disruption."

A serial entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist, Sonnenfeldt is also the founder of TIGER 21, the premier peer membership organization for high-net-worth entrepreneurs, investors, and executives. For more than 30 years, he has dedicated his efforts to solving sustainability challenges from food supplies to energy and environmental issues.

The gift was pledged to Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU), which supports the University through raising awareness and funds. The gift will propel the School's six primary strategic objectives forward.

"Meeting these objectives will offer the world a new academic paradigm for moving the needle on climate change," declares Prof. Chamovitz.

As a platform, the Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change will enable the seamless integration of novel approaches to education, research, and outreach as the world's environmental needs evolve in the decades to come. These objectives are:

1) Recruiting a world-class faculty, which will attract more top researchers and the best students from Israel and abroad.

2) Raising BGU research outputs in critical fields, including water, energy, sustainable agriculture and engineering, infrastructure, circular economy, and public health, which will lead to novel solutions for climate change and sustainability.

3) Developing trans-disciplinary degrees that prepare tomorrow's leaders for key environmental and sustainability fields.

4) Collaborating with BGU's venture-building and regional-development platforms, which will lead to new companies based on the researchers' technologies and to Beer-Sheva's transformation into the global center for desert tech.

5) Creating a framework for sharing knowledge with the local community, which will shape policy, influence behavior, and ensure a pipeline of leading sustainability researchers and professionals.

6) Transforming the School into a leading source of data, influence, and advocacy for climate-change mitigation and sustainability, which in turn will help to shape government policies.

Michael Sonnenfeldt and Katja Goldman have been supporters of BGU since 1981. The Joya Claire Sonnenfeldt Auditorium, named for their daughter, has served as the University's main auditorium for the last 30 years. The Forest Goldman Sonnenfeldt Building for Solar Energy and Environmental Physics, named for their son, has been in operation for the past 25 years.


BGU Signs Cooperation Agreement with The European Center for Jewish Music

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and The European Center for Jewish Music at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media (HMTMH) recently signed a cooperation agreement, which will pave the way to further scientific cooperation, and open the gate to student and faculty exchanges.

The agreement was signed by Prof. Sarah Ross on behalf of HMTMH and by Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel, VP for Global Engagement, and Prof. Aviad Raz, chair of BGU's Department of Sociology and Anthropology, in the presence of Prof. David Wettstein, Dean of BGU's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The first active cooperation between Prof. Sarah Ross, HMTMH, and Prof. Dani Kranz, BGU, constitutes a three-year research project that received a major DFG (German Academic Research Council) grant which focuses on “Knowledge Architectures: Mapping structures of Jewish heritagization processes on communal, organizational and academic levels in post-1945 Europe," part of which is due to be published in May 2022.

The current project is part of the “Jewish Cultural Heritage"  program and will include Dr. Marina Sapritsky Nahum, a postdoctoral scholar, and Mr. Samuel Weigel a Ph.D. student. The first international conference of the umbrella project is set to take place at Ben-Gurion University in late 2023.

Ross and Kranz plan to develop a follow-up project for the second funding phase in which they will focus on issues of conversion in post-1945 Europe. Furthermore, HMTMH and BGU agreed to offer joint international seminars for students from Israel, Germany, and other countries. The seminars will alternate between Israel and Germany.

Pictured above from left to right: Prof. Dani Krantz, Prof. Sarah Ross – HMTMH, Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel – VP for Global Engagement, Dr. Stavi Baram - Director, BGU International, Prof. David Wettstein – Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Nine Extraordinary Individuals Honored by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

 Pictured above: The honorary doctorate recipients with BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz and Rector Prof. Chaim Hames

 

​Eight talented individuals received honorary doctorates from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday evening May 17, 2022, during the 52nd Board of Governors Meeting.

They include one author, one CEO, three philanthropists, one rabbi, one scientist, and one university chancellor from five different countries.

The recipients were: Sylvan Adams, Israel; Rabbi Denise L. Eger, USA; David Grossman, Israel; Timotheus Höttges, Germany; Cyndi and Max Mintzberg, Canada; Prof. Louise Richardson, United Kingdom; and Prof. Nahum Sonenberg, Canada & Israel.

Harold Paisner of the United Kingdom received the President's Award "in recognition of over 3 decades of commitment, in a completely voluntary capacity, to the University's vision and success."

"Our University proudly bears the name of David Ben-Gurion," Ben-Gurion University President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz said at the ceremony, "and we strive daily to meet the standards set by this great man, to adhere to his values, and to realize his vision. We, who aspire to hold up his values, believe that anything is possible, and work with determination and vision to create a new reality."

"We bestow this honor upon individuals who exemplify the characteristics that we wish to hold up as inspiration to our students, and as role models for our own community of scientists, scholars and supporters; Individuals for whom excellence is not a buzz-word, but rather, an innate value," he continued.

"The truth is, they don't need us to acknowledge their accomplishments - they did not embark on their efforts to be acknowledged. We thank them for allowing us, to honor them. Their acceptance of an honorary degree from BGU, reflects that honor back on to our institution and what it stands for, providing a mirror within which we hope to see a bit of ourselves," he said.

Rector Prof. Chaim Hames made the case for the centrality and relevance of the humanities in 21st century higher education.

"In a sense, if the humanities want to avoid becoming irrelevant or a “footnote" to STEM, they need to stop being on the defensive, stop trying to justify what it is they do, and engage much more with the public including academics and university administrators who come from other disciplines, and show them the significance, yes, even relevance, of what it is they do. They need to emphasize and show how almost every academic discipline needs to engage with the humanities, both to understand better its own essence, richness, and diversity, and to improve, critique and fine-tune the questions it asks.

"We need to step back from the trees and also see the forest, to see how our work engages with the larger questions that inform what and who we are as human beings and what our responsibilities are to future generations. And here, the humanities have a great role to play and, instead of just being stand-alone disciplines, they need to be far more integrated into the fabric of every teaching program, into the fabric of almost everything we do.

"We are working to achieve that aim here at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev by promoting the study of the humanities as a core part of almost every undergraduate degree program. It is my belief that the "skills" acquired will benefit every student regardless of her subject of choice, will help inculcate a desire for life-long learning and curiosity, and will enrich campus life and our contribution to society at large," Prof. Hames concluded.

Honorary doctorate recipients in alphabetical order:

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​​Sylvan Adams, Israel

A Canadian-born businessman, philanthropist and amateur cycling champion, he made Aliya in 2016. Adams previously served as CEO of the Montreal-based real estate firm Iberville Developments and was the sole shareholder of Summit International Bank.

Sylvan aims to show the world what he calls 'normal Israel' by presenting the true face of Israel, often negatively portrayed by media, to large audiences around the world. He has promoted this 'normal Israel' by bringing world class cultural and sporting events to the country. Adams has famously brought Lionel Messi and the Argentinian National soccer team, Madonna to the Eurovision Song Contest, and the French Super Cup to Tel Aviv. Sylvan was also responsible for initiating and hosting the largest sporting event in the country's history; the "Grande Partenza" Big Start of the Giro d'Italia. These events brought Israel into the homes of literally billions of television viewers around the world.

He is also the only Israeli signatory to The Giving Pledge.

 

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Rabbi Denise L. Eger, USA

She is the founding senior rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, in West Hollywood, CA. She is past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the international organization of over 2,300 Reform Rabbis, where she served as the first openly gay or lesbian person in that position. She was also the first woman ever elected president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis which includes Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox Rabbis.

Rabbi Eger is the editor of the groundbreaking book, Mishkan Ga'avah: Where Pride Dwells: A Celebration of LGBTQ Jewish Life and Ritual (CCAR PRESS, 2020). This collection of LGBTQ prayers, poems, liturgy, and rituals is both a spiritual resource and a celebratory affirmation of Jewish diversity. Giving voice to the private and public sectors of queer Jewish experience and allies.

 

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​David Grossman, Israel

One of Israel's foremost authors, David Grossman's works include novels, novellas, short stories, a play, a children's opera, non-fiction works, an essay collection and song lyrics. Grossman publishes articles regularly both in Israel and abroad.

His books have been translated into 45 languages and have won many prestigious awards including the Man Booker International Prize and the Israel Prize. They have also been adapted for theater, film, opera, and radio drama.

Scroll Timotheus Höttges.pdf

Timotheus Höttges, Germany

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Deutsche Telekom AG since January 2014. Deutsche Telekom is the largest telecommunications provider in Europe by revenue.

Höttges joined Deutsche Telekom in 2000. He joined the company's board of directors in 2006 and in 2009 he became finance director rising to CEO in 2014.

Telekom Innovation Laboratories at BGU are the company's only R&D labs outside of Germany.

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Cyndi and Max Mintzberg, Canada

Cyndi is a clothing and jewelry designer, who has designed clothing for fashion brands. She has also worked on interior design and architecture projects including one for a Jewish school in Western Canada.

Max is a successful mobile phone entrepreneur, first in Montreal and then in British Columbia in Western Canada.

They are enthusiastic supporters of the University.

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Prof. Louise Richardson, United Kingdom

Professor Louise Richardson is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. She was previously Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews.

A political scientist by training, Professor Richardson is recognised internationally as an expert on terrorism and counter-terrorism. Her publications include Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past (2007), What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (2006), The Roots of Terrorism (2006), and When Allies Differ (1996).

Professor Richardson's awards include the Sumner Prize for work towards the prevention of war and the establishment of universal peace.

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Prof. Nahum Sonenberg, Canada & Israel

A McGill University professor, he is a pioneer who shed light on the most fundamental translational control processes of protein synthesis. He was the first to discover the mRNA cap-binding protein responsible for the eukaryotic translation apparatus.

His findings on the role of protein translation in memory and synaptic plasticity opened up a new field in neurobiology and lay the foundation for a better understanding of autism, fragile X syndrome, and processes of learning and memory.

His groundbreaking work on proteins that affect the progress of diseases has led to the development of innovative cancer therapies.

 

President's Award

Scroll Harold Paisner.pdf

​Harold Paisner, United Kingdom

A successful lawyer, he is the Senior Partner Emeritus at Berwin Leighton Paisner.

He has served as President of the Ben-Gurion University Foundation in the United Kingdom since 1997.


BGU Scientist receives Top-Up Funding from ERC to exploit Research Results

​A BGU scientist and his research group are among fifty-five ERC grantees to win Proof of Concept Grants funded by the European Research Council (ERC) to explore the commercial or societal potential of their frontier research projects. Worth €150,000 each, this top-up funding is part of the EU's research and innovation program, Horizon Europe.

The selected projects cover a variety of different fields and questions, such as a more efficient method to produce the cells used in immunotherapies to fight cancer; new technologies to lower our energy consumption; and a quicker way for companies to change ingredients of everyday consumer products to make them more environmentally friendly.

Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi, of the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev​, and his research group will explore FibRestoration - novel specialized probiotics for restoring a healthy fiber-degrading microbiome.

Dietary fiber is well-recognized as beneficial to gut microbiome and has repercussions on human health. Consequently, in recent years, alternative dietary lifestyles favoring the consumption of high amounts of dietary fibers have been proposed. In order to avoid digestive discomfort associated with the increased intake of dietary fiber, the Mizrahi Group proposes to develop probiotics that will target cellulose, a main component of dietary fiber.

Indeed, cellulose-degrading bacteria are absent both in the gut microbiomes of most human populations and in existing probiotics. The Mizrahi Group's research has highlighted a microbial genotype existing in the gut microbiome of a minority of humans, which is highly similar to that of the key fiber-degrading, cellulose-fermenting bacterium of the rumen microbiome. Significantly, they discovered that this particular bacterial genome is prevalent in the gut microbiome of members of human hunter-gatherer populations, whose main diet consists of raw fiber.

The Mizrahi Group concluded that the very low prevalence of this bacterium in the microbiomes of most human populations reflects its global disappearance owing to industrialization and modernization of society and the consequent worldwide reduction of fiber in modern diets. They therefore propose to reinstate this critically important bacterium into the human microbiome.

Prof. Mizrahi's microbial eco-genomics lab studies the evolutionary forces that act on microbial communities in nature, as well as the ecological forces that shape them. Specifically, they are interested in the factors that determine microbial community assembly in gut environments, as well as the effect of gene mobility via plasmids on their ecology.

Prof. Mizrahi has been awarded both ERC starting and consolidator grants.

Out of 96 evaluated proposals, 55 projects were selected for funding. The new grants were awarded to researchers working in 16 countries: the Netherlands (10), UK (7), Italy (6), Germany (5), Israel (5), Spain (4), France (4), Austria (3), Czech Republic (2), Finland (2), Portugal (2), Belgium (1), Turkey (1), Sweden (1), Romania (1), Norway (1).

The Proof of Concept (PoC) grant competition is open only to ERC grantees. According to a recent survey, more than half of the researchers awarded PoC grants have either created companies or transferred the results of their research to pre-existing companies. The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organization for excellent frontier research.​


Many Unassessed Reptile Species are in Peril

Animals and plants are facing varied degrees of extinction risk based on their characteristics (for example those that reproduce slowly), the locations where they reside, and human threats they face. Extinction risk is commonly summarized as threat categories – which have been derived for many species during the past decades by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, using data on species' range and population sizes and trends in these attributes.

Reptiles comprise nearly 11,800 species worldwide, and are the most species-rich land-vertebrate group. After 18 years of laborious work by many experts globally, last month, the first extinction risk assessment of this group was completed (the Global Reptile Assessment). This important endeavor will enable adding reptiles to global conservation policy and management initiatives as one of the major groups assessed.

Nevertheless, this assessment still leaves over 3000 reptile species that have either not been assessed or were assigned a data deficient category that prevents their prioritization for conservation. In an effort to fill-in this gap a new publication in the journal PLOS Biology, by an international group of researchers presents estimates of extinction risk for those species currently neglected by the Global Reptile Assessment, using novel machine learning modelling. The researchers found that those unassessed and data deficient species are more likely to be threatened than assessed species.

BGU's Dr. Gabriel Caetano, lead author of the paper explained “The IUCN threat assessment procedure is highly important, yet very lengthy, data intensive, subject to human decision biases, and relies on in-person meetings of experts. However, we can use information on already assessed species to better understand the risks to those not yet assessed. Species may share physiological, geographic, and ecological attributes (often via shared evolutionary history) that make them more threatened, and experience similar sources of threat when they occur at similar locations. In our work we tried to emulate the IUCN process using predominantly remotely sensed data and advanced machine learning methods. We used species that have been assessed to teach our models what makes a species threatened and then predict the threat categories of unassessed species."

He added “our new methods are important for highlighting reptile species at risk and can be used on other groups as an initial shortcut for threat categorization."

Prof. Shai Meiri from Tel-Aviv University added “Importantly, the additional reptile species identified as threatened by our models are not distributed randomly across the globe or the reptilian evolutionary tree. Our added information highlights that there are more reptile species in peril – especially in Australia, Madagascar, and the Amazon basin – all of which have a high diversity of reptiles and should be targeted for extra conservation effort. Moreover, species rich groups, such as geckos and elapids (cobras, mambas, coral snakes, and others), are probably more threatened than the Global Reptile Assessment currently highlights, these groups should also be the focus of more conservation attention."

Dr. Uri Roll, also from BGU, noted “Our work could be very important in helping the global efforts to prioritize the conservation of species at risk – for example using the IUCN red-list mechanism. Our world is facing a biodiversity crisis, and severe man-made changes to ecosystems and species, yet funds allocated for conservation are very limited. Consequently, it is key that we use these limited funds where they could provide the greatest benefits. Advanced tools- such as those we have employed here, together with accumulating data, could greatly cut the time and cost needed to assess extinction risk, and thus pave the way for more informed conservation decision making".

Original article citation:

Caetano GHO, Chapple DG, Grenyer R, Raz T, Rosenblatt J, Tingley R, et al. (2022) Automated assessment reveals that the extinction risk of reptiles is widely underestimated across space and phylogeny. PLoS Biol 20(5): e3001544. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001544

Lizard.jpg

Proportion of reptile species in different threat categories for an Automated Assessment Method and for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Lizard silhouette vectors by Vecteezy.


Creating Sperm on a Chip

Children with cancer who receive aggressive chemotherapy may lose their future fertility. Preserving fertility among these children and treating infertile men (due to testicle defects) are issues that concern many researchers around the world. Now, a research group led by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in collaboration with a research group at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology has succeeded in creating an innovative platform that improves the process of creating sperm in a laboratory through a microfluidic system using a silicon chip (PDMS).

Their research was published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Biofabrication.

Prof. Mahmoud Huleihel (pictured above), from the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev considered the need to find a method of producing sperm cells in the laboratory so that it bypasses limitations such as the potential return of cancer cells to the patient's body.

Young mice that do not yet produce sperm cells are a model that imitates the growth of sperm cells in the testicle. Under laboratory conditions, it was possible to develop a procedure for culturing testicular cells in an environment very close to the natural environment (in terms of the structure of the sperm tubes and the cells that make them up). Using a special chip designed for the study, a complete 3D system was built, containing microfluidic channels that allow the addition of growth factors, cells from the testicles, or any other cells from the tissues of the body.

The innovative system was successfully tested using young mice (which contain primary germ cells that develop to form sperm, and supporting testicular cells). The long-term culture was tested and after 5-7 weeks, seminiferous tube-like structures containing advanced-stage cells (ROUND SPERMATID) in the process of sperm formation were observed. Now, the research group is preparing for the next phase of applying the experiment to cells from humans.

"This study opens up a new horizon in the process of creating sperm cells in a culture," says Prof. Huleihel. "It enables the implementation of microfluidic-based technologies in future therapeutic strategies for infertile men and in the preservation of fertility for children undergoing aggressive chemotherapy/radiotherapy treatments that may impair their fertility in puberty. In addition, this system may also serve as an innovative platform for examining the effect of drugs and toxins on male fertility."

The research group included: Prof. Emeritus Eitan Lunenfeld, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka Medical Center, currently a senior faculty member at Ariel University, and Prof. Gilad Yossifon, from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Technion (currently a faculty member from the School of Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University). The research was led by Ph.D. students Ali AbuMadighem, from the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Sholom Shuchat from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.

This study (No. 3425/20) was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and in collaboration with the Chinese Foundation for Natural Sciences (NSFC) (ISF-NSFC), the Reproduction Hub at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Council for Higher Education Scholarships for outstanding Ph.D. students from the Ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations.

This development is based on a registered patent owned by BGN TECHNOLOGIES, the university's tech transfer company.


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen awarded Honorary Doctorate from BGU

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday, June 14, 2022,​ on the Marcus Family Campus in Beer-Sheva.

"We bestow the doctorate honoris causa upon individuals who exemplify the characteristics that we wish to hold up as inspiration to our students, and as role models for our own community of scientists, scholars and supporters," Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz told her.

"President von der Leyen, when I look at your myriad accomplishments, and your priorities, I am pleased to see some of the directions that we as a university have also committed to. Your "roadmap for a green transition" to battling climate change is perfectly aligned with our new Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change. For over 50 years we've been learning how to live in our desert, and now the world comes to learn from our experience.

"And your long-term commitment to women's rights, gay marriage and an inclusive democratic society is built into the DNA of our university, which sees its mission as building a shared academic society that uses higher education as a tool for societal transformation," he said during the ceremony.

“I feel honoured and humbled by this recognition," President von der Leyen began, “The fact that the honorary doctorate comes from this prestigious institution, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has a very special meaning for me. This is not only because the list of your doctors honoris causa is truly impressive – from Simone Veil to Yitzhak Rabin. There is also a more personal reason for me. I am a European woman of German nationality. And no longer than 80 years ago, millions of Jewish people were murdered by Germans, in the greatest crime of all human history. We, in Germany, take historical and enduring responsibility for this inhuman disruption of civilisation. It is an indelible stain on my country's conscience, which we must never and will never forget. So, it feels like a miracle that a German like me is welcomed and honoured here, in the State of Israel, as a friend among friends, only a few generations after the Shoah.

“But it is no miracle. My being here is the consequence of a choice made by the State of Israel, and by one man above all: The great David Ben-Gurion. It was he who took the first, historic step towards reconciliation with the Germans. He believed that the best way to honour the victims' memory was to build a better future."

Turning to Jewish life and history in Europe, “The very reason why the European Union was founded lies in two simple words: Never again. As long as I can remember, I was convinced of two very simple facts. First, there is no Europe without European Jews. And second, Europe and Israel are bound to be friends and allies. Because the history of Europe is the history of the Jewish people. Europe is Simone Veil and Hannah Arendt. Europe is Mahler and Kafka, and Freud. Europe is the values of the Talmud, the Jewish sense of personal responsibility, of justice and solidarity.

“Today, almost 80 years after the Shoah, Jewish life in Europe is thriving again. Countries like Portugal and Austria are rediscovering their Jewish heritage. I see it in Brussels, too. Just a few months ago, I had the honour to light the Chanukah Menorah in the heart of the European quarter. What an experience. And yet, European Jewish life is also embattled and endangered. Anti-Semitism has not disappeared. It still poisons our societies. And anti-Semitic attacks happen, today, in Europe. It is a new threat but it is the same old evil. Every new generation must take responsibility so that the past does not return. This is why, I have put the fight against anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe at the core of the European Commission's agenda. Our democracy flourishes if Jewish life in Europe flourishes, too. Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have been 'a light unto the nations'. And they shall be a light unto Europe for many centuries ahead."

Shifting to the threat to democracies and Russian aggression, “Today more than ever before, democracies like Europe and Israel should come closer together. Not because our democracies are perfect. They are not. No democracy is. Democracies offer the environment in which diverse societies can thrive. And they are challenged like never before. And we can help each other overcome these challenges. Together, we can get one step closer to the ideals of our founding fathers and mothers.

“Russia's aggression of Ukraine is a war against democracy itself. It is a war against the idea that the people of Ukraine can take sovereign decisions about their own future. Year after year, Ukraine's diverse and vibrant civil society has pushed for positive change and has strengthened the country's democratic institutions. This is exactly what the Kremlin is fighting against. It could not be more symbolic that the first Russian bombs on Kyiv fell right by the gate of a Holocaust memorial and that the Russian propaganda is built on the abominable rhetoric of 'denazification' against a democratic Ukraine. We see with great worry the age-old threat of scapegoating the Jewish people in times of war. I know that Israel has helped Ukraine with tons of humanitarian aid and a field hospital, and you have welcomed tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees to your land.

"In a war against democracy, we all have a stake. And for us, Europeans, the stakes could not be higher. The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us. And since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch and Danish companies, in retaliation for our support of Ukraine. But the Kremlin's behaviour only strengthens our resolve to break free of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels."

President von der Leyen highlighted two future projects with Israel, “For instance, we are exploring ways to step up our energy cooperation with Israel. We have two major projects in preparation: The world's longest and deepest underwater power cable, connecting Israel with Cyprus and Greece. This will eventually come from renewable sources. And a gas and clean hydrogen pipeline in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is an investment in both Europe's and Israel's energy security. And this infrastructure will also contribute to decarbonising our energy mix. It is a great example of democracies sticking together not only in times of conflict but mostly to fight this huge enemy, the climate crisis."

She stressed the climate crisis and the role Ben-Gurion University and Israel could play, “Climate change is indeed the second great challenge that our democracies must face. And no one understands this better than you, here in the Negev. David Ben-Gurion believed that here in the Negev, Israel's creativity and its pioneering spirit would be tested. He always spoke about 'the duty to make the desert bloom'. And that is exactly what you have done ever since. As we can see in your School of Sustainability and Climate Change. I marvel at how you are testing new building materials that can withstand the desert heat, nature-based solutions, and how you have managed to adapt food crops to the desert climate. With the looming food crisis, we know that these will be the solutions that will determine if countries have independent food production capabilities. You have, quite literally, made the desert bloom. Today, the solutions that you have been researching for decades can change the life of millions across the world."

President von der Leyen delivered a ringing endorsement of democracy, especially its ability to make corrections in its path, “We must strengthen our democratic way of life every single day. We must nurture our openness, and our diversity. We must defend the freedom of our media, the independence of our judges, the equality of all people before the law. Keeping democracy in good health is hard work. But it is worthwhile work. Imperfect though it may be, this is the best thing about democracy. Autocrats cannot admit mistakes. Democracies can always improve and correct. Because we, the people, can always make it better. Because we, the people, are the ultimate guardians of democracy," she told the audience.

Link to the full text of President von der Leyen's speech

 

The scroll President von der Leyen received reads:

"In recognition of an exceptional stateswoman, President of the European Commission, guiding the European Union towards a promising future by promoting democracy, peace and unity among its members; in acknowledgement of her inspiring leadership, confidently steering the Union through upheavals and storms, including during the current war on the continent; with appreciation for the extraordinary skills she has applied in service of the public throughout multiple cabinet appointments in Germany, including as federal Minister of Defense, Minister of Family Affairs and Youth and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs; with sincere regard for her contributions to Germany's security and social justice, and her efforts on behalf of its women, children and youths in particular; in gratitude to a true friend and ally, for her uncompromising efforts to eradicate antisemitism and ensure the wellbeing of Jews throughout Europe, as well as her commitment to enhancing the standing of the State of Israel and deepening its ties with the EU; and with great esteem for her dedication to environmental protection and economic growth, and for her dauntless perseverance in advancing equal rights and opportunities for all people and for future generations."​


4 Reasons Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is Leading the Way in Sustainability and Climate Change

From heat waves, devastating floods and forest fires in British Columbia, to severe famine in Africa, and terrifying earthquakes and tsunamis in Asia and the Pacific, now more than ever, we are feeling the worldwide environmental consequences of global warming and climate change. In 2021, Ben-Gurion University (BGU) located in Israel’s Negev Desert, introduced Israel’s first School of Sustainability and Climate Change, designed to bring together nature and technology to find solutions to some of the world’s largest environmental challenges.

Among its many areas of research, the school and its academics, researchers and students are revolutionizing the way human beings relate to, live, and thrive within desert environments.

Here are five unique reasons that Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is leading the way in sustainability and climate change:

  1. Lived experience: BGU has five decades of experience and expertise in desert living – This post-secondary academic and research institute has earned its reputation as an environmental authority. BGU has been conducting research into environmental issues for five decades which makes it an authority on these matters. It is also the only Israeli university to be located in the Negev Desert which makes up 60% of Israel’s land mass.
  2. Track record: Research conducted at BGU is helping solve global environmental issues – According to the United Nations (UN), one third of the world’s land mass is desert, and 2.1 billion people live in desert and dryland environments. To find solutions to some of the most complex environmental challenges facing the world today, the environment must first be studied, researched, and understood. The research findings at BGU could help other nations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and around the world find solutions to real-life global problems.
  3. Academic depth: The School of Sustainability and Climate Change at BGU is interdisciplinary, home to 150 research labs – This means that the resources needed to perform accurate research into life within desert and dryland environments are readily available. In addition, since BGU is an interdisciplinary institution, researchers and students are able to collaborate across a variety of departments and take a wider, 360-degree approach to the research it is conducting.
  4. Leadership: A leader who has walked the walk - BGU is led by its President, Professor Daniel Chamovitz, a man who leads by example when it comes to the environment. Professor Chamovitz has a PhD in plant genetics and is recognized internationally as a research scientist promoting plant sciences and their contribution to feeding the growing world population.

Be a part of writing humanity’s next chapter! BGU Canada will host two major fundraising events in June for the School of Sustainability and Climate Change.

Join us for the upcoming “Ben-Gurion Gala Dinner for Sustainability and Climate Change” taking place in Vancouver on June 9 th , 2022. The event will honour Martin Thibodeau, RBC Royal Bank, Regional President, for his commitment to building community, diversity and the environment.

For details, head to our website: bengurion.ca/vancouver-gala-2022/

You can also join us in Montreal for “The Main Event – The Next 50” on June 14 th at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. The event will feature Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the Ensemble of the Atelier Lyrique of the Opera de Montreal.


Azrieli National Centre for Autism

Today marks a major milestone for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University. Together we are thrilled to announce a transformational donation of $15.6 million made by The Azrieli Foundation. The gift is directed to the newly named AZRIELI NATIONAL CENTRE FOR AUTISM AND NEURODEVELOPMENT RESEARCH.
This breakthrough donation over a six-year period will vastly expand the centre and its reach. We are immensely grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for choosing to invest in the national centre located at BGU in Be’er-Sheva!
To learn more or to read today’s announcement click the button below:

Read Media Release



BGU Researchers to Develop Novel Biological Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

BGU researchers are developing a novel therapeutic strategy for treating Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) by sequestering inflammation-inducing molecules secreted by gut bacteria. The method, invented by Prof. Ehud Ohana (pictured below) from BGU's Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, is based on findings from Prof. Ohana's lab showing that gut levels of succinate, a metabolic molecule involved in various biochemical processes in living cells, were markedly increased in IBD, corresponding to changes in succinate-metabolizing gut bacteria. Several recent studies show that succinate acts as a pro-inflammatory metabolite, in particular driving inflammatory activity of macrophages.

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), primarily including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, affect up to 1.5% of US adults and millions of people globally and lead to a severely impaired quality of life and significant morbidity. If remained untreated, IBD patients are at high risk for developing colon cancer. Currently, there is no cure for IBD, and treatments revolve around various methods for controlling inflammation by reducing the activity of the immune system. In severe cases, surgical intervention is required.

The findings were published in Cell Reports​ in a paper titled "A transepithelial pathway delivers succinate to macrophages thus perpetuating their pro-inflammatory metabolic state". This study was conducted by Moran Fremder, a graduate student in Prof. Ohana's lab (in the MD/Ph.D. program) and in collaboration with Prof. Jae Hee Cheon from Yonsei UniversitySeoul, South Korea.

The novel method targets and chelates excess succinate in IBD patients to attenuate its absorption, by using peptide sequences that mimic the succinate binding site in succinate binding enzymes. In parallel, biochemical methods will be used to measure succinate concentrations in biological specimens for a better diagnosis and content monitoring of IBD and related extra-intestinal symptoms. These technologies will be used as a companion tool to diagnose and treat IBD.

"Current treatments for IBD include antibiotics, steroids, and biological treatments aimed at inhibiting the activity of the immune system. Such treatments can have long-term side effects, and none address the root causes underlying IBD which are largely unknown," explained Prof. Ohana. "Our novel findings show that IBD is driven, at least partially, by changes in the activity of gut bacteria and by the accumulation of succinate in the gut, leading to chronic inflammation. Therefore, chelation of succinate can treat IBD and reduce inflammation. Furthermore, our therapeutic peptides are identical to molecules that naturally exist in our body and are therefore unlikely to provoke a harmful immune reaction."

"This promising therapeutic approach developed by researchers at BGU is like that of diabetes treatment, wherein blood sugar levels are constantly monitored and adjusted using medication. It is, therefore, more dynamic and personalized than existing medications and is likely to significantly improve the quality of life of people suffering from IBD," added Josh Peleg, CEO, BGN Technologies. "We have filed for patent protection and are now seeking a strategic partner for the further developing and commercializing this promising invention."