The Jewish Voice – Mar 27, 2013
By David Ben Hooren
A palpable electricity filled the air on Tuesday evening, March 19, as over 350 ardent supporters of Israel gathered at the annual glittering gala “Tree of Life’ dinner at New York’s Pierre Hotel. Hosted by the legendary Jewish National Fund in conjunction with ALEH Negev – Nahalat Eran, the focus of this spectacular display of dedication to the people and land of Israel were on this distinguished individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the survival of the Jewish state.
Putting the dinner attendees in a jovial state of mind was easy for Paul Reiser, an Emmy nominated entertainer who served as master of ceremonies for the prestigious evening. Widely known for his role on the long-running television sitcom, “Mad About You”, Reiser is also a comedian, actor, author, screenwriter and musician.
Through its Blueprint Negev initiative the Jewish National Fund has made a major impact in the region by partnering with ALEH Negev, an organization that provides children with severe cognitive and physical disabilities throughout Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care to help them realize their full potential. Together, they have built a state-of-the-art communal Rehabilitative Village in Ofakim that is providing much-needed services and jobs to the area.
Hitherto this juncture in time, those afflicted with severe disabilities have grown up in hospitals, with no sense of home or societal framework. ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran is now home to more than 200 adults with disabilities and serves some 12,000 children and young adults with disabilities each year on an outpatient basis. The village provides vocational training, occupational therapy and medical facilities, including a petting zoo and a therapeutic horseback riding center. The proceeds from the Tree of Life dinner will benefit JNF’s work with ALEH Negev.
Each year the JNF presents its “Tree of Life” Award to a exceptional individual in recognition of their meritorious community involvement, their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship, and their devotion to peace and the security of human life. The recipient of this year’s Tree of Life Award was accorded to Eric A. Danziger, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wyndham Hotel Group, the world’s largest hotel company.
As a lodging industry veteran, Mr. Danziger has served in executive leadership roles in such well known hospitality companies as Carlson Hotels Worldwide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and Double Tree Hotels. As a recipient of numerous industry awards and honors, Mr. Danziger was also a 2011 UJA-Federation of New York Honoree.
Presenting the Tree of Life Award to Mr. Danziger was Yossi Kahana, the Director of Development for ALEH Negev. Of the historic and ground breaking achievements of the JNF, Mr. Danziger remarked, “I am struck by how over the past 109 years, the JNF has evolved into a global environmental leader by planting millions of trees, building reservoirs and dams, creating parks, and bringing life to the Negev desert and educating students around the world about Israel and the environment.”
Mr. Danziger expressed his personal and heartfelt sentiments about the work of ALEH Negev by saying, “When I first met Yossi last year and he told e about ALEH Negev, I was inspired by the work they were doing. Autism has touched my family and many of yours I’m sure. Not only is the research to isolate the cause important, but the care and development of children who need to find happy and productive roles in their lives. And at this place in Israel, they are focusing on children with even more needs.”
Recalling memories of his recent trip to Israel to visit the ALEH Negev center, Mr. Danziger said, “I had the opportunity to met several of the children and it was so clear to me that they were happy and healthy and enjoying the opportunities. It was refreshing to see… and all in this beautiful country with its important and rich history.”
The prestigious Guardian of Israel Award was presented to the internationally renowned Israeli Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, who is also the current Chairman of ALEH Negev. Major General Almog had served in the Israel Defense Forces from 1969 through 2004. Key landmarks in his storied career include his participation in the 1976 Entebbe Operation, commanding elite paratroopers during the first Lebanon War, airlifting more than 6000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and heading the Southern Command from 2000-2003.
In addition to his military achievements, General Almog is the author of the recently published book entitled, “The Commitment – A Study of the Impact of American Jews on the Establishment of the State of Israel 1945-1949.”
The focus of his voluntary activities is ALEH Negev and the village (Nahalat Eran) is named for the General’s son Eran, who was ALEH Negev’s first resident. Eran passed away in February of 2007 of a rare illness.
The new 25-acre village and its multi-faceted departments are empowering young adults in Israel to interact with the outside world, develop a greater degree of independence and become productive members of Israeli society. This cutting-edge concept has set a new benchmark in the field of special education, and the ALEH Negev facility is being studied as a model for duplication by experts worldwide.