HOW IN ONLY FOUR DECADES, DAVID BEN-GURION’S VISION OF DEVELOPMENT IN THE NEGEV HAS GROWN INTO A SOLID NATIONAL UNIVERSITY.
Today, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, named to honor the memory and vision of David Ben-Gurion, has long since passed the test, establishing itself as a world leader in medical research, and driving innovation in homeland security, alternative energy and desert studies.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) was established in 1969 with the aim to bring development to the Negev, a desert area comprising more than 60 percent of the country. With some 20,000 students on campuses in Beer-Sheva, Sede Boqer and Eilat in Israel’s southern desert, BGU is a university with a conscience, where the highest academic standards are integrated with community involvement, committed to sustainable development of the Negev.
Named “Israel’s Most Popular University” among students for several years running, students in undergraduate and master’s programs are enrolled in the engineering sciences, health sciences, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences, and business.
Major research institutes include the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev, the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research with its Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism.
Medical Miracles in the Desert
BGU’s world-famous Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School has become a model for community-oriented and global medicine, while social work and education degree programs supply Beer-Sheva and the region with the majority of its social service personnel.
Its medical innovation is unrivaled in many areas, from researching new cures for Alzheimer, diabetes, and epilepsy to groundbreaking focus on dieting, gerontology and cancer, to name a few. Imagine a new blood test for early cancer detection, extracting calcium from crustacean shells that accelerates bone repair, or an innovative sensor that determines whether you have a virus or bacterial infection. Those are just a few of the fascinating medical projects under way at BGU.
BGU’s research is a multidisciplinary effort that takes a holistic approach. Medical doctors, environmental physicists, geneticists, biochemists, nutritionists, and public health specialists have joined together to improve health and decrease morbidity.
Medical research and innovation is a primary interest of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) donors, among them, some of South Florida’s most prominent philanthropic families and foundations. AABGU plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion’s vision, creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University’s expertise locally and around the globe. It is headquartered in New York City and has nine regional offices around the country, including one in Boca Raton.
Florida resident Rubin Salant visited BGU for the first time in 1989 and his enthusiasm was instantly ignited. “The energy level of the president and the students, who I spent a lot of time with, was amazing, just amazing. I had the opportunity to see the very beginning.” Perhaps closest to his heart is his involvement with the Spitzer-Salant Building for the Department of Social Work. He has also generously contributed to numerous endowment funds, and established the Salant Scholarship Fund. Salant was honored for his leadership and support for the University with the receipt of an honorary doctoral degree in 2008.
Researchers at BGU’s S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition, funded by Florida philanthropist Danny Abraham, are finding that different dietary compositions have distinct health effects. They have proven, for example, that a Mediterranean, low-carbohydrate diet is effective not only in weight loss, but also in reversing the hardening of arteries.
Innovative research is also being conducted at BGU’s Homeland Security Institute to safeguard Israel, focusing on cyber security and telecommunications, remote sensing and disaster preparedness. Applications being developed include driverless jeeps that patrol borders, small helicopters equipped with imaging equipment that can take off and land on a moving vehicle, robots for search and rescue missions, and high-resolution scanning and sensing technologies that make it easier to identify targets.
Recently, an anonymous Florida donor provided a $1 million contribution that will enable BGU scientists to expand Israel’s space research and security program through the development of BGUSAT. This program will culminate in an actual launch of two pico-satellites carrying imaging, communication and GPS technologies.
Making the Desert Bloom
Experts say that the successful development of the Middle East, and its political stability, rest largely on the sustained supply of usable water to all countries of the region. BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR), founded by Palm Beach resident Roy Zuckerberg, is dedicated to interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research and graduate education in water sciences. Its mission is to improve human well-being in drylands through technologies and policies for sustainable use of water resources.
The ZIWR, on BGU’s Sede Boqer campus, unites under one roof all aspects of water resources research, including extensive research activities in diverse water sciences ranging from groundwater production and desalination technologies to treatments for marginal water sources.
Committed To Community
The Lillian and Larry Goodman Open Apartments Program on BGU’s Marcus Family Campus in Beer-Sheva is a shining example of the University’s strong community involvement. The program’s guiding principal is simple: the students live in rent-free apartments located in the socio-economically challenged neighborhoods of Beer-Sheva. In exchange, they share their personal and academic skills with the neighborhood residents. There are 63 apartments in the program, all located in the older impoverished neighborhoods of Beer-Sheva. Approximately 100 students participate in the program annually. The program is generously supported in part by Sandra and the Hon. Billy Joel, commissioner of Aventura.
In addition to the many personal relationships with Florida, BGU professors visit the state to conduct research at a number of universities. Recently, BGU signed separate agreements with the University of Miami (UM) and the University of South Florida to collaborate in areas that include joint research programs, academic cooperative programs and student exchange programs. UM President Donna E. Shalala received an honorary doctorate from BGU in 2011, and BGU President Rivka Carmi gave a “Presidential Lecture” at UM this past February.
Indeed, there are countless other ways in which Florida supports BGU, with many academic and research chairs, as well as unrestricted gifts from well-known philanthropists and many others, each one contributing to the success and prominence of BGU.
“David Ben-Gurion used to say that in Israel, in order to be a realist you had to believe in miracles,” explains BGU’s president, Prof. Rivka Carmi MD, also saying that “BGU is living proof that miracles do happen, thanks to the hard work, commitment and exemplary generosity of many Florida residents and people the world over who are passionate about and concerned for Israel.”