From an Ivory Tower to a Towering Beacon for Society
The inspiring speech made by Major General (Res.) Doron Almog - Chairman of the Rehabilitation Village Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran, recipient of the 2016 Israel Prize for a unique contribution to society and the state of Israel – who represented the alumni at TAU's 60th anniversary event.
Ivory Tower – a metaphor applied to most universities around the world. Even to those ranked at the top of the academic ladder - perhaps due largely to this very same measuring stick. I ask myself if the ivory tower can become a towering beacon for society.
Since its establishment 60 years ago, Tel Aviv University has produced about 170,000 alumni, including more than 69,000 with Masters' degrees and approximately 7,000 with PhDs.
In the name of all alumni, I would like to say thank you. We thank Tel Aviv University and its teaching staff, who gave us exceptional knowledge and tools to contribute in so many different areas: in academia, public service, security and education, in society, medicine, law and accountancy, in the world of cyber and computers, in the hi-tech industry and the financial market, in film, theater, music, culture, art and more.
An enormous contribution to the state of Israel. A huge contribution to ourselves and our families.
Having studied both here and in other academic institutions, I can appreciate the high requirements of Tel Aviv University – requirements that serve as a key to personal and professional excellence.
In the same breath I can safely say that the greatest teacher in my life was my son Eran - who was born with a severely damaged brain, who never called me 'dad', and who yet enabled me to judge how we conduct ourselves as a society from the point of view of its weakest member: A person who is wholly dependent on the goodwill of others, who will never graduate from any academic institution; An individual whose very existence is a deafening silence, forever asking us: "What is the meaning of the saying 'All of Israel are responsible for one another'?", "What is the meaning of 'Love your neighbor as yourself'?", "What is the meaning of 'A world of goodness shall be built'?"
This evening I wish to raise two important educational flags: the flag of personal excellence and the flag of social excellence.
A university's international academic ranking is based on indexes of personal excellence, such as the number of Nobel Prize laureates and Fields Medalists, the number of publications in leading scientific journals, and the average academic performance per capita.
This evening I ask Tel Aviv University to lead in the development of an additional index – the index of social giving. I believe that developing such an index will result in the significant betterment of Israel's society, strengthening its entire social chain.
The strength of human society will forever be measured by the strength of its weakest links. The more we are able to offer hope to those among us who are weak – to families whose entire world has collapsed, to the disabled, the wounded, the needy, the destitute – the stronger and more compassionate our society will become. As our human fabric grows stronger, our solidarity and inner strength to face every crisis and challenge will increase.
The effort to create an index of social giving for an academic institution should be led, to my mind, by both the university's leadership and its alumni. It must be a comprehensive effort, touching upon all fields of knowledge studied and developed at the university.
Every strong, successful alumnus must volunteer actively and persistently over months and years. Volunteerism is the main mechanism for building a better world. Creating incentives to encourage multifaceted, extensive volunteering among the university's graduates, for the benefit of the weakest members of society, may provide dramatic leverage for the betterment of our entire society.
A strong nation is a nation abounding with grassroots entrepreneurship. Israel is brimming with such initiative. Academic entrepreneurship that also encourages and cultivates the conversion of human capital into powerful social capital is a very important challenge. Social capital is the element that builds mutual solidarity, the feeling of care and love that we all need so much, both as individuals and as a society.
Those among us who are weak need it most of all. People who are severely ill, at-risk youth, impoverished families, poor students, victims of road accidents, Holocaust survivors, the frail elderly, and many others. All of them yearn for hope. All cry out for a world with less ego and a diminished emphasis on personal achievements. All long for a world with more compassion, generosity and love.
Tel Aviv University's 60th anniversary is exactly the right point in our evolution and maturation as a society. All over the enlightened world, universities and their personnel are known as residents of the ivory tower – indicating alienation and detachment from the harsh reality we see in societies everywhere. This evening, in the name of all Tel Aviv University alumni, I wish to view TAU and its graduates as the agents of change, transforming the university from an ivory tower into the towering beacon for society.