Open University Gala Honors Sen. Joe Lieberman, Galia Maor and Alberto Sutton - The Jewish Voice
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Open University Gala Honors Sen. Joe Lieberman, Galia Maor and Alberto Sutton

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Gala Chair Mimi Perlman, OUF President Inge Rennert, Honoree Senator Joseph Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman (from left).On Monday evening, December 10th over 300 guests and prominent personalities gathered at The Pierre Hotel in Manhattan to attend the annual Open University Foundation Gala Celebration. Commencing the exhilarating evening with a beautiful cocktail reception, friends and dignitaries had the opportunity to greet each other before the formal dinner and award ceremonies got under way.

The Open University of Israel (OUI) was established in 1974 with the express mission of affording direct access to higher education to all segments of Israeli society. The OUI has achieved this vital objective through the combination of a unique open admissions policy and rigorous academic standards, along with a broad range of cutting-edge distance learning modalities.

Unlike other universities and colleges in Israel, no high school diploma or written examinations are required for admission. Once enrolled, students must take responsibility for their own studies, budget and manage their time, be self-motivated and meet the demanding academic course requirements. As there are no academic pre-requisites for eligibility to OUI, this translates into a vast array of opportunities for higher education for all; including talented and motivated students with limited academic credentials or preparation.

Nearly 1 in 5 undergraduates in Israel – 45,000 – are currently enrolled in OUI, and this unique institution serves more students than at any of the other seven universities in Israel. Because OUI’s distance learning system eliminates the barriers of distance and time, this allows students to study wherever and whenever they choose. Students at OUI represent a wide cross section of Israeli society, including full time workers, women with families at home, soldiers on active duty, gifted high school students, professionals seeking higher degrees, Chareidi men and women, as well as those of the Druze, Christian and Muslim faiths.

The result: 34,000 students with Bachelor’s degrees and over 2,500 with Master’s degrees. A majority of these graduates are now assuming positions in Israeli business, academics and government; thanks to the programs at OUI.

Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, President of the Open University of Israel extended warm greetings to the dinner attendees and provided a brief overview of the Open University’s news programs. Gillat Kol, an Open University graduate and now a doctoral candidate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rechovot, spoke about the deep connection between her personal transformative experiences and the exceptionally generous scholarships provided by American donors to Open University.

“I thank our gala committee and all attendees and donors for helping us exceed our goals,” said Gala Chair, Mrs. Mimi Hass-Perlman. “The funds raised will help OUI achieve its mission of extending access to higher education to all segments of Israel’s populations,” she said.

“We’re delighted that so many of our friends and supporters joined us to celebrate the extraordinary progress and vital importance of the Open University in Israeli society,” said Mrs. Ingeborg Rennert, President of the Open University Foundation. “You are helping us recognize outstanding individuals who have made so many imperative contributions to education in the State of Israel, and Jewish life here in the United States,” she added with a palpable exuberance.

“When I am asked why I am involved with the Open University of Israel, my answer is simple: I have met the graduates,” says Mrs. Rennert, who, in addition to her dedication to Open University, is also an internationally renowned philanthropist. “It is at graduation that you can truly appreciate the diversity of the student population coming together — its students, graduates and faculty — and the promise of their contributions to Israel in the coming years,” she said.

The guests of honor at the OUI included accomplished figures in the world of politics and business including US Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and his wife Hadassah Lieberman, who were the recipients of the auspicious Yigal Allon Award. Completing his fourth term in the US Senate, Lieberman has being an outspoken supporter of Israel and a variety of Jewish causes. During their distinguished careers in public service, Senator Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, they have addressed America’s most pressing issues — education, the environment, national security and equal opportunity in education and the work place for all, irrespective of race, religion, nationality or gender.

Presented with the impressive Max Rowe Award was Galia Maor, a member of the Open University Council for 25 years. Ms. Maor is one of Israel’s most prominent banking and financial leaders. As President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bank Leumi Group from 1995 through 2012, Ms. Maor guided the bank through the recent financial crisis to re-emerge as the largest bank in the State of Israel.

This year’s winner of the Young Leadership Award was community benefactor Alberto Sutton, the founder and principal at Middlegate Securities. Mr. Sutton is a visible leader in the Sephardic Jewish community in New York City and sits on the board of trustees at the Magen David Yeshiva, Yeshiva of Flatbush and the Sephardic Old Age Home.

Also in attendance was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, prolific writer, professor, and political activist, Elie Wiesel. He is the author of 57 books, including “Night”, a classic work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Speaking of the struggles he and his family endured during his childhood, Mr. Sutton said, “I arrived in this country at the age of seven with my two brothers and my father. Those were extremely tough times but my father insisted on sending us to Yeshiva. Not being able to pay the tuition, we received generous scholarships for many years. Since then, with G-d’s help, my father was able to repay all the good that was given to him… and much, much more.”

“For people who, for whatever reason, did not finish high school or could not get into college or are not able to pay for a higher education, Open University opens its doors to them and allows them to learn and achieve so they can help themselves and be productive members of society,” said Mr. Sutton. He observed that, “True freedom is attained through knowledge, and that is what Open University gives to their students.”

Thanking his wife Susie and his parents, Mr. Sutton also paid special tribute to his father-in-law, Mr. Joseph Aboudi, the author of the recently published book, “From Syria to Palestine: My Fight for A Jewish State” which is a poignant memoir of his life as a fighter for Israel’s independence during the British mandate era. “Through his courage and devotion to what he believes in, my father-in-law showed me the right path to choose and to work hard to give back to the community,” said Mr. Sutton. “There is no greater mitzvah than recognition of good, and with G-d’s help, I hope to continue assisting Open University and many other institutions.”

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