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The Fantastic Seven

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Technion president Peretz Lavie said the laureates shared the traits of  "chutzpah, ambition, and the courage to ask questions and risk making mistakes."

Technion's 2019 honorary doctorate laureates. From left: Nina Avidar Weiner, Sami Sagol, Moshe Safdie, Stephane Mallat, Alfred Forchel, former ACM president Stuart I. Feldman, and Carol Epstein.

Credit: Technion

Technion, the  Israel Institute of Technology, has awarded honorary doctorates to seven distinguished men and women, including entrepreneur and businessman Sami Sagol, architect Moshe Safdie, ISEF founder Nina Weiner, and Stéphane Mallat, whose grandfather secured the permit to build the first Technion building in 1911.

During the festive and emotional ceremony, which took place during the annual Board of Governors meeting, Technion conferred honorary doctorates on seven distinguished individuals. The ceremony was held in the presence of Technion president Peretz Lavie, chairman of the council Gideon Frank, chairman of the board of governors Lawrence Jackier, Canadian Ambassador to Israel H.E. Deborah A. Lyons, French Consul in Haifa Patrice Servantie, Deputy Mayor of Haifa David Etzioni, members of the Technion management, and faculty deans.

Technion president Lavie said at the ceremony that, "The success of the State of Israel in general, and of Technion in particular, rests on a combination of chutzpah, ambition, and the courage to ask questions and risk making mistakes. These are the traits shared by the seven laureates receiving honorary doctorates this evening. They don't all come from cultures where chutzpah is prevalent, but all succeeded thanks to the fact that they dare to think outside the box, ask important questions, and strive for satisfactory answers. We are grateful for your heroic efforts to make the world a better place."

The Laureates

Architect Moshe Safdie is one of the world's most celebrated architects. During his distinguished 50-year career, Safdie has created well over 200 awe-inspiring architectural projects that span the globe. "I was born in Hadar Hacarmel in a Bauhaus modernist building, across the street was the Technion," he said. "With my parents coming from Aleppo and my architecture education being in the west in Canada, I think I merged within me Western European and Eastern traditions. While I've received many honorary doctorates and other awards, I'm very moved by being honored by the Technion. For me the Technion is home territory, it is literally where I was born and where I grew up. When I decided to be an architect far away in cold Montreal, the Technion was always, for me, the memory of which school of architecture I should have been at."

Entrepreneur and businessman Sami Sagol was born in Turkey and made aliyah with his family when he was 15. Under his leadership, the Keter Group grew from a small family-owned company founded by his father in 1948 to a global corporation with an annual turnover of nearly a billion dollars. Sagol, a Technion alumnus in chemistry, said, "I started at Technion as a very young student, before my military service. At Technion I received a basis, not only an education, but how to think and what to think in many fields. In this sense, the Technion was the basis for everything I did in my future. The honorary doctorate degree from Technion is very special to me, as it comes after my first degree in engineering and science from Technion; in this sense, it closes a circle. The Technion has a very special place in my heart."

Stéphane Mallat, who spoke on behalf of the laureates, is one of the world's foremost scientists in signal and image processing. However, his speech focused on his family's unique connection to Technion. "The Technion represents for us a family story across three generations. It began with my grandfather, Asher Mallat, who studied in Istanbul. When the project of the Technion was rejected by the Ottoman authorities in Palestine, he was able in Istanbul to reverse the decision and obtain the rights to build the Technion. My father was always very attached to Israel and was very impressed by the economic effect of the Technion on Israel."

Mallat has close ties to researchers at Technion's Faculty of Computer Science. He said, "This honorary doctorate is a high honor from colleagues, but it is for me a gift from the Technion to my family to remember the engagements, the action of my grandfather and of my father for Israel and Technion."

Nina Avidar Weiner founded the international educational foundation ISEF, which supports outstanding young Israelis from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through the foundation, Weiner has empowered a new generation of leaders who are making an impact on Israeli society. "We've had a wonderful relationship with the Technion," she explained. "A minimum of 30-40 students a year at Technion receive scholarships and the results are phenomenal. We have three or four outstanding students that teach at Technion. The award from Technion is very, very special. I'm sure it will be incredibly important for all our alumni, all of the thousands of alumni we have all over Israel to be recognized by the Technion. I'm very grateful for it."

Alfred Forchel, president of the University of Würzburg, received the honorary degree for his significant contributions to the study of physics and quantum optics, and for his collaboration with researchers at Technion. He remarked,"The cooperation with colleagues at Technion have enabled scientific studies that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. This honorary degree from Technion will encourage me to enhance the cooperation in science between the two institutes, and beyond this, to use this as a means to fuel the exchange of people in Israel."

Carol Epstein received the honorary degree for her extensive contribution to the State of Israel, Technion, and the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York. She told the story about when her parents came to Israel in 1959: "My father walked in and sat in a classroom. He didn't understand a word of Hebrew, but he could understand what was written on the blackboard. He was blown away by the level of instruction. He said, 'I believe if any single entity is going to be responsible for the success of the State of Israel, it's Technion.'

"Receiving an Honorary Doctorate is a great honor; both of my parents had honorary doctorates. Although I've received a couple of awards they never got, this is the only one they got that I've yet to receive and I think it's really special."

Former ACM president Stuart I. Feldman received an honorary doctorate for his achievements in the world of computers and software design, for his commitment to technological innovation in Israel, and for the advancement of scholarships for women in mathematics and computer science in Israel. Said Feldman, "Israel has simply been an amazing source of scientific and engineering progress and the Technion is a very clear leader of the pack in Israel. The quality is simply there, the energy is there, the desire to innovate is there. I'd like to express my thanks to Peretz Lavie and Technion for giving me this fantastic honor."


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