Categorized | Middle East

Viterbis dedicate Sha’ar Hanegev center for arts

Alan Viterbi, left, yellow shirt, stands under archway of Arts Center named for his late brother


Story and photos by Yoni Peres

Yoni Peres

SHA’AR HANEGEV, Israel — In an emotional series of ceremonies for San Diegans and residents of Israeli villages situated close to the Gaza border, the Yitzchak Shavit Educational Complex was dedicated on Tuesday, June 26.  One of the center’s component buildings, a school for the arts, was dedicated by Qualcomm co-founder Andrew Viterbi and Erna Viterbi in memory of their late son, Alexander Joseph Viterbi.

The ceremonies began in Or Haner, a kibbutz founded by immigrants from Argentina who remembered their roots by serving helpings of Argentine-style beef.  Speeches for the occasion were given by Claire Ellman, board chair of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County; Larry Acheatel, headmaster of the San Diego Jewish Academy; Udi Tsur, an Israeli project team member for the educational complex; Gil Ya’ari, public relations director for Sha’ar Hanegev, and Debbie Kornberg, director of the Israel and overseas center at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

All this was a preliminary to a gathering at the educational village, which is situated in a complex that includes Sapir College which is adjacent to Givim, another kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev municipality.

Andrew Viterbi, with black kippa, tells of his son Alex’s life during Sha’ar Hanegev ceremony


Mayor Alon Schuster of Sha’ar Hanegev and Claire Ellman, board chair of the San Diego Jewish Federation, join in a toast to health and friendship

At the educational center, Andrew Viterbi told of Alexander’s life, mentioning that he studied at the San Diego Jewish Academy, that he had a real estate and an audio visual business, that two of his greatest passions were rock n’ roll music and a love for nature, particularly the mountains and the oceans.

His son was an accomplished boater, having taken trips from French Polynesia to Hawaii and then on to Alaska and down the West Coast to Washington, said Viterbi.  His talk came prior to a ceremony in which a mezuzah was affixed to a door of the Viterbi Art Center and a peace tapestry was unveiled.  This was a moving moment for the Viterbi family, especially Erna, and many in the crowd of well-wishers were caught up in the poignancy of the moment.  It was very emotional.

A local dance troupe performed a Hassidic folk dance at Sha’ar Hanegev ceremony

From the Arts Center, San Diegans moved to a courtyard that provides ready access to an ORT center and a Legacy Center, which are also important parts of the complex.  Dance performances and music were interspersed among a minyan’s worth of speakers, headed by Gideon Saar, Israel’s minister of education.  He noted that because of its proximity to Gaza, from which Palestinian terrorists have been firing a steady stream of Kassam rockets, the school had to be reinforced to withstand an exploding missile.

Gideon Saar, Israel’s minister of education, speaks at dedication of educational center

But, he said, the educational complex–serving students from preschool through college — will be known for far more than its architecture.  It will offer classes that acknowledge the great heterogeneity of Israeli society, as well as the sense of caring and responsibility that Israelis feel for one another.

Motioning towards nearby Havat Shikmim, the ranch owned by comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Saar quoted Sharon as saying that throughout the history of Israel, many great things had to be done with one hand holding a sword.  But, he said,  despite the stresses of Israeli life, and despite the diversity of origins and religious practices of the Jewish people, what holds the society together are respect for ethics and for the law.

Many of the speakers paid tribute to Yitzchak Shavit, who was an official both of the Jewish Federations of North America as well as the United Jewish Appeal.  Like Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Shavit was a prophet of the Negev, often calling upon Israelis to wean themselves from the central core of the country, formed by the irregular triangle formed by Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and to help build the nation on its southern periphery.  Jeff Kay, who knew Shavit well, said he was a man who was both a visionary and a roll-up-the-sleeves worker.  He treated everyone–whether in high or ordinary station–as a fellow human being, in whose opinion and welfare he was always interested.

Among those praising Shavit’s legacy was Alon Schuster, mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev and a frequent visitor to San Diego.

The crowd of well-wishers was informed that 1,200 students and 120 teachers assigned to 17 academic departments will utilize the school.   Bar Brezinski, a Sha’ar Hanegev student, said the school serves as a second home for its students, who, by her account, are often very opinionated, active and motivated.  She expressed satisfaction that the school is not simply concrete, that it has large green open space, “a place to have a vision.”

Israel’s President Shimon Peres has announced plans to visit the new school and spend time with the students when the new term begins.

Peres is a special correspondent in Israel for San  Diego Jewish World.

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