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2018 BOG Meeting


AFTAU Delegation Celebrates TAU at 2018 Board of Governors Meeting

With 10 new Governors, the American Friends alliance lends energy and community to TAU's most important annual event

The American Friends of Tel Aviv University 63-member delegation to Tel Aviv University's 2018 Board of Governors meeting landed in Israel on April 30 and May 1 to kick off a week of special excursions, thought-provoking symposiums and inspirational ceremonies.

AFTAU President & CEO Gail Reiss addressed the delegates outside the Misliya Cave in Mount Carmel, the prehistoric site of the oldest human remains outside of Africa.

"We're thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from world-renowned professors like Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine at the very site of his earth-shaking discovery," she said. "There could be no better start to this unique week of learning and connecting with the people who are moving and shaping Tel Aviv University and, through their work, the world."

This year, the TAU Board of Governors Meeting provided participants with the chance to meet professors and graduates in their "natural habitats." From Misliya Cave to Kishorit — a kibbutz-like permanent home for with people with disabilities — to the Porter School Dead Sea Research Institute, AFTAU delegates traversed all of Israel in pursuit of deeper learning and understanding, the very pursuits that TAU represents.

"TAU is visionary in that it recognizes the necessary duality of working both in academia and in the world outside," said Prof. Lior Wolf of TAU's School of Computer Science and Facebook's Artificial Intelligence Research Unit. "This isn't something that can be taken for granted. While I work at Facebook, I also manage a deep learning computer science lab at TAU. Without TAU, it wouldn't have been possible for me to choose between academia and real-life work."

Rowee Benbenishty is a TAU graduate and Vice President for Business Development at Sesame Enable. He explained that the company is "bringing people together through technology, which is what TAU does every day." Sesame Enable's unique Assistive Technology gives people hope immediately after injury, which makes a world of a difference. "More than 30 million people are left out of the mobile revolution, and we are determined to change that."

Dental School Ceremonies

On May 2, AFTAU delegates attended a luncheon to commemorate several new additions to The Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, including the official opening of the Aufzien General Anaesthesia Theater, the Finkelstein Sterilization Center, the Dr. Garry Rayant and Dr. Kathy Fields Rayant Anaesthesia Theater and the Harriet Rothman Memorial Smile Garden.

Senior CNN correspondent Richard Quest opened the event. "People here constantly ask me if this is my first time to Israel," Quest said. "Of course it's not my first time to Israel! It's such a vibrant place, I keep coming back. Especially to Tel Aviv."

After the luncheon, the delegates and other guests were invited to tour the school and the new installations.

"When you are a young dental student, you never imagine being in this position," Dr. Garry Rayant said at the inauguration of the Dr. Garry Rayant and Dr. Kathy Fields Rayant Anaesthesia Theater. "It's simply wonderful to be able to give back to Israel, and my wife and I are so honored to be able to do this."

"Any opportunity to support this University is something I jump at," Alan Aufzien said at the opening of the Aufzien General Anaesthesia Theater. "They called and said, we need this. I said, no questions asked, I am more than happy to help."

Prof. Ervin Weiss, Head of the Dental School, said that TAU has become a model for advanced dental education around the world. "We are the center of special needs dental treatment in Israel. There is so much demand, we can hardly cope with the number of patients who are coming. Thank you for your continuing support."

Koret Foundation Collaboration

AFTAU delegates attended the inauguration of the Koret Foundation-TAU Bay Area Collaborative Initiative, held in the filled-to-capacity Raya and Josef Jaglom Auditorium on May 2. This initiative brings together leading scholars and scientists from TAU with their colleagues at UC Berkeley and Stanford University to conduct multidisciplinary research in the fields of bioinformatics and smart cities.

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter expressed his gratitude. "I'd like to warmly thank Dr. Anita Friedman, President of the Koret Foundation, and the Koret Foundation trustees, longstanding supporters of TAU, for their vision and generosity, and our American Friends organization for helping make this project happen," Prof. Klafter said. "It dovetails with TAU's mission of building bridges with countries around the world through research and training.

"Warmer relations with American universities will also serve to counter BDS attempts to isolate Israel academically," Prof. Klafter continued. "Not only will the Koret Initiative fight BDS, but it will have the opposite effect. It will build up Israel's international standing and reputation as a force for good."

"We should be thanking you," Dr. Friedman replied. "When we took a look at who and what is moving the world forward in the right direction — a better direction — we found Tel Aviv University. We are very honored to be in partnership with you."

The audience then enjoyed presentations by Prof. Ron Shamir of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Bioinformatics, and TAU doctoral student Maoz Gelbart and TAU master's student Tal Geller, who elaborated on their joint research projects with Stanford and Berkeley researchers.

Board of Governors General Assembly

This year's Board of Governors General Assembly marked a banner year for AFTAU, which welcomed a record 10 new American Governors to TAU's International Board of Governors on May 3.

During the first General Assembly, Chairman of the Board of Governors Prof. Jacob Frenkel addressed the new Governors directly. "If you thought you were part of an exclusive club, well, the size of our very exclusive club has just risen dramatically," Prof. Jacob Frenkel, Chairman of the Board of Governors, said. He then invited AFTAU Chairman Richard Sincere to welcome the 10 new American board members to the stage.

The new AFTAU Governors include Leslie Gelrubin Benitah, Yosi Benlevi, The Hon. Ramy Djerassi, Richard Edlin, Dr. Kathy Fields Rayant, Ellen Horing, Tim Schlindwein, Dr. Rada Sumareva, Sara Summers and Aaron Tartakovsky.

"To put it concisely, TAU is not just on the map, it is redrawing the map," TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter told the Board. "You, our Governors and friends, our leaders and supporters, have played a key role in this. The more labs we build, the more superb young faculty we recruit, the more research we perform — all these are leveraged for major competitive grant funding. This year research grants topped $220 million.

"All these projects — and others that we'll be dedicating in the next few days — have a common purpose," Prof. Klafter continued. "They're preparing the University to drive the next wave of Israeli innovation, not just in technology but across the rainbow of topics. We have many more needs in research, teaching and community engagement. That's where we count on you to continue unlocking new possibilities and opening new doors."

TAU Ventures Opening

The AFTAU delegation attended the official opening of TAU Ventures, Israel's first university-based venture capital fund, on May 4 at the Miles S. Nadal Home for Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The new fund will make pre-seed funding available to student and alumni startups coming out of the University, as well as boost overall entrepreneurship at TAU.

Nimrod Cohen, managing partner in TAU Ventures, welcomed the delegates. "It's thrilling to have you here today," he said. "I want to thank Gail and AFTAU. We have been through many ups and downs, but I couldn't ask for better investors. Our idea is to take advantage of the great talent on campus. It is all about the people."

TAU ranks ninth globally, and first in Israel, for producing the most VC-backed entrepreneurs.

"It has been quite the journey over the last three years," said Behzad Kianmahd, CEO of Maxim Commercial Capital and the lead investor and cofounder of the new fund. "It started with a wonderful idea that began with a simple meeting that lasted over thirty minutes and which later became a proposal.

"The connection between me and TAU goes back many years. I worked with a charitable organization that sent TAU students to California to study and work in the ecosystem there," Kianmahd continued. "My work with TAU Ventures has become one of the best deals I ever made. Our salvation as humans is through education. TAU Ventures began with the persistence of AFTAU, of Gail, of David Dorfman. And the fact that we are helping TAU, helping Israel, is payback enough."

TAU Ventures joins a thriving investment ecosystem already operating at the University, including the school's technology transfer company Ramot, and the Momentum Fund.

Inauguration of the Gail White and Anne and William Cohen
Multidisciplinary Brain Cancer Research Program

AFTAU delegates attended the official inauguration of the Gail White and Anne and William Cohen Multidisciplinary Brain Cancer Research Program at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine on May 4. The program will harness the ties between TAU's 600 cancer researchers and its 17 affiliated hospitals to generate clinical translations of research on glioblastoma, the most common form of primary brain tumor and one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.

Vice Dean of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine Prof. Karen Avraham discussed the urgency of finding a cure for glioblastoma. "Without treatment, the median survival from glioblastoma is around three months," she said. "Only 1.8% of patients survive more than three years. There are similar prognoses with brain metastases originating from other cancers.

"It is so much more complex to tease out all of the issues and problems related to cancer," Prof. Avraham said. "We really need top researchers to tackle these, and we are very fortunate to have them at TAU. They bring their specific expertise to the table."

Prof. Neta Erez, Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro and Prof. Tami Geiger, TAU's preeminent cancer researchers, are slated to head the new cancer research program.

William Cohen said, "We are proud that we are able to support your work. We were so impressed with your research. You have my support, my wife's support, and that of my sister and my entire family. We are behind you 100 percent."

The new gift will support three international postdoctoral fellows every year; a large-scale collaborative project between Prof. Satchi-Fainaro, Prof. Geiger and TAU alum Prof. Zvi Ram, Head of Neurosurgery at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, that will examine differences between tumors with the aim of identifying the proteins that enable long-term survival; and Prof. Satchi-Fainaro and Prof. Erez will develop models of melanoma metastasis in the hopes of identifying key cancer regulators to prevent the invasion of melanoma into the brain.

Inauguration of the Shmunis Family Anthropological Institute

AFTAU delegates, TAU Governors, faculty and other distinguished guests attended a sparkling reception and lecture to mark the official inauguration of the Shmunis Family Anthropological Institute at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History on May 6.

In his opening remarks, Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, Director of the Shmunis Family Anthropological Institute, said, "Learning from the past is the only way to secure our future. TAU's collection of artifacts is one of the largest and most impressive anywhere in the world. I am extremely happy that Vlad and Sana Shmunis are partners in our search for understanding human evolutionary history. It is good for science, for Israel, for medicine and most importantly, it is good for our children."

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said, "Vlad and Sana, we appreciate you choosing TAU for your first major gift to academic research. The new Shmunis Institute will underpin numerous, cutting-edge anthropological and archaeological research projects at the University.

"Supporting these fields in Israel and at TAU is special and unique because of four main reasons," Prof. Klafter explained. "First, Israel stands at the crossroads of human evolution as the land link between Africa, Asia and Europe. Second, Israel is a treasure trove for biblical archaeology. Third, TAU is cutting edge in its interdisciplinary approach, studying ancient artefacts by applying DNA analysis and advanced methods from chemistry, physics and engineering.

"Fourth and finally, this incredible structure we're sitting in, The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, will provide the most fitting home possible for Shmunis-supported advanced equipment in specimen analysis," Prof. Klafter continued. "It will become a site for scientific pilgrimages."

Prof. Klafter took the opportunity to thank Dr. Anita Friedman, President of the Koret Foundation, and AFTAU's Carolyn Steinberg for introducing TAU to the Shmunis family.

Vlad Shmunis said, "I asked Yossi [Klafter], 'What is your best kept secret?' and he said, 'Go through a maze of tunnels until you reach Prof. Hershkovitz's laboratory, where he keeps his collection on all of mankind.' Well, he was right, and our goal now is to expose the collection and to learn more about it.

"We all go through life facing backwards; we don't know the future so we learn about the past," he continued. "If we have to face backwards, let's at least use the right equipment! Our idea is to take all of these amazing artifacts and learn as much about them as we can. Who knows what we will find?"

Sana Shmunis added, "We are all very proud that this is all taking place in the great State of Israel. Thank you to TAU and to the State of Israel for making all of this possible."


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