The Israel Prize council announced on Wednesday that this year’s prize will go to Rabbi Haim Drukman, founder of the hesder yeshiva program, which combines Torah study with Israel Defense Forces service, and Azaria Alon, founder of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
The Israel Prize, which was created in 1953, is awarded by the state annually and is considered its highest honor. The prize is awarded in Jerusalem on Independence Day, in a ceremony attended by the president, prime minister, Knesset chair and Supreme Court president.
Rabbi Haim Drukman: Bridging the social gaps
The council explained its reason for choosing Drukman as follows: “With his national perspective, he was among those who founded the hesder yeshiva program which combines military service and Torah study. With his sensitivity and love for Israel he worked to bridge social gaps and absorb immigrants from Ethiopia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly members of the Soviet Union).
The council said that Drukman is “attentive and a unifying influence for all social groups, is involved in resolving serious debates at the core of Israeli society involving issues of religion and state, and serves as an address to which state leaders throng to for advice and ingenuity.”
In an interview with Israel Hayom on Wednesday, Drukman said “This is exciting and gives me a feeling of satisfaction beyond the feeling I get during my daily routine. Everything I have done, with an emphasis on education and combining military service with the study of Torah, represents the religious Zionist approach and those who issue the prize also appreciate that.”
Drukman, a veteran religious Zionist rabbi in Israel, serves as chairman of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Center and head of Yeshivat Or Etzion located in the south. Until recently, he also served for 25 years as director of the State Conversion Authority, which provides services for candidates wishing to convert to Judaism.
“Granting this award to the rabbi is a sign of appreciation for the entire religious Zionist community, which should be praised for its work in the areas of education, conversion, settlement, and the Zionist enterprise. This is society’s way of giving something small back to the rabbi for his contribution to the building of this nation and land,” MK Uri Orbach (New National Religious Party) said.
Azaria Alon: The father of environmental protection
The council explained its reason for choosing Alon as follows: “The Israel Prize is awarded to Azaria Alon for his unique contribution to the protection of the environment in Israel. As the father of the country’s concept of environmental protection, he instilled within us a love for the land, educated people to study the land and take care of it, and for many years authored books covering topics such as Israel’s nature and scenery, trips within the country, research concerning the country, and environmental protection and values.”
In an interview with Israel Hayom on Wednesday, Alon said “I am content with what I have done. There is a change now in the way people perceive the need to preserve Israel’s nature and scenery, but we have to remember that this is not always how the decision-makers perceive it. If we once had confrontations with governmental authorities, today the struggle is against the tycoons.”
Alon, 93, researches topics relating to the land and founded the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which documents Israel’s landscape and works to preserve and teach its heritage. He is considered the father of the environmental protection concept in the country and has been awarded many prizes for his work. In 1980, Alon was awarded the Israel Prize together with the society he founded.
“Azaria Alon is a role-model and a wonder, for his love of the land and preservation of its scenery and the values of the environment and nature within it. He disseminated his vast amount of knowledge about the land and participated in countless environmentally-related struggles. Alon is a symbol, an icon and an environmental pioneer,” Kosha (Moshe) Pakman, Executive director of the Society for the Protection of Nature, said on Wednesday.