Stuart and Rivka Berger with Anne Wasserman, Member, Board of Directors, AMIT, Mark Wasserman
By Michele Justic
In a little apartment across the street from his parents’ Tel Aviv barber shop, 7-yr-old Itzhak Perlman practices his violin. 20 kilometers away, at the Bessie Gotsfeld Children’s Village and Farm School, Kfar Batya in Ra’anana, children of pioneers are learning the skills they need in a nurturing environment in the emerging State of Israel. Seemingly small notes in what is now the great symphony of AMIT and Israel’s educational, cultural, technological, and humanitarian achievements. On November 22, at the new premier concert venue, Sony Hall, below the Paramount Hotel where he got his start on the “Ed Sullivan Show” over 60 years ago, Maestro Itzhak Perlman delivered a moving, honest, humorous account of his life accentuated by musical performances with Rohan deSilva accompanying on piano.
Perlman quipped, “I got my start at fundraisers and here I am at a fundraiser as if nothing changed. Do they still serve the chicken with the rice inside?” No, Mr. Perlman. The AMIT event was stylishly catered with a tapas bar as supporters casually took in the ambience as Ellen and Stanley Wasserman’s magnificent commitment to the project was recognized and images of the Evan & Layla Green Family Foundation Gogya Center & Program $70 million epicenter in Ra’anana, whose groundbreaking is planned for May, were displayed in the background.
“Tonight’s theme is ‘Israel Has Your Heart. Now Make It Your Legacy.’ When we speak of Stanley and Ellen Wasserman we can speak of legacy.” AMIT President, Audrey Axelrod Trachtman said during the program. “A legacy of love, of duty to community fulfilled and generosity of spirit. Their support of AMIT through the years betters the lives of thousands of Israeli children. They’ve dedicated two schools, a youth village campus, enabled the introduction of advanced technology throughout our AMIT network and their plan is to do the same at AMIT Kfar Batya.”
Philanthropists Evan and Layla Green from Las Vegas were moved upon visiting the AMIT family units in Israel. During the dark days of Covid, they reached out to AMIT to pledge $5 million to ensure this new center is built. “Gogya educates students to be responsible citizens. It instills values to make them powerful students, caring brothers and sisters, and capable leaders in life. Gogya is the brain trust that makes AMIT exceptional, turning education on its head…What kids need is to learn how to interpret and apply that knowledge; they need collaborative learning environments.” Layla Green was born in pre-revolution Iran and her passion for a peaceful future is clear. Together with Evan, their desire to give, from the food pantry they run to their commitment to AMIT, is strong. To explain his commitment to education, he turns to the well-known aphorism, “Give children a fish [as he does in his food pantry] and they eat for a day; teach children to fish [a metaphor for the life skills taught at AMIT] and they eat for life. The new Gogya Center will be a big [metaphorical] aquarium for all to develop and learn from the best, up to date, educational methods.”
Fish play a surprising role in Maestro Perlman’s development as well as he reminisced how his mother kept a live carp swimming in their bathtub each week to prepare for making gefilte fish on Friday. While he loves gefilte fish, he sadly remarked he lost a friend each Friday. Perlman shows much respect to his poor immigrant parents who did their best to offer him every opportunity, including studying violin, despite the effects of polio. His mother made him practice and listened from the kitchen. While she made her gefilte fish, he did the easiest maneuver he could think of, not realizing he was perfecting his spiccato. From studying with a street performer to studying at Julliard, Perlman’s musical education could be described as filled with “Tremolo.” Despite performing for the Queen and President, receiving 16 Grammy Awards, and four Emmy Awards, perhaps the most important moment of his career happened in Upstate NY, after performing Ravel, when a woman named Toby came backstage and asked him to marry him. Itzak and Toby have been happily married since. Yet he has not lost his humor and humility. He describes being asked to perform in “Schindlers List” by Steven Spielberg and John Williams and his wife urging him on that he’s crazy to not answer right away. Now he notes concert attendees request that theme every time, in every country.
After Perlman’s moving performance, it was announced that AMIT is dedicating the Toby and Itzhak Perlman Music Studio, located at the AMIT State Technological High School, a “last-chance high school” in Jerusalem.
Perlman was moved and responded, “Any organization that does anything for education, is the best and the greatest mitzvah.”
The Greens agree, “Children are the future of any nation. When you educate a child, you change a life. When you educate many children, you strengthen a nation. And when you break ground in new educational methodologies, you can change the world. That’s what AMIT’s new Kfar Batya campus represents to us.”
Further melding past, present, and future, a time capsule was filled to plant at Kfar Batya. Yaela Baine, great-niece of Bessie Gotsfeld and President of Philadelphia Council Shira Chapter, put in a telegram from Holocaust survivors describing what Bessie Gotsfeld did for them and the children of Israel with Debbie Isaac (past president). Debbie Moed (past president), placed a dog tag of Eliraz Peretz z’l, son of Miriam Peretz, and a father of four, who bravely served in the IDF as deputy commander of Golani Brigade 12. Eliraz, fell in battle in 2010. In his memory, his high school in Petach Tikva was renamed the Eliraz High School. Sharon Merkin (BOD, Co-chair) and Rona Kellman (BOG, Chair), placed Dvir’s Tanach. AMIT student Dvir Mertzbach won the International Chidon HaTanach. Dr. Ronald Werrin (husband of Marguerite Werrin) and Dr. Francine Stein (past president) placed two stethoscopes, in honor of ardent and loyal board member – Dr. Margueritte Werrin, z’’l, and AMIT Dyckman graduate professor Asnat Walfisch who serves as director of the Women’s hospital in Belinson. Dr. Amnon Eldar, Director General of AMIT, placed a compass symbolizing the fact that AMIT operates schools for the entire Israeli population—religious Zionist, Secular, Ultra-orthodox and traditional. “We believe that the people of Israel must be united. In the face of the world today it’s a critical value which sits at the very core of our identity,” said Dr. Amnon Eldar.
Building on its success and striving for further growth in the future, The Evan & Layla Green Family Foundation Gogya Building and Program will serve as the heart of AMIT Kfar Batya, welcoming local and visiting students as well as top educators. It will also become home to AMIT’s new headquarters and the Educators’ Innovation Center, an incubator for the development of ideas to be shared across AMIT’s 96 schools and the entire education system in Israel. The center will serve as a beacon of inspiration to the education community worldwide. To be a part of Kfar Batya, visit kfarbatya.org.