Alpha Omega International Past Presidents, Alpha Omega's Achievement Award Medal Recipients, Deans, officers, fraters, spouses, friends and guests.
It is a great honor for me to stand here before you as the International President of our wonderful organization.
Alpha Omega has been an important part of my life for more than half my lifetime. I have had the pleasure of serving our fraternity as a Chapter President, Regent, member of the Board of Trustees, member of the Board of Directors, Dean of the School of Dental Medicine founded by Alpha Omega and now as its International President.
For me it was, is and always will be a labor of love, and I would like to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for affording me this opportunity. It is also a very special honor to be installed as President in Israel, my home for over 60 years.
Thank you all for coming tonight, for your support and for your trust.
Elmer Bendiner was a Jewish B-17 Flying Fortress navigator during World War II. He tells the story of a bombing run over Germany and the unexpected result of a direct hit on their gas tanks.
"Our B-17 was barraged by flak from Nazi anti-aircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit.
Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a 20-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without sparking an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple. On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir.
The crew chief told him that not just one shell but 11 had been found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells; where only one would have been sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. A near-miracle....
Even after 35 years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from our pilot.
He was told the shells had been sent to our armorers to be defused. They told him they had called in the Intelligence Unit because when they opened each of the shells, they found no explosives inside. They were as clean as a whistle and just as harmless.
But not all of them were empty. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. Intelligence scoured the base for a Czech speaker and eventually they found someone who could decipher the note. It said:
"This is all we can do for you now... using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea."
Jews have innate responsibility for their fellow Jews and for society at large. It is therefore no coincidence we are holding this "Shalom Aleichem" convention here during the Hebrew year of תשע"ה – 5755, which can be seen as an acronym for תהא שנת ערבות הדדית – may this be a year of mutual responsibility and concern for each other.
And indeed, many of you have come from far at the end of a difficult year for the State of Israel. Thank you for your support and solidarity.
It is not just a cute acronym though. Our Sages coined the term כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה –all people of Israel, all Jews, are guarantors for one another.
The original meaning of this concept outlines the obligation of each Jew to his or her fellow Jew's welfare, whether physical or spiritual. Similarly, the community has a responsibility to each of its members and vice-versa.
And it is so central to our essence that an entire episode is devoted to the topic in the fourth book of the Bible, ספר במדבר or the Book of Numbers, in which we read of two and a half tribes of Israel seemingly thinking about themselves. They ask Moses to allow them to remain on the East Side of the Jordan River – where there is rich pasture land for their animals – instead of entering and fighting to conquer the Land of Israel with the other tribes. Moses only accedes to their request after they promise to join their brothers in the national mission.
As we all know, Alpha Omega's vision, mission and values are guided by this kind of mutual concern and action.
In 1907, Jewish students at the Baltimore and Pennsylvania Colleges of Dental Surgery formed groups with the objective of combating discrimination on campuses. These brave students, torchbearers for us all, stood up and fought to guarantee equal education for all races.
And many decades later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the iron curtain was lifted and hundreds of thousands of Jews flocked to Israel to start a new life. Among them, many dental practitioners looking to pursue new professional careers.
There was a need for an urgent retraining program to familiarize them with Western standards. Alpha Omega rose to the challenge and launched the "Adopt-a-Soviet Dentist" campaign to raise funds for the successful absorption of these dentists in Israel. The retraining courses were held at the two Israeli dental schools proudly bearing the Alpha Omega name.
Once again, כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה
And of course, this is an obligation that never ceases. There are always brothers and sisters in need for help. For example, next month, we are launching the Alpha Omega/Henry Schein Cares Holocaust Survivors Oral Health Program in nine North American cities. Our members are volunteering to treat these remarkable people.
Again, a project highlighting the generous spirit of our members and their willingness to help others in need.
Mutual responsibility at its finest.
Thank you Avi Wurman, Steve Kess and Allen Finkelstein for spearheading this project. Thank you too Avi for your outstanding leadership last year as President of our fraternity.
There are many dental organizations in the world but only one Alpha Omega – a fraternitystriving to live and act by the values of mutual solidarity, commitment, integrity, family, global health, inclusivity, leadership and social justice.
And today we need these values more than ever. For they are the only way to combat the dark and evil forces looming over the Middle East and the rampant anti-Semitism shaking Jewish communities all over Europe. Indeed, these insidious organizations and movements are intent on eradicating these very values we represent.
I feel very lucky tonight among so many good friends and distinguished guests. This is a major milestone in my professional career and I am particularly thrilled to welcome a man who has had a tremendous impact on my life – as mentor, teacher and a great friend – D. Walter Cohen. Thank you for coming Walter. I hope you are proud of me tonight. I want you to know that ever since I graduated Penn in 1978, I have been immensely proud to be your mentee too.
It is also a great pleasure for me to congratulate this year's Alpha Omega Achievement Medal Award recipient, Prof. Zehev Tadmor, with whom – along with my friend Prof. Arie Shteyer – I had the privilege of serving in the famous Tadmor Committee, which proved to be an important landmark in dental education in Israel.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to a dear friend of all of us, Past President of Alpha Omega and Chairman of the event tonight- Michael Tenenbaum. I know Michael, how difficult it must have been for you to take the decision of coming to Israel for this Alpha Omega convention for the first time without our beloved Marleen -ז"ל. Thank you for being with us.
I look forward to working with both new and old Alpha Omega leadership, with the board of directors and Alpha Omega's officers worldwide and of course with Heidi, our wonderful executive director, and her team.
Alpha Omega is one big family and being a part of that family I am very proud my own family is here with me tonight. My beloved wife, Ayala, who shares my love for Alpha Omega and its timeless values and has accompanied me on our incredible 40- year joint journey, our dear daughter Karin and son-in-law Yuval, with two of our sweet grandchildren Iddo and Maayan, as well as our dear two sons Yariv and Yoav. Also here are my elder brother Yossi and my younger sister Orit with her husband Arik. Thank you for coming.
My dear friends, Alpha Omega is a shining star in the world of dentistry and beyond. We must do our utmost to make it stronger and brighter so that the Jewish dental voice will be heard and the message be delivered loud and clear: כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה – all people of Israel are guarantors to one another.
Because only through mutual care and concern can we make the world a better place.