KKL-JNF Awards 2013 Elkeles Outstanding Scientist in Medicine Prize to Professor Orly Elpeleg

Thursday, November 21, 2013 1:54 PM

"Through KKL-JNF, the Elkeles family continues to be a partner in the shaping of Israel's destiny, and once a trail is blazed, many people can walk on it."

KKL-JNF awarded the 2013 Samuel and Paula Elkeles Outstanding Scientist in Medicine Prize to Dr. Orly Elpeleg, the Head of the Department of Genetic and Metabolic diseases at Hadassah, at a moving ceremony at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on Tuesday November 19. KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler reaffirmed the organization's commitment to continue awarding this important prize in the future.

L-R: Barbara Goldstein, Harry Elyashiv, Prof. Orly Elpeleg, Efi Stenzler & Dr. Avigdor Kaplan.
Photo: Tania Susskind


"I would like to congratulate Professor Orly Elpeleg, who was chosen as this year's recipient of the Samuel and Paula Elkeles Outstanding Scientist in Medicine Prize. Israel's entire populace and all of humanity benefits from your success," said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at the Elkeles prize giving ceremony at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. The ceremony, which took place on Tuesday, November 19 was attended by Hadassah personnel, family, friends and distinguished guests, including Ms. Barbara Goldstein, a member of the KKL-JNF Directorate and the Deputy Executive Officer of Hadassah's office in Israel.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. Photo: Tania Susskind

"Israel is at the forefront of technological and scientific endeavor," Mr. Stenzler continued, "and many of KKL-JNF's achievements in various fields are based on innovative research, from desert afforestation, to recycling 87% of the country's wastewater for agriculture usage, and much more. Through KKL-JNF, the Elkeles family continues to be a partner in the shaping of Israel's destiny, and once a trail is blazed, many people can walk on it."

Dr. Ludwig Elkeles established the foundation in memory of his parents, the late Samuel and Paula Elkeles. The family had its origins in Berlin, but Ludwig and his parents left Germany for England in 1936 as the Nazi regime rose to power. After the Second World War, Elkeles, an economist by profession, returned to Germany, and throughout the years maintained a strong connection with Israel. Towards the end of his life, he expressed a wish to donate his personal fortune to an enterprise that would benefit the Israeli public. He chose KKL-JNF as the partner for his donation, which was used to fund numerous projects, including a recreation area and playground in the Jerusalem Forest, a scenic lookout at Kadesh Barnea in the Negev, and the Mitzpe Gvulot site in the Negev. Elkeles also wished his estate to be used for the creation of a special foundation in memory of his parents, which would present an annual award for medical research.

Prof. Orly Elpeleg with Dr. Avigdor Kaplan. Photo: Tania Susskind

Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, Mr. Stenzler surprised the audience when he returned to the podium to make an exciting announcement: "The Elkeles prize has been awarded to outstanding scientists for the past twenty-five years, but at the present time, there are insufficient funds to continue this tradition. However, in recognition of the importance of encouraging medical research, KKL-JNF has decided to commit itself to continue awarding the prize in the future," Stenzler declared, to loud applause from the audience.

This year's prize recipient is Dr. Orly Elpeleg, head of the Department of Genetic and Metabolic diseases at Hadassah. Over the past decade, she has focused on gene discovery in a large number of rare disorders, and has published reports on 30 novel disease-associated genes. She has participated in extensive national and international collaborations and has coauthored over 140 peer-reviewed articles.

Dr. Avigdor Kaplan, Director General of Hadassah Medical Organization, said that seeing children suffer is what motivated Professor Elpeleg to try and discover the reason for their diseases. "Many of us saw the movie that described how a small girl who couldn't walk was eventually able to dance thanks to Professor Elpeleg's research. The entire Hadassah family is very proud of her."

Professor Yaakov Naparstek, Head of the Division of Medicine at Hadassah, thanked KKL-JNF and the Elkeles family for awarding the prize. "It is my firm belief that biomedical research should be conducted at medical centers like Hadassah, where it is possible to go from the research bench to the patient's bedside, and vice-versa. There are those who think that doctors who are also research scientists are a dying breed, but at Hadassah Hospital, we feel that this is critical to the future of medical research. Dr. Elpeleg's success proves just how important this is."

Hadassah Elkeles, neice of Samuel Elkeles Z"L. Photo: Tania Susskind

Hadassah Elkeles, Samuel Elkeles' niece, who represented the family, said that this year's ceremony was especially moving for her, because the recipient of the prize is a woman. She spoke about her family's history, and mentioned that her family had donated to KKL-JNF during the 1920s, when they lived in Europe. "I even showed the receipts to Mr. Stenzler. My uncle, who had originally intended to study medicine, was a great supporter of Israel and KKL-JNF. In this family tradition, my father's last words were, 'Next year in the Land of Israel.'"

Professor Orly Elpeleg was very moved to receive the prize. "Every successful research project needs partners, so I would describe this as our rather than as my research. In the 1980s, there were three categories of children's diseases – infectious diseases, cancerous diseases and all the rest, which were largely ignored in the textbooks, so I decided to research them. We were looking for disease-infected genes, which was sort of like looking for a specific carp in the ocean. To date, we have discovered 30 such genes, findings that have enabled breakthroughs in treating various children's diseases.

"There is no research without belief – belief in your own personal ability, belief in your partners, and belief in your goal. I want to thank KKL-JNF and the Elkeles family, not for choosing me for the prize, but for highlighting our research. It is an affirmation of us and of our work."

Dr. Osnat Levtziyon-Korach, Director of the Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus, presented the committee's reasons for this year's choice, and the ceremony, which was graciously facilitated by KKL-JNF's Rivka Rey, concluded with the presentation of the prize and a KKL-JNF certificate of appreciation to Professor Elpeleg.

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