Meet Rivka Carmi, former president of Ben-Gurion University

September 2, 2022 by Henry Benjamin
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JNF Australia has had a long association with the Negev, and so it is no surprise that one of the guest speakers at next week’s gala events shares that association.

Rivka Carmi

Rivka Carmi was president of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheeva between 2006 and 2018

She told J-Wire: “I was not born in the Negev but growing up, I did have experience of Ben Gurion ideology because my mother was an avid Ben Gurion supporter. She was very active in promoting the social ideology. I wasn’t in the Negev, but I had Ben-Gurion from my mother on an almost daily basis.”

Rivka Carmi is a graduate of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Hadassah Medical School and completed a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in neonatology at the Soroka University Medical Centre in Beersheva and gained an additional fellowship in medical genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University Medical School.

She continued: “I mainly dealt with premature babies. But my research career was in medical genetics.”

But how did she make a career for herself in the Negev? She said: “I had this urgency to impact the periphery where I wanted to promote and develop health services.  So, the Negev was a very obvious target. I spent nine years doing my residency in pediatrics at the Siroko Medical Centre in Beershev, taking part in the development of the health care services there and in the establishment of the medical school. My research involved the Bedouin community.”

As a result of her medical research, a syndrome was named after her.

She explained: “Some babies are born with very defective skin. And they have very fine skin on their hands and feet. Unfortunately, they die within the first week of life. It is like a very extensive burn that they have all over the body, and they suffer from stomach problems.  But mainly, the skin peels because it is very weak. And we know now what is the genetic mutation that causes it.”

Many years ago, Rivka told J-Wire during a visit to Beersheba that the university was heading in a new direction with technology in its sights. She brought us up to date.

“The Advanced Technology Park is just across the street from the university and is linked by a bridge from the university. The Park has become the National Centre for cybersecurity technologies. Beersheva has been called the capital of cybersecurity in the world. We’ve had some very important cyber technology research with most of the companies dealing with cyber security solutions for things like FinTech, and all kinds of industries, health, agriculture, and the Government of Israel has decided to put there the civil Centre for Cyber or cyber alerts. For example, if there is a cyber attack on water, on electricity on banks and a variety of situations, this centre is the first responder to these attacks.

The park now has five wonderful buildings hosting a myriad of multinational companies dealing with all kinds of cyber solutions. It created n additional 3000 jobs in Beersheba occupied at the park by graduates of the Google university.

The other one is the National Institute for Biotechnology. So we have created a very unique model of a private company within a university that builds on the research of university scientists.

Other significant centres are the Bitcoin University and the ABC centre. We call it ABC because it is focused on biology and artificial intelligence, including r0botics. We’ve established a very significant innovation sector, one of the finest innovation centres in academia in Israel. We were very successful in really putting the whole university on the high tech and biotech map in Israel, and I would say even worldwide.”

Today, the boasts the unusual situation where companies that avail themselves of the BGU’s research and development share the same space within the university.

Rivka recalled that when she first arrived in Beersheeva, the land now on which the High Tech Centre is built was nothing but sand dunes with camels roaming around free.

Part of the land has been given to the IDF, which is now its centre for computer technology.

Now retired from the presidency and the university, Rivka continues to keep abreast of her chosen fields.

Following her Australian visit, she will head off to New York to spend time with her family, including her grandchildren, with a side visit to Boston planned to meet with friends and colleagues at her old alma mater, Harvard University.

For more info on the JNF Gala functions

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