Today, Thursday, January 30, 2014, Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, received the Presidential Medal of Distinction from President Shimon Peres in a ceremony held at the President’s Residence. Shalev was awarded for his public service as Chairman of Yad Vashem over the past two decades. During the ceremony, President Peres said:
"Thanks to your life's work, I feel Yad Vashem is not only a place of memory, but you have also made it a warning bell for the world. As has been said, "Every human being was created in the image of G-d, there are none above and none below."
"The decoration strengthens and encourages me and all my colleagues at Yad Vashem in our mission to ensure meaningful, relevant and enduring Holocaust remembrance for the Jewish people and for all of humanity, now and for future generations," said Shalev at the conclusion of the event.
The President’s Advisory Committee, headed by former president of the Israeli Supreme Court Meir Shamgar, noted that, “Avner Shalev works tirelessly, employing innovative and original methods, to instill vital Jewish, Zionist and universal values within Israeli and global consciousness, primarily through significant and meaningful Holocaust remembrance. For two decades he has invested his soul, his might and the utmost of his abilities to ensure that the Shoah is appropriately commemorated and its profound implications learned.” As Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev has initiated a comprehensive development program aimed at enabling Yad Vashem to meet the challenges of the 21st century in the challenging contexts of Holocaust documentation, research and education. From the start, Shalev prioritized education, placing it at Yad Vashem's forefront through the establishment of its International School for Holocaust Studies. In addition, his development program has included the establishment of a comprehensive new museum complex, centered around the new Holocaust History Museum, for which Shalev served as chief curator.
The prestigious Presidential Medal of Distinction, first awarded in 2012 at President Peres' initiative, is bestowed upon rare individuals who have made unique and extraordinary contributions to tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) or to Israel's society, culture and international status, and who personally exemplify the traits of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and vision. Among the elite group of the Medal's recipients to date are: US Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Zubin Mehta. This year’s awardees include Professor Elie Wiesel and director Steven Spielberg.
Born in Jerusalem, Avner Shalev served as Head of the Bureau of the then Chief of Staff David Elazar, and worked alongside him during the Yom Kippur War. Following his retirement from military service, Shalev assumed the positions of Director of the Culture Authority in the Ministry of Education and Culture and Chairman of the National Council of Culture and Art, and also served on the boards of a wide range of Israeli museums and cultural institutions, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Shalev helped found the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem and was instrumental in creating the Israel Festival as a major event in Jerusalem. In 1993, he was appointed Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. In 2003, he received the Israel Prize on behalf of Yad Vashem. In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honor by President Sarkozy and that same year the Spanish Prince of Asturias Prize for Concord on behalf of Yad Vashem. In 2011, Shalev was bestowed the Patron of Jerusalem Award.