Though he will not take any credit, Chairman of the Board of Governors Gershon Kekst has played a crucial role in steering the Weizmann Institute of Science into greener pastures over a period of nine years. During this period, the Weizmann Institute family has been significantly broadened and strengthened. And it has overcome challenging times. Completing his term in November, Kekst here relates his views on a few core issues.
"I am quite certain that the future role of the Weizmann Institute will be more profound and important than anyone today might contemplate. As an apolitical, scientific institution, it has the potential to produce a pathway to peace - exactly as Chaim Weizmann intended: by strengthening Israel through the cultivation of its only natural resource - brainpower. For example, crop enhancement or means of dealing with the water shortage will improve living conditions and standards in the whole region.
"One of the main goals of the administration under former President Haim Harari was to strengthen the Institute's financial footing,"says Kekst. "This was needed to ensure that Weizmann remained a leading scientific institution. Doubling the endowment has given the Institute an opportunity to achieve real financial strength and security. Therefore, the task ahead is to continue the momentum, in science and in finance. There is real evidence that exactly that ishappening under the new administration led by President Ilan Chet."
Building the Weizmann Family
When asked if the commitment to the Weizmann Institute will be passed on to the next generation, Kekst quickly responds, "In my family it will."His two sons, David, a lawyer, and Joseph, a student at Brandeis University, have been at Weizmann many times. Yet he acknowledges a challenge: "Unlike my generation, which was brought up on the notion of the centrality of Israel, later generations do not necessarily feel a direct linkage to Israel. So it's up to Israel and its institutions,including Weizmann, to reach out in ways that inspire and motivate the younger generations to want to be a part of this historic and vital mission."The Institute's values, he says, have much in common with those of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which he also chairs. "Both are engaged in understanding the world and in tikkun olam [repairing, or healing, the world] - one in the laboratory of science and the other in the laboratory of text and history."
In the final analysis, says Kekst, building the Weizmann family comes down to sharing values and establishing personal relationships. "In a very real sense,"he says, "my own two sons need to feel comfortable on the Weizmann campus and need to feel a sense of connectedness - through people. I am glad to say: they do!"
"Over the years I've seen an inter-disciplinary sharpening of focus among scientists - a converging of skills and perspectives and disciplines to enhance research. That is one of Weizmann's great strengths. I've also seen tremendous professionalism and discipline in the administration and management of the Institute, which has enabled it to navigate through challenging financial times."
Of incoming Chairman Stuart Eizenstat, Kekst says, "He is a remarkable person, one who deeply understands the importance of the Weizmann Institute and Israel to the world, as well as the importance of the world to Israel. I believe him to be exactly the right man at the right time. My only advice to him is that he enjoy himself - that would mean he is doing a great job."
And his own plans? "I think it would be wonderful if every serious person in the Jewish community and beyond it knew of the core values, achievements, and potential of the Weizmann Institute. I've been with the Weizmann Institute for the past 35 years and expect to keep working for it for 35 more."
Gershon Kekst is President of Kekst and Co., a New York-based public relations firm. Among his many awards is an Honorary Doctorate from the Weizmann Institute, conferred in 1995. Gershon and Carol Kekst established the Kekst Family Center for Medical Genetics at the Weizmann Institute.