Abraham Ben-Naftali (1935-2024)
Longtime Board member and friend, dedicated to encouraging excellence
People behind the science
Abraham Ben-Naftali, an International Board Life Member, dedicated supporter, and friend of the Weizmann Institute passed away on January 2, at the age of 88.
Abraham’s first encounter with the Weizmann Institute was as a high school student, in 1950. While working as a delivery boy in Tel Aviv, he was told a delivery of flowers had to get to the home of Vera and Chaim Weizmann in Rehovot. He volunteered for the task, curious to see the home of the first President of Israel. In the heat of summer, he bicycled from Tel Aviv to the Weizmann home on the Institute campus, handed the flowers to Vera when she answered the door, and pedaled home.
A year later, he attended the funeral of Chaim Weizmann on campus, one of many people who came to pay their respects. Brief though these experiences were, they remained with him. Some 45 years later, when Gershon Kekst, the late Chair of the Board of Governors (the precursor to the International Board), invited him to join the Board, Abraham recalled his first touchpoints with the institution he would eventually devote so many years to, in a series of active Board roles. It was 1995, and Prof. Haim Harari was President.
It was the beginning of a relationship with the Institute—as an active member of the Board and a generous philanthropist—that would last for the rest of his life. He was cherished by scientists, leadership, and donors. In an interview in 2011, he called his friendship with the Weizmann Institute “a big love story.”
The “infinite beauty of science”
“Abraham had an exceptional dedication to this place, rooted in a combination of a love of Israel, the Institute, and the promise of science,” says Prof. Alon Chen, President of the Weizmann Institute. “The work he did for the Institute, often behind the scenes and with great modesty, will not be forgotten. He will be greatly missed by many people.”
A prominent member of Israel’s legal establishment, Abraham completed his undergraduate studies in Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and received his LL.M. summa cum laude from Tel Aviv University (TAU). During his military service in the IDF, he served as military prosecutor and as president of a military court. In 1963, he established his own law firm specializing in the capital market, which quickly became a leader in the field. An expert in company law, Abraham lectured on the subject both at TAU and the College of Management Academic Studies.
A man who never sought recognition or publicity, he preferred to work behind the scenes. “I wanted to contribute to an area what I value very much: encouraging excellence,” he said. “Because I always thought that Jews and Israelis would survive and persist here [in Israel] based on excellence. And so I wanted to encourage excellence.”
He was also a dedicated champion of culture and science in Israel with a particular love of classical music. He had a passion for travel and photography. He served on the boards of several public companies as well as those of the Bible Lands Museum and the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society.
At Weizmann, he served as Chair of the Executive Council (later the Executive Board) between 2002 and 2008, and as Chair of the International Board between 2014 and 2017. He was an active member in numerous Board committees. He was also a lay leader of the Israeli Friends Association and a Board member of Yad Chaim Weizmann.
In 2009, Abraham was awarded the Weizmann Institute’s PhD honoris causa degree and was also celebrated by his extended Weizmann family in 2017 when he stepped down as Chair of the International Board.
In 2022, he was inducted into the President’s Circle for his generosity in directing philanthropy to the Institute, spanning a range of areas, including science education, scholarships, brain research, physics, alternative energy, and newly hired scientists. One of these contributions was to the science-oriented Gap Year Program (Mechina) in Ofakim run by the Davidson Institute of Science.
“Science is beautiful, and so is the world,” he said upon receiving that honor. “Excellence has to be both in science and philosophy. Meaning, searching for the meaning of life. And this is why I love the Weizmann Institute, and the beauty of it will never end. Whenever you make new directions, new findings, something new will always come after that. That’s the infinity of it; that’s beautiful.”
He is survived by his daughters, Orna and Michal, and his partner Irona. His wife Dina passed away in 2019.