About 250 people gathered at the Omni William Penn Hotel Monday, Oct. 18, to celebrate the life and accomplishments of PNC Bank’s Eva Tansky Blum, the recipient of Jewish national Fund’s Tree of Life Award.
The dinner also raised $175,000 for Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village in Israel that is home to children and adults with severe mental and physical disabilities.
WQED’s Michael Bartley hosted the post-dinner, which included presentations from Yossi Kahana, the development director of Aleh Negev; Adrienne Indianer, the regional director of western Pennsylvania’s JNF; and PNC Bank CEO Sy Holzer, who introduced Blum as a “super human being.”
The event was the 21st annual Tree of Life Dinner. The award recognizes “outstanding professional and humanitarian leadership, dedication to American-Israeli friendship and devotion to world peace,” according to JNF. Past recipients of the award include University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl and Teresa Heinz.
“Tonight, Eva receives JNF’s highest honor,” said Holzer. “Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone who deserves it more. [Past recipients] are a group of individuals who have helped our community so incredibly. It’s a group of giants.”
In addition to serving as senior vice president, Blum is the director of community affairs for PNC Bank and the chairwomen and president of the PNC Foundation. Most notably, she has helmed PNC Grow Up Great, a $100 million, 10-year program that supports quality childhood education. Working with Sesame Workshop, Grow Up Great created “Learning is Everywhere,” a free, bilingual education kit.
“Whenever I want to act smart, be smart or look smart, I go to the Chancellor,” said Holzer. “And here’s what he told me: ‘Eva’s connection to the greater good has been a driving force in her life. If you team up with Eva, three things are guaranteed. You’ll do good work, you’ll enjoy good company and you’ll feel good about your own contributions.’”
With Blum’s passion for supporting the education of underserved children, Aleh Negev was a natural fit to receive the proceeds of the evening. Located near Okafim, a 25-acre village in southern Israel that provides comprehensive therapy and education to live-in and outpatient people with disabilities.
“People ask — why Israel? Why this small country?” Kahana told The Chronicle. “In the Holocaust, we were separated by the weak and the strong. The weak would be left and the strong could work. We learned from that. We won’t do that to these people.”
Before screening a video about Aleh Negev, Kahana told the crowd a story: “There’s a boy who was standing on a beach picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water, trying to save them. A man walks by and says, ‘There are a thousand starfish. You’ll make no difference to them.’ But the boy picks up one starfish and says, ‘But to this one, I make all the difference.’”
“Tonight is about making a difference to children with very special needs,” said Kahana. “They need us.”
When presented with the Tree of Life Award, Blum said she was “overwhelmed.”
Citing a Pittsburgher who certainly could have won the award, Blum accepted the honor with, “As Fred Rogers said, one of the greatest dignities of human- kind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation. By helping Aleh Negev, we are making a contribution to the future of every child.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)