Sinai Forum 2021
A thought-provoking blend of presentations and speakers, the 68th Sinai Forum season continues our tradition of exploring the most important issues of the day.
Deborah Birx, MD
An Overview of the Pandemic from the Inside
Sunday, october 17
4 p.m. CT
Deborah Birx, MD is a world-renowned medical expert and leader whose long career has focused on clinical and basic immunology, infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research, and global health. Her career began with serving the United States as a colonel in the Army, and later turned into running some of the most high-profile and influential programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of State. Most recently, Dr. Birx served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator where she used complex data integration to drive decision making, providing recommendations to Vice President Michael Pence and working closely with state officials across the country to provide state-specific advice and guidance.
Deborah L. Birx, MD, is a world-renowned medical expert and leader whose long career has focused on clinical and basic immunology, infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research, and global health. Her career began with serving the United States as an Army Colonel, and later turned into running some of the most high-profile and influential programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of State.
Most recently, Dr. Birx served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator where she used complex data integration to drive decision making, providing recommendations to Vice President Michael Pence and working closely with state officials across the country to provide state-specific advice and guidance. In 2014, Deborah Birx became an Ambassador-at-Large when she assumed the role of the Coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS. As the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, she oversaw the of the $6 billion annual budget U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history. She also managed all U.S. Government engagement with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Dr. Birx began her career with the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1985 as a military-trained clinician in immunology, focusing on HIV/AIDS vaccine research. She progressed to serve as the Director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program (USMHRP) at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 1996-2005. Dr. Birx lead one of the most influential HIV vaccine trials in history (known as RV 144 or the Thai trial), which provided the first supporting evidence of any vaccine’s potential effectiveness in preventing HIV infection. Then known as Colonel Birx, she was awarded two prestigious U.S. Meritorious Service Medals and the Legion of Merit Award for her groundbreaking research, leadership and management skills during her tenure at the DoD.
From 2005-2014, Dr. Birx served as Director of CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS (DGHA) in the CDC Center for Global Health. As DGHA Director, she led the implementation of CDC’s PEPFAR programs around the world. Deborah Birx was responsible for all of the agency’s global HIV/AIDS activities, including providing oversight to more than 1,900 staff and more than 50 country and regional offices in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and Latin America. Recognized for her distinguished and dedicated commitment to building local capacity and strengthening quality laboratory health services and systems in Africa, in 2011, Dr. Birx received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the African Society for Laboratory Medicine. In 2014, CDC honored her leadership in advancing the agency’s HIV/AIDS response with the highly prestigious William C. Watson, Jr. Medal of Excellence.
Dr. Birx has published over 230 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, authored nearly a dozen chapters in scientific publications, as well as developed and patented vaccines. She received her medical degree from the Hershey School of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, and trained in internal medicine and basic and clinical immunology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health.
Stephen D. Smith and Heather Maio-Smith
Dimensions in Testimony, Featuring the World Premiere of Interactive Biography with Holocaust Survivor Max Eisen
Sunday, November 7
4 p.m. CT
USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony enables people long into the future to converse with pre-recorded video interviews with Holocaust survivors. The pioneering project integrates advanced filming techniques, specialized display technologies and next generation natural language processing. Join Dr. Stephen D. Smith, the Finci -Viterbi Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation and Heather Maio-Smith, CEO of StoryFile and the concept creator and producer of New Dimensions in Testimony, to learn more about this interactive archive. This program will feature the premiere of the interactive biography of Holocaust survivor, Max Eisen, who has shared his story of courage and survival at Auschwitz to warn of the dangers of hatred and discrimination.
USC Shoah Foundation’s mission is to develop empathy, understanding, and respect through testimony. The Shoah Foundation was founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg one year after completing his Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List. Since then, it has collected over 56,000 video testimonies, each one a unique source of insight and knowledge that oﬀers powerful stories from history that demand to be explored and shared.
In 2010, Conscience Display, led by Heather Maio, originated the concept for interviewing Holocaust survivors interactively and brought the Dimensions in Testimony to USC Shoah Foundation. In 2014, the Shoah Foundation began recording Dimensions in Testimony interviews. These unique interviews give people opportunity to have conversational experiences with survivors of the Holocaust and other witnesses to history, long into the future.
Join Dr. Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation and Heather Maio-Smith, CEO of StoryFile – and Max Eisen holographically – to learn more about the future of Holocaust education.
Max Eisen is a passionate speaker and educator who has shared his story of courage to warn of the dangers of hatred and discrimination in society and to promote understanding. Learn more about Max Eisen here.
Dr. Stephen D. Smith is the Finci -Viterbi Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation and holds the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education.
Smith founded the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and cofounded the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide.
Smith has served as a producer on a number of film and new media projects, including Dimensions in Testimony and the VR project The Last Goodbye.
In recognition of his work, Smith has become a member of the Order of the British Empire and received the Interfaith Gold Medallion. He also holds two honorary doctorates and lectures widely on issues relating to the history and collective response to the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Max (Tibor) Eisen was born in Moldava, Czechoslovakia in 1929 into a large orthodox Jewish family. His extended family including parents, two younger brothers and baby sister, his paternal grandparents and uncles, aunts and cousins all perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in May of 1944. The maternal side of his family was deported from Slovakia in 1942 to Majdanek-Lublin Death Camp where they also perished.
Eisen attended both public and Hebrew schools in Moldava and the first ten years of his life are remembered as a normal childhood with all the amenities that good parenting and extended family provides. Life changed dramatically as Hungary occupied the eastern part of Slovakia in March of 1939, when “racial laws” were constituted against the Jewish population. This led to dehumanization, segregation, and confiscation of businesses. All Jews had to wear the Yellow Star of David for visibility. Finally, the deportation to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau came in May of 1944.
Eisen survived slave labor in Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Melk and Ebensee Camps and was forced to go on a Death March in January of 1945 where thousands died from exposure to severe weather conditions and malnutrition. He was fortunate to find a discarded paper cement bag, which he wore under a flimsy shirt to protect himself from freezing. After thirteen days of the withering march, without food or water, the group reached a bombed railway bridge over the Danube River at Mauthausen Austria. They were forced to cross the bridge on foot. He made it across, but many did not have enough strength to avoid missing sections and fell to their deaths in the icy waters.
Eisen was liberated at Ebensee Concentration Camp in Austria on May 6, 1945 by the 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion of the United States Army; (the first black fighting unit attached to General Patton’s 3rd Army Corps).
Following liberation, Eisen was determined to return to his family home with the hope of finding family members that might have survived and would take care of him. On arrival at his home, he discovered that it was occupied by neighbors. He was made to feel unwelcome. The realization set in that at the age of sixteen he was homeless and alone in the world.
Eisen found himself in a Jewish orphanage in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia organized for surviving teenagers by the American Joint Distribution Committee, where he spent three years recovering from his ordeal. He was allowed entry into Canada as a displaced person and arrived in Toronto in October of 1949 and was a ward of the Jewish Family and Child Services. Through this organization, he was helped to get clothing, a place to stay and work. He learned English at night school by reading books and newspapers. Through increasingly more responsible jobs and applying his own resourcefulness, he gained the experience necessary to start his own manufacturing company by 1964. The business prospered and eventually employed up to 65 people. Eisen retired in 1992 after a successful business career and as a respected pioneer in his industry.
A high-profile court case in Toronto in 1985 involving a holocaust denier motivated him to get involved with the Holocaust Education Centre of Toronto as a speaker/educator. Eisen committed himself in 1991 to teaching about the dangers of hatred and discrimination in society and promoting understanding between community groups.
Today Eisen is involved in extensive speaking engagements in various venues such as schools, universities, television, and newspaper interviews. As evidenced by the many letters of appreciation he has received, his talks have had great impact in vividly and effectively bringing the horrors of the past into the present moment, so that his audiences can experience and understand the significance of his story.
Since 1998, Eisen has participated in the ‘March of the Living’, a commemorative group march on Holocaust Remembrance Day, from Auschwitz to Birkenau Concentration Camps in Poland. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people from around the world are coming annually on this March. Heads of State of many nations attend this memorial service to remember and pay respect to the victims of the Holocaust, and to reaffirm their commitment to never again be silent when acts of cruelty and genocide are occurring anywhere in the world. Eisen has led municipal, provincial, and federal politicians, university students, and teenagers in his capacity as an appointed survivor speaker/educator. On these occasions, Eisen returns to the site where he and his own family were unloaded from cattle cars and he, as a fifteen year old teenager, was selected for slave labour, while the rest of his family was marched to their deaths.
On Justice and Mercy
Sunday, december 5
4 p.m. CT
Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.
Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. He led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018: the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. Mr. Stevenson is also a professor of law at the New York University School of Law.
Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.
Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.
Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. He led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018: the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. Mr. Stevenson is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
Mr. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens; the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers; and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, for international human rights. In 2002, he received the Alabama State Bar Commissioners Award. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and also the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award. Mr. Stevenson won the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and was awarded the NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, and the Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. In 2012, Mr. Stevenson received the American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award, and the Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award in Social Progress. Mr. Stevenson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014 and won the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize. In 2015, he was named to the Time 100 list recognizing the world’s most influential people. In 2016, he received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. He was named in Fortune’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders list. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize from the King Center in Atlanta in 2018.
Mr. Stevenson has received over 40 honorary doctoral degrees, including degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Oxford University. He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014 and has been awarded several honors, including the American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal for best nonfiction book of 2015 and a 2015 NAACP Image Award. Just Mercy was recently adapted as a major motion picture. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government.
Into the Icy Realm
Sunday, january 9
4 p.m. CT
Paul Nicklen is a Canadian photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist who has documented the beauty and the plight of our planet for over twenty years. In addition to being one of the world’s most acclaimed nature photographers, Nicklen is a sought-after speaker, a TED Talks legend, an author, and National Geographic Fellow. In the past two decades, Paul has collaborated with scientists, filmmakers, conservationists, and explorers to create awareness and inspire action for global issues like climate change. As an assignment photographer for National Geographic magazine, Nicklen captures the imagination of a global audience.
Paul Nicklen is a Canadian photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist who has documented the beauty and the plight of our planet for over twenty years. As an assignment photographer for National Geographic magazine, Nicklen captures the imagination of a global audience.
Nicklen is uniquely qualified to create his brand of documentary photography which informs and creates an emotional connection with wild subjects in extreme conditions. His work delivers audiences to an underwater realm witnessed by few. Nicklen’s sensitive and evocative imagery has garnered over 30 of the highest awards given to any photographer in his field, including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the prestigious World Press Photo for Photojournalism. In November 2019, Nicklen was the youngest person ever inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame (IPHF).
He is equally recognized by the conservation community for his outspoken work, and has been awarded the Natural Resources Defense Council BioGems Visionary Award. Most recently, Nicklen was bestowed an honorary PhD at the University of Victoria, for the impact his photography has had on climate change.
In addition to being one of the world’s most acclaimed nature photographers, Nicklen is a sought-after speaker, a TED Talks legend, an author, and National Geographic Fellow. In the past two decades, Paul has collaborated with scientists, filmmakers, conservationists and explorers to create awareness and inspire action for global issues like climate change.
As a co-founder of the non-profit, SeaLegacy, Paul Nicklen is opening a fresh, progressive chapter in the story of ocean conservation. Through visual storytelling, Sea Legacy inspires millions of people to stand up and have a voice for the pristine places threatened by climate change.
Steve ‘The Woz’ Wozniak
An Afternoon with Steve Wozniak
Sunday, February 6
4 p.m. CT
A Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist for more than thirty years, Steve Wozniak has helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple’s first line of products the Apple I and II. In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. The Apple II was integral in launching the personal computer industry. For his achievements at Apple, Wozniak was awarded the National Medal of Technology by the President of the United States in 1985, the highest honor bestowed on America’s leading innovators. In December 2020 Wozniak launched his company Efforce, which aims to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to make it cheaper and easier for companies to fund green projects.
A Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist for more than thirty years, Steve Wozniak has helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple’s first line of products the Apple I and II. He also influenced the popular Macintosh. In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak’s Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, color graphics, and a floppy disk drive. The Apple II was integral in launching the personal computer industry.
In 1981, he went back to UC Berkeley and finished his degree in electrical engineering/computer science. For his achievements at Apple, Wozniak was awarded the National Medal of Technology by the President of the United States in 1985, the highest honor bestowed on America’s leading innovators.
In 2000, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for Technology, The Economy and Employment for single-handedly designing the first personal computer and for then redirecting his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward lighting the fires of excitement for education in grade school students and their teachers.
Through the years, Wozniak has been involved in various business and philanthropic ventures, focusing primarily on computer capabilities in schools and stressing hands-on learning and encouraging creativity for students. Making significant investments of both his time and resources in education, he adopted the Los Gatos School District, providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment. He founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.
In 2014, he was awarded the Hoover Medal, a prestigious honor given for “outstanding extracareer services by engineers to humanity,” and was inducted into the IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame.
Wozniak is a published author with the release of his New York Times best-selling autobiography, iWoz:
From Computer Geek to Cult Icon by Norton Publishing. His television appearances include: ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and The Big Bang Theory, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In October 2017, Steve co-founded Woz U.
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