To the Rescue

Impacting Jewish destiny through education with “Melton” in the vanguard

By Viv Anstey (Melton Cape Town Director) and Lauren Snitcher (Recruitment & Marketing)

Are YOUR grandchildren going to be Jewish?  

We understand only too well, sadly, that there is no guarantee of that. With rising assimilation rates, intermarriage and couples choosing not to have children, the passing on of Judaism to the next generation “le dor va dor” is not a given.

Time and again studies, research and surveys have shown the importance of Jewish education in addressing this problem. The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning is proud to be part of the solution ensuring Judaism and Jewish values live on through the generations. Melton offers adult learners the opportunity to explore our centuries old tradition through sequential and comprehensive text-based curricula and discover how they relate to us today. It offers a profound understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

The school engages adult learners in a life-long and life-enhancing study of Jewish texts and ideas that nurtures and deepens Jewish community worldwide. Through classes and travel seminars  – both in-person and online (even before the pandemic) – Melton learners are introduced to Jewish texts and ideas and discover how relevant they are to their lives. As students of their Jewish heritage, they find themselves part of a worldwide movement of passionate learners that can then themselves enrich Jewish life at all levels, from within their families to communal organisations to global initiatives.

Melton is the largest non-denominational, inclusive adult Jewish education network in the world, with over 40 Melton communities throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. More than 50,000 learners have experienced Melton’s professionally developed curricula and lively interactive classes.

This creative journey into the world of adult Jewish education began when a remarkable woman who began life in humble beginnings in Philadelphia, USA,  expanded her vision from taking care of millions of tired feet to uplifting people’s minds!

Inventor and activist Florence Zacks Melton (1911-2007) envisioned and endowed The Florence Melton Institute in 1986 as a project of the Melton Centre at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She sought to bring to life a comprehensive, relevant, and sophisticated programme of Jewish learning for adults. To this day, Melton attributes its values of accessibility, open-mindedness, integrity, community, and innovation to her enduring vision. Florence Melton saw in her lifetime that for most Jews, their Jewish education ended at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, if they were even lucky enough to have had a Jewish education up to that point. Florence was passionate about creating a programme of study to help adults attain Jewish literacy. She understood that for many, it was their lack of knowledge and familiarity with Jewish learning that seemed to close the doors for further Jewish engagement.

Shoulders, Feet & Minds

Born Florence Spurgeon to Meir and Rebecca Spurgeon in Philadelphia on November 6, 1911, at 19, she married Aaron Zacks, and the couple moved to Columbus, Ohio.

A housewife with an entrepreneurial flair, Florence invented Shoulda-Shams, washable cotton shoulder pads. She later then discovered she could use the material to line slippers which were marketed first as Angel Treads and later as Dearfoams. Florence’s slippers were a huge hit and were immediately successful, selling in their billions.

Firm Footing. From revolutionizing the footwear industry by inventing the world’s first foam-soled, washable slipper, Florence Zacks Melton would later revolutionise adult Jewish education.

Florence’s first husband, Aaron Zacks passed away in 1966 and in 1968, she married industrialist and philanthropist Samuel M. Melton, an Ohio stainless steel fittings tycoon and philanthropist, who served on the boards of many national Jewish charities.

Partners in Pursuit of Jewish Education. Husband of Florence, industrialist Sam Melton served on the Board of Governors of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, funded the construction of the Samuel Mendel Melton Building for Jewish Education on the Mount Scopus Campus and is credited with having donated more funds in support of Jewish education than any other individual philanthropist

Retiring from business in 1959, Sam Melton turned his attention fully to a range of community and educational philanthropic enterprises, including sponsorship of The Melton Research Center for Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, The Melton Center for Jewish Studies in Ohio State University in Columbus, and The Melton Centre for Jewish Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served on the Board of Governors of The Hebrew University and funded the construction of the Samuel Mendel Melton Building for Jewish Education on the Mount Scopus campus.

Melton Method. Commitment to the sustainability of Jewish culture and heritage through diverse forms of education.

Sam Melton is credited with having donated more funds in support of Jewish education than any other individual philanthropist.

Florence become an active partner to her husband’s philanthropic projects. Many were sceptical and had concerns about the number of adults that were interested in Jewish study or would even want to view Jewish Study as serious. But Florence, passionate about Judaism and education, perhaps because hers had been interrupted, was determined to empower adult Jews to “Enter The Jewish Conversation”. And so, together with her husband, Sam, in 1986 they created the “Florence Melton Adult Mini-School” – a two-year, non-denominational programme, which operated across North America, Australia and South Africa. To her credit, 35 years later, her school is still growing, stronger than ever. But instead of a 2- year programme, Melton students are still learning decades later.

Always One Step Ahead. From creator of slippers to the inventor and Jewish adult education, entrepreneur Florence Zacks Melton (1911 – 2007) was constantly in the vanguard. (Courtesy of Florence Melton Adult Mini-School)

The fervent passion of its founder, Florence Melton, to bring Jewish education to adult learners lives on to this day in Melton’s leadership, staff, Board, and directors.

Outreach from Jerusalem

Melton’s dual head offices are directed out of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, driven by Rabbi Dr Morey Schwartz, Melton International director, and New York City, led by Rabbi Rachel Bovitz, Melton Executive Director. In true inclusive Melton style, Melton is directed from Jerusalem in the East by a Modern Orthodox male rabbi and New York in the West, by a Conservative female rabbi.

Simply and more affectionately referred to today as “Melton”, the Florence Melton School Of Adult Jewish Learning is enriching the lives of participants across the world who are gaining Jewish literacy through a world class academic curriculum created by scholars and educators at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Melton can be described as an international network of community-based schools that aims to positively impact the destiny of the Jewish people by offering adults the opportunity to acquire Jewish literacy in an open, inclusive, cross-denominational, and intellectually stimulating learning environment.

The Melton Centre at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has expanded to a large community of eager adults that have a strong commitment to the sustainability of Jewish culture and heritage. As Israel’s first Centre for Jewish Education, the Centre offers a wide variety of research and other resources to accentuate the knowledge of its scholars, including a MA in Jewish Education.

What Makes Melton Unique

Melton learners participate in multi-session courses (ranging from 4 to 30 weeks) that make Jewish texts and ideas accessible, relevant and inspirational. Melton learning is text-based and is designed to be studied within an environment of openness, where questioning and dialogue are encouraged. There are no examinations or tests. The only prerequisite is a commitment to learn. Many of our learners choose to make Jewish learning a way of life.

Network of Learners

Melton learning is powered by an international network of communities. Local offerings (online or in person) are augmented with Melton International’s online learning as well as travel seminars that unite our global community of adult Jewish learners. During 2020 and 2021, due to Covid-19, all our classes moved online, including our first-class travel seminars which have become virtual reality tours, proving almost as good as the real thing, enabling “travel” at a time when physically that has not been possible.

Engaging and Sophisticated Curriculum

Written by talented, insightful scholars and reviewed by experts at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, our extensive and ever- growing selection of courses engages learners with a variety of interests.

Towers Head and Shoulders. A Shoulda-Shams department store advertisement in August 1947 (source: Google News)
 

Quality Teaching and Learning

Jewish Federations, Jewish Community Centres, Bureaus of Jewish Education, Synagogues, and community coalitions are natural partners with the Melton School. This ensures a community commitment to maintaining the high level of quality expected of each Melton School. To preserve the high standards which are the hallmark of the Melton School, alumni, local faculty members and educators within their communities participate in ongoing professional enrichment offered through Melton itself or The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Directors attend the yearly International Directors Conference which alternates between America and Israel. In 2020 it was held online with great success.

Israel-Diaspora Partnership

Being a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, being staffed internationally from Israel and America, having travel seminars criss-crossing the land of Israel as well as the Diaspora, alternating the Directors’ conferences between America and Israel and having Melton schools across the Jewish world, the Israel-Diaspora relationship is powerful and symbiotic. Many courses have an Israel component so the links between Israel and the Jewish diaspora are deep and lasting.

Courses On Offer

Our text-based curricula are the hallmark of Melton’s success and keeps Melton students returning for more for close to 40 years. Students come for the learning and stay for the community, creating close friendships with their classmates often extending far beyond the classroom.

From our initial core course which spanned a 2-year curricula, covering the Jewish Calendar and Life Cycle, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish History and Jewish Ethics, Melton now proudly offers approximately 40 more courses.

Examples of Melton courses are:

Shivim Panim– a series covering all 5 books of the Torah; Foundations of Jewish Living – teaching Jewish Values to parents and grandparents of young children; Beyond Borders – The History of the Arab Israeli Conflict; Israeli Literature As a Window to Israeli Society; The Holocaust as Reflected In Diaries and Memoirs; Biblical Women – Emerging From the Margins Through Midrash; Jewish Denominations; The Star and The Crescent – A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations; Jewish Medical Ethics; Jewish Mysticism; Social Justice – The Heart Of Judaism In Theory And Practice and Jews In America – Insiders And Outsiders; Jewish Answers to life’s most challenging questions, Yesod – Jewish Leadership

Inspiring Today and Tomorrow’s Generations. Viv Anstey and Lauren Snitcher at the Melton School of Adult Jewish Education, Cape Town, South Africa.

In  a recent research study two-thirds of those interviewed reported a strengthening or enhancement in different facets of Jewish life.

By offering a robust menu of online courses during these challenging times, Melton has been able to:

  • Increase its reach internationally to individuals in communities otherwise not serviced by Melton
  • Introduce Melton courses to new learners
  • Re-engage former learners with new offerings
  • Develop high quality digital pedagogy
  •  expand its partnerships

Since 2006, we have, under the umbrella of the Midrasha Adult Education Institute enriched lives within and beyond the Cape Town Jewish community to an ever-increasing global student body.

Midrasha offers Melton courses as well as their own home-grown Midrasha courses, with a faculty of talented intellectual and academic experts. It boasts over 3500 graduates inclusive of all sectors of Cape Town Jewry and beyond.

Enriching Education. Adult students at the Melton School in Cape Town, South Africa.

Our latest Midrasha course on SA Jewish History:  Dilemmas & Debates is FULL.  Let us know if you are interested so that we can place you on a waiting list for a repeat of this course in 2022.

To end the year on a high note, we will be running Melton’s “From Sinai to Seinfeld: Jews and Their Jokes”.

For more information on Melton Cape Town contact Lauren Snitcher at lauren@snitcher.org or +27828802257 or visit www.meltoncapetown.org




About the writers:

Viv Anstey is the Director of the Midrasha Adult Education Institute incorporating the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning and is also currently Director of The Eliot Osrin Leadership Institute. she is founding member of Limmud South Africa, first Director of SA Jewish Museum, co-driver of PJ Library and the Jewish Literary Festival. Viv currently serves on the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies as elected committee member and previously on its executive as vice-chair.



Lauren Snitcher graduated as a BA.LLB(UCT) and has worked as an attorney in Cape Town.  She is passionate about Jewish Education and after completing the Melton Course in 2008, she took on the position of recruitment and marketing for Melton Cape Town. As part of her interest in her Jewish Heritage and as a descendant of an Ochberg orphan, she undertook extensive research and travel, resulting in the creation of an Oscar short-listed documentary movie, “Ochberg’s Orphans”.










While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Mindsets to Markets

The Stef Wertheimer formulae for Middle East  regional stability where “the battlefield today should only be the market place”

By David E. Kaplan

Reading in the latest Forbes ranking industrialist Stef Wertheimer as Israel’s wealthiest citizen with a net worth of $6.2 billion in its annual ranking of the wealthiest billionaires in the world,  reminded me of my interview with him in 2011.

Israelis in the Pack. Twenty-one Israelis appear in Forbes 2021 billionaires list with  Stef Wertheimer as the country’s richest citizen with a personal fortune of $6.2 billion.

 It also made me think that Israel’s premier industrialist would not have been pleased with the nature of exposure!

Why do I assume this?

Well, before I even began that decade-old interview, Stef said:

I hope you were not planning on asking me about the Buffett deal?”

I was taken back!

Movers & Shakers. Stef Wertheimer showing Warren Buffett (left)  around  Tefen in northern Israel Israel. (Photo by FLASH90)

The “Buffett deal” of 2006 was not just any deal but the most highly publicised one at the time in Israel’s history. Yes, it was when Warren Buffett‘s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.,  acquired 80% of Wertheimer’s  Iscar Metalworking Companies (IMC) for $4 billion. Not only was it a ‘big deal’  for Israel, but also for Buffett being his largest acquisition outside the USA! This was a huge endorsement of Israel, so yes, I had planned to anchor my article on ‘the Buffett deal’. I had also been  spurred on by Buffett revealing shortly before our interview in 2010 that he   he would like to invest more in Israel, believing that Israel has a sustainable advantage in the global competitive market place, saying:

 “If you are looking for brains – stop in Israel.”

Puzzled, I asked Stef why he was so against discussing the deal, after all, “it made your family and your company household names – globally?”

Man on a Mission. Stef Wertheimer – a warrior for peace and prosperity

His explanation was instructive.

“Why do you think that the Berkshire Hathaway deal is any more important than the first deal I did with my fledgling company operating out of my house in Nahariya in the early 1950s?”

Seeing my perplexed look, he continued:

It you disregard the amounts of money in the equation and focus on impact then the first 1950s deal was far more historically significant than the Berkshire Hathaway deal.”

The message was clear. Beneath the veneer of being bedazzled by billions, Wertheimer was directing the interview to a far more philosophical rather than simple monetary assessment of the word “value”.

Factory Floor. A young highly motivated Stef Wertheimer (center) in his backyard Iscar workshop in Nahariya in the early 1950s. (Photo: private)

Early Days

Stef Wertheimer was born in Kikenheim, Germany in 1926, the son of a musician and decorated war veteran of the Great War. In 1936, with the Nazis entrenched in power, the Wertheimer family fled Germany for Palestine.  “I was 10 years old,” he said, “so they did not ask me.”

Following learning a trade as an apprentice to a refugee, Stef, at age eighteen, joined the newly established Israel Air force flight school. Although he graduated as a pilot, the army was far more interested in his skills in metal processing. Given the important task of developing weapons, no one in those days would have imagined that young Stef was well on his way to becoming a global industrialist and ‘warrior’ for peace.

Rearing to Go. The refugee child from southern Baden, Germany, Stef Wertheimer as a teenager in Tel Aviv.

When the State of Israel came into being and the battles ended, he started his cutting-tool factory from his home in Nahariya – then a small coastal town in northern Israel – with a borrowed lathe and a loan from a local butcher.

“Living in Nahariya, I used to ride my motorbike to kibbutz Hanita where I paid for the use of a machine. I then decided in 1952 to work at home and started with small blade sharpener which cost 40 lirot. My ‘factory floor’ was the balcony off our kitchen. I called my business Iscar and it was a case of family and factory sharing the same premises. As the business expanded and required more space, I invaded the bedroom and shifted the beds into the corridor. In between all this, Irit, my baby daughter was riding around on her tricycle taking bites of food from my workers. That is how she cultivated a liking for harif (hot) cuisine from my Mizrahi (Eastern Jews) workers.”

These were humble beginnings but the makings of what would amount global news in the future.

Battlefields for Peace

Known as the father of Israel’s “Industrial Parks”, establishing his first Tefen Industrial Park in 1982  in the northern Galilee –  “to foster economic growth and job creation and so help create stability in the region” – it became the model for all the parks that followed. He became animated describing then his latest and sixth park, located in Nazareth that “will be managed by Arabs but essentially where Jews and Arabs will work together. It’s a model for coexistence, where people work with each rather than against each other. The battlefield today should only be the market place.”

Aiming High. The ISCAR World Headquarters and Central Manufacturing Facilities located in Tefen in the high hills of Israel.

This argument had added resonance at the time as the Middle East in 2011 was gripped in the turmoil of the Arab Spring that had begun in response of citizens across the Middle East rising up against their autocratic regimes for their low standards of living. This Wertheimer understood well and in a series of articles he penned at the time, was advocating a type of ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Middle East of mass industrialization as a tool for regional harmony. More than ideology or religion, they needed – JOBS and jobs in mass manufacturing

Explaining, he said, “if people are highly skilled, earning good salaries and enjoying job satisfaction, there will be less urge for individuals or nation states to resort to violence to achieve their aspirations. Religious fanatics only flourish where poverty and despair rule. But to achieve an industrial revolution, we need too, a revolution in our educational system to produce a skilled working workforce.”

A portend of things to come, our interview also took place a few months before the Social Justice protests across Israel, when starting in July 2011, hundreds of thousands of protestors from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds opposed the continuing rise in the cost of living – particularly housing.

These were hardly the people with a mindset for factory floors but Wertheimer understood but pressed his case for a change in mindsets.

Sure, we prefer to pursue the ‘clean’ professions because we are pressurized by our parents. This is embedded in our culture where we have an aversion to roll up our sleeves and getting our fingers dirty. For this reason, Jews gravitate to commerce and the professions rather than into industry. This needs to change.”

And to my next question of how we break from tradition if it’s so imbedded in our culture, Wertheimer replied:

“One need look no further for a shining example than one of our revered Zionist pioneers, A.D. Gordon. Was he suited to work in the fields? Definitely not. He was an elderly intellectual, of no great physical strength and with no experience doing manual labour, but he took up the hoe and worked in the fields. By personal example, he provided the inspiration for generations of Zionist pioneers to create a Jewish economy by physically working the land. By personal example, he showed how manual labour, so essential to the creation of the state, was honourable and enriching work.”

His argument was we need that same insight and spirit of A.D. Gordon to move new generations not to the fields but to factory floors. “In the same way that tilling the land in the early days was considered honourable, so today we need to correct the erroneous notion that manual labour is “low”. Nations with the most dynamic economies such as China, India, Singapore, Switzerland, Denmark and France have introduced a dual system of technical education that combines classroom learning with on-sight internships in various industries. We need to do the same.”

Book of Revelations. Says Warren Buffett, “There’s no better way to explain the miracle of Israel than to examine the life of Stef Wertheimer.”

And as to what progress Wertheimer had made so far towards this goal, he explained:

“I have for over 50 years created and run technical education programmes. Along the way, I have established six technical schools, including one in the army and one in the navy. These are schools where young people can learn a trade and acquire skills of a very high standard.  I have also established schools where we teach teachers in vocational training because this is so lacking in this country. I cannot stress enough – we have enough bankers and lawyers; we need people with skills and when they receive the recognition they deserve, attitudes will change. This is the way forward for Jews and Arabs to stand together. Their battlefield is the factory floor, their common enemy – their competitors in the overseas markets.”

Making an Impact. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (right) with Stef Wertheimer at the “Collective Impact” employment project, in Nazareth, Israel, on April 6, 2016.
 

Embellishing on his Marshall Plan for the Middle East that there cannot be real peace in the region unless neighbouring countries enjoy similar economic prosperity, he explained:

“If Israel has been a success story, we could be more of a success by helping our neighbours more than ourselves. They need to believe that they are on the same path to prosperity as us. We need to expend far more of our resources on peace rather than on war. Can you imagine if we built Industrial Parks like we have in Israel all over the Middle East, the impact it would have on regional peace and stability? People don’t know, but the money the government spends on ONE fighter plane could pay for FIVE industrial parks. Think of it – which offers a better return on the investment?”

Imagine if there were hundreds of these “Pockets of Peace” all over the Middle East? “Who would have the time or inclination for war? People would be too busy creating than destroying.”

This vision has been passed onto his son Eitan, today the CEO of Iscar.

Fostering Peaceful Coexistence. At the grand opening in April 2013 of this industrial park in the predominantly Christian-Arab city of Nazareth, Wertheimer and Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jeraisy explained that the industrial park is part of a unique model to promote the advancement of Arab-Jewish Israeli export companies. During his visit to Israel in 2009, Pope Benedict had met with both men at the site of the future park and gave his blessing to the project.

“There are no bad people. There are just people without a future and people with a future. Once you create a future, peace will come. The model is already in place. It only needs to be adapted elsewhere – to build a region of conflict into islands of hope.”

“We need people like Stef, who live for their ideas and bring them alive through commitment and pragmatism,” expressed the German Federal Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schaeuble in 2008 on presenting  the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal to Wertheimer for his contribution to Christian-Jewish understanding.

Possibly the accolade that best sums up Stef Wertheimer’s contribution to the State of Israel came from his good friend, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who said, “Stef, hopefully, if there were more people like you, not many, maybe just 20, the country would be completely different.”

Laughing all the Way to the Bank

A few years after Israel’s War of Independence (1948-1949), Stef found himself sitting on a bus with a young woman he had met in their days in the Palmach, the pre-independence, elite fighting force.

So Stef, what you doing with yourself now? Any plans?”

Yes, to go into industry; I want to start my own business.”

 “What?” she asked and laughed so loud everyone on the bus stared at them. After all, the country was poor; many foodstuffs were hard to come by.

However, six decades later, what began from a loan from a butcher and a borrowed lathe working in his backyard, grew into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of metal cutting tools, which are used by carmakers, shipbuilders and aerospace industries.

Who had the last laugh?







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Fast Times at IDC Herzliya

Aspiring like their male counterparts for pole position in Israel’s hi-tech revolution, an increasing number of women students are enrolling at IDC Herzliya’s Efi Arazi School of Computer Science

By David E. Kaplan

I want to be part of changing the world and the way we live life,” says Liat Shaer, a student from South Africa at the IDC Herzliya’s Efi Arazi School of Computer Science. Such words would make the late Israeli hi-tech pioneer and visionary proud. Efi Arazi was a fearless larger-than-life role model who showed how to build global high-tech startups, long before the word high-tech was invented!

School for Success. Students at the Efi Arazi School  of Computer Science receive an average of three job offers from the biggest high-tech companies during their last year of studies.

Israel has well earned the nickname “Startup Nation” for its outside-the-box entrepreneurship. With a population of approximately nine million, it has the largest number of startups per capita in the world – around one startup per 1,400 people. This “WOW” phenomenon increasingly catches the eye of companies with global reach and aspirations and preparing tomorrow’s  leaders in this field are many of today’s students gravitating towards Computer Science.  

Many more of them today  – are young women!

This exciting trend is all too evident at Israel’s first and only private university – the IDC Herzliya – proud of its high percentage of female students studying at the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science.

From a high of 30% in the 2019-2020 academic year, it has risen to an unprecedented 37% in the 2020-2021 year. 

Deputy Dean of the Efi Arazi School, Prof. Anat Bremler-Barr, attributes the increase in the number of women at the school to two main factors:

  • Attracted by the availability of well-paid jobs – a global trend –  in the field of Computer Science
  • A successful outreach by the Efi Arazi School and IDC Herzliya to encourage more female students to enroll in Computer Science as part of a policy of supporting woman empowerment in the market place.

Not only are events held annually that are targeted towards encouraging women to join the school, says Bremler-Bar, but in addition,  “30 percent of faculty members are women, a significantly higher percentage than in other universities, which helps attract more female students.”

Many of these are foreign students who are studying Computer Science in English at the IDC Herzliya’s Raphael Recanati International School.

Lay Of The Land spoke to some of these young women students to understand what steered then to a field once so dominated by men.

Liat Shear who matriculated at Yeshiva college in Johannesburg, South Africa, says she chose to study Computer Science as “an excellent degree which develops and teaches skills that are very relevant in 2021 and will continue to be so in the future. It allows its students to enter a wide variety of fields and prepares them for the many technological challenges being faced worldwide. For me personally as a woman, studying Computer Science will hopefully help change the perception of women in the STEM fields. I chose the IDC specifically as it is an international, world class institution located in Israel, which exposes me to many brilliant and renowned lecturers.”

Computer Science student Liat Shear from Johannesburg hopes to help change the perception of women in the STEM fields.

She praises the opportunities it has provided in “helping me to meet peers and future colleagues from all over the world,” and plans after graduating, “to be part of one of the many Israel-based hi-tech companies that are changing the world and the way we live life.”

Sun Fun and Study. Like the warm embracing Israeli sun, the IDC Herzliya warmly embraces students from all over the world .

For Arora Attenborough from Melbourne, studying Computer Science or Entrepreneurship “never crossed my mind until coming to Israel. Growing up in Australia, I had always been passionate about technology and computers but, the importance of degrees in technology fields still hadn’t been fully recognised, and I originally thought I would most likely study Business. It wasn’t until I landed in Israel and started working in a Hi-Tech Company as an Executive Assistant, did I realise the importance of Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. From ‘Day 1’, I knew this was the environment that I wanted to work in.

Computer Science student Arora Attenborough from Melbourne, Australia

She says she is thankfulthat she was fortunate “to be able to see inside of both the roles of the Executives and the roles of the Software Engineers and the main thing that I deduced is that if I want to be successful in high tech I need to have the knowledge as a Computer Scientist and the skills of a good Entrepreneur.”

That is when she decided to study at the IDC Herzliya.

“Only when I started having discussions with my colleagues, mentors and friends about my degree choice did I fully realise that not one of my executive colleagues were female, and in 2 years of working in high tech, I had listened to hundreds of business calls, read over a plethora of different companies investor decks, and made coffee for many executives and not once did I meet or read about a female tech CEO. The realisation of diving into a male dominated sector and the challenge of becoming a leading woman in the tech industry is a big reason why I want to study Computer Science and Entrepreneurship so much.”

Imbued by the passion and the motivation she recognises within herself and her female Computer Science friends at the IDC, “I predict that very soon, smart and capable women will make a big impression on the technology industry, changing the way we see the high tech environment by bringing forth revolutionary companies and products.” 

Young and Adventurous. Preparing for tomorrow’s challenges, students from all over the world walking between classes at the IDC Herzliya.

Another Computer Science student from South Africa but born in Israel is 22-year-old Stav Hazan, who moved to Johannesburg, at the age of twelve. “Throughout high school, I consistently pushed myself to work towards a degree that would take full advantage of my skills and intelligence, but I never actually considered Computer Science as a path that could do that. This is because I had always pictured myself doing something meaningful or revolutionary in the medical or biological field, without realising the strong and important role Computer Science plays in these areas. Now, the vision I have for my career is to contribute to the Biotech industry by working with startups that bring together AI technology and software developers with doctors and other major players of the medical field.”

Stav says she would like to use this stage at the IDC to “encourage young women not to be intimidated by the Computer Science field, or to be influenced by external opinions and cultural beliefs. I initially did not view Computer Science as the most meaningful choice out of potential scientific degrees, as I wasn’t fully aware of the power these skills would give me. When I joined IDC, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the proportion of women to men in my degree, but my journey has been surrounded by the most driven and hard-working women, whether it be my good friends or the lecturers I am inspired by.”

Computer Science student Stav Hazan from Johannesburg, South Africa.

A second-year Computer Science student originally from Boston USA, Ilana Sivan, says  “Women are generally not encouraged to pursue STEM subjects at school, and if they find those subjects difficult, they are not encouraged to try harder but rather to change directions altogether.”  Despite “more of the risk associated with studying Computer Science” Ilana says because of “the innovative and welcoming environment IDC,” the faculty encourages “us to try new ideas and forge new partnerships,  and make us feel part of the community regardless of our gender.”  

Ilana Sivan, USA, 2nd year Computer Science student (photo credit: JENNY SCHWEBER)

The words of these women students are inspirational and aspirational and well befitting the man whose name graces and characterizes the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science. In 1965, while studying at MIT, Efi Arazi designed a camera for NASA, which was used by the Apollo 11 space mission to transmit the first images from the moon. At the age of 25, Arazi invented a revolutionary auto-focus mechanism, thus cementing his position as one of the leading figures in the global electro-optic industry and upon returning to Israel in 1968, he founded the Scitex Corporation, which developed the first digital prepress computer and CCD scanner in the world.

Lasting Legacy. High-Tech pioneer and visionary, Efi Arazi (1937–2013).

Little wonder that Jonathan Davis, Head of the RRIS and Vice President of the IDC Herzliya, likes to refer to the Raphael Recanati International School as  an “island of opportunities”.

Today and Tomorrow. Prof Uriel Reichman, IDC founder and president (left), and Jonathan Davis, Head of the RRIS and Vice President of the IDC Herzliya, with two new graduates  and two future graduates.

For more information about IDC HERZLIYA




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Reach for the Stars

Israel preparing to send its second astronaut into space

By David E. Kaplan

Today, you become the envoy of everyone. Go in peace and return in peace, and do not forget to wave to us from up there. We are waiting for you here at home,” so spoke Israel’s State President

Reuven Rivlin at a special ceremony to announce that 62-year-old Eytan Stibbe, a former IDF fighter pilot is preparing to be Israel’s second astronaut in space.

Next Year in Space. Message from Jerusalem at the president’s residence, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announces that a second Israeli astronaut will be sent into space in 2021. (Mark Neyman / GPO)

Stibbe, who is scheduled for takeoff from Florida at the end of 2021, will spend 200 hours at the International Space Station where he will perform a number of experiments using Israeli technology and scientific developments thus fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of the Start-Up Nation, resolute on pursuing its path in space.

Announcing the name of the second Israeli austonaut to visit space in 2021. (L-R) Chair of the academic advisory committee Inbal Krais, CEO of Ramon Foundation Ran Livne, austonaut Eytan Stibbe, President Rivlin, Minister of Science and Technology Yizhar Shai, Tal Ramon, DG of Beit HaNasi Harel Tubi (Photo: Mark Neyman /GPO).

At the special ceremony at the State President’s residence, Rivlin continued:

 “My dear Eytan, up there, beyond the seventh heavens, you will do Israeli technological experiments, some of which have been developed by our young people. You will be the envoy of those brilliant brains, the present and future generations of Israeli research, and will help them understand how the world works when we look at it from afar. You will be Israel’s representative in a human effort to understand the wonderful workings that allow life on this planet and uncover the secrets of the universe.”

Rocketman. Eytan Stibbe, set to become Israel’s second astronaut in space, speaks at the president’s residence on November 16, 2020 (Mark Neyman / GPO)

To the Heavens and Back

Rivlin’s choice of words “RETURN in peace” was not lost on Israelis who were traumatized by the loss of their first astronaut, Ilan Ramon 17 years earlier. In 2003, this nation was unprepared as they joined billions of people staring in disbelief at their television sets as the Columbia space shuttle – with Ilan Ramon on board –  disintegrated in flames as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere.

Space Heroes. Ilan Ramon (far right) and the crew of the Columbia that perished on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere  in 2003.

After 16 days of almost constant news coverage about “our Ilan’s” exploits in space from how he spent Shabbat (Sabbath), the various experiments he was conducting in space and what special mementos he took with him such as a prayer book to recite the Kidush (blessing)as well as a Kidush cup, a picture drawn by a 14 year-old boy who perished in Auschwitz and a Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust – Israelis felt they knew him personally.

He was family!

As one newspaper at the time expressed it:

“He represented us all – our country, our people, our past and our future. He was our hero at a time when we sorely needed one.”

Face of the Nation. Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut to go on a mission to space, a huge accomplishment for the country’s relatively young space programme.(NASA)

The son of Holocaust survivors, he represented a nation’s rebirth – the young, proud modern Israeli rising from the ashes of the Shoah (Holocaust) to a child of a new nation, reborn in its ancestral homeland and who in one generation was seeking answers to earth’s problems in the heavens.

Nearly two decades later in 2020, how perceptive and prophetic were Ilan’s words from space:

The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so FRAGILE.”

In an age today, when the world’s peoples are living in fear and under restrictions due to the Corona pandemic, Ramon’s observation of “FRAGILE” was poignant and prescient.

This was clearly on Rivlin’s mind when he embellished with: “Because of the VIRUS, we have come to realise how many great concepts – like science, medicine and research – can fundamentally shake our lives. We have come to realise how much we do NOT know, not only about distant planets and infinitely huge galaxies, but even here on our small planet.

Reach for the Sky. Former fighter pilot, future astronaut Eytan Stibbe.

“Dealing with this microscopic virus, in an effort to find a vaccine, we must work together – scientists from different countries and peoples. This is the power of science. It reminds us that we are part  of something much bigger that speaks to the human spirit that is within us all.” 

Stibbe to the Stars

It has taken more than 17 years to reach a decision to send another Israeli into space following the disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle in February 2003 as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere. Stibbe, who had been a close friend and colleague of the late Ilan Roman, said to his widow, Rona Ramon following the tragedy, that he would like to continue her husband’s dream.

In an exclusive interview I had with the late Rona Ramon in 2014 for Hilton Israel Magazine,  she said of her husband:

He has never left us – his spirit, his values and his message to future generations lives on for all time.”

Rona could so easily as well have been referring to her beloved son Assaf Ramon, who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a pilot and was tragically killed in an Air Force training accident in 2009. Sadly, as the news later broke in 2018  that Rona too was taken before her time – at age 54 from cancer – the Jewish world could have said also about Rona, “her spirit, her values, and her message to future generations lives on for all time.” In the years following the deaths of her loved ones, she showed the same bravery, determination and grit as her husband and son as she spearheaded the perpetuation of the family legacy through the Ramon Foundation, which promotes academic excellence in Israel.

Following in his Father’s Flight Path. Israeli President Shimon Peres (left), embracing Assaf Ramon at his Israel Air Force pilot’s graduation ceremony in June 2009. (IDF)

All this was evident after the first anniversary of her husband’s death, when she received the programme of the first anniversary ceremony of the Columbia tragedy to be held in 2004 at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. She saw that it did not include Hatikvah – the national anthem of Israel – so she called her friend at NASA who explained to Rona that the protocol at such ceremonies allows only for the American national anthem.

In which case, I will not be attending,” Rona replied.

There was silence at the other end of the phone “and my friend replied he would call back. It apparently went all the way to President Bush who approved. It was the first time a foreign national anthem had ever been played on such an occasion. I felt truly proud when I stood at Arlington Cemetery listening to Hatikva.

The personal legacy of Ilan for me is his wonderful smile. I suspect he was looking upon me that day for having stood my ground defiantly and smiling.”

And so it was left to the musician of the Ramon family, Tal Ramon, to represent the Ramon family at the State President event who said of the family friend Eytan Stibbe:

“I’m very excited because I know if my mother were standing here she would put up her hands in victory like this, and speak very proudly about our friend, a friend I remember from my very first memories.” The Stibbe family, he continued,  “escorted us through the years through everything we went through, the good and the bad, and their family has become our family.”

Pursuing the Dream. Arms outstretched imitating what his late mother would be doing to embrace Eytan Stibbe for pursuing the dream, Tal Ramon, son of the late Ilan and Rona Ramon, speaking in Jerusalem on November 16, 2019 (screen grab: Israel Government Press Office).

He said it was very moving that Stibbe had chosen to make this “contribution” to the citizens of Israel.

President Rivlin became poetic in expressing the loss of Ilan, Rona and Assaf:

their absence reverberates in the heavens.”

Addressing Stibbe directly, he continued, “You are joining a family that is a shining example. A family that is a source of true Israeli inspiration and pride. The family never stopped talking about the stars, even when they fell from the skies. I am proud to stand with you today on this emotional day.”

Emphasizing the role that his mission will play in enthusing Israeli kids about science and technology, Rivlin said

You’ll conduct a series of experiments in Israeli technologies, some of which were developed by Israeli boys and girls. You will be the messenger of those brilliant minds, present and future generations of excellent Israeli research.”

This reminded me of what Rona has said to me back in the 2014 interview after quoting from the writings of her late husband and son. From Ilan she read, ““The children and youth are the future of the development and advances in space research, especially since they are open to new creative ideas and not prisoners to old ways and therefore so important to our future in space.”

Ilan and Rona Ramon. “We met on my 22nd birthday party at a friend’s house in Kiryat Ono – this 32-year-old good looking guy with a million-dollar smile. Ilan was my 22-birthday present.”

And from Assaf, she found this note in his diary following his graduation:

My siblings and I were lucky to grow up with parents who helped us to fulfill our dreams and reach our unique potential.”

Humbled and moved when first reading these passages, Rona said these profound musings served as “my Magna Carta in founding the Ramon Foundation.”

A board member on the Ramon Foundation, Eytan Stibbe is ready to pursue the dream.  

Said Stibbe at the event: “As a child, on dark nights I looked up to the stars and wondered what there is beyond what I saw.”

As an adult he is preparing to see for himself.

No doubt Eytan Stibbe will adhere to the warm request of the State President:

 “do not forget to wave to us from up there.”

The people of Israel will be looking up!



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Unbreakable Bonds

The Relationship between the USA and Israel

By Lay of the Land USA correspondent

Away from the feuding in American politics – a matter for Americans themselves to determine and decide as they will in November’s upcoming election  – President Trump’s steadfast support for Israel has been reassuring and much appreciated. At a time when Israel faces existential threats and is not short of enemies committed to its destruction, it is reassuring to Israelis as well as Jewish communities around the world that the Jewish state enjoys the solid support and friendship of the United States not only in word but indeed.

There is only ONE Israel and we all know what befell the Jews when there was NO Israel!

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Unshakable Ties. During the meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo Pompeo said that he is sure that “you know that Israel has no better friend than the United States.”

Appreciation of this enduring support and friendship, was warmly evident in a recent address by leading businessman and philanthropist, Simon Falic at a gathering of Christian Zionists to honor the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The indefatigable Secretary of State has been in the forefront of  championing President Trump’s vision for peace in order to “achieve enduring security, freedom and prosperity for both sides.”

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Simon Falic stressing the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.

“Judeo Christian values are ingrained in the United States of America,” began Falic. “For many of us, one of the most significant events in the last century was the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland.  I believe, as so many of you, that this historical event was decreed by the heavens. The destinies of the United States and Israel are intertwined.”

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Stressing the familial nature of the relationship, Falic said that  “while our common enemies refer to the United States as the ‘big Satan’ and Israel as the ‘little Satan’, I think it is more like we are the big brother and Israel the little brother.” Evidence of this was  “President Truman’s recognition in 1948 of the establishment of the State of Israel, to 1973 during the Yom Kippur war, when President Nixon sent desperately needed weapons to allow Israel to defend herself and survive the Arab onslaught and then from the billions of dollars in aid over the years to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of Israel  and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.”

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Strong Ties. Simon Falic, Chairman of Duty Free Americas at the ceremony presenting Israeli President Shimon Peres the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. The medal, designed and struck by the United States Mint, recognizes and honored the late President Peres for maintaining strong bilateral relations between Israel and the United States and was the first Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to a sitting President of Israel. (Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky/Dov Lenchevsky)

Through this all, “big brother has always been there for little brother.”

Stressing the Biblical ties to the land, Falic said, “The Jewish people returning to live in Israel after 2000 years in exile is based on something far more meaningful than any partition plan, any arbitrary division of land, or any political decision that granted Jewish survivors of World War II a place of refuge. It is essentially tied to the Bible. Without this perspective, people inevitably miss the entire story that leads to mistakes politically.

“Time and again, leaders from across the globe adopt definitive positions about what is best for Israel and how to move the peace process forward. Yet, these ideas never worked. They insisted on imposing a solution without seriously considering and ignoring the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies who vow to destroy this sliver of Holy Land that could fit into Lake Michigan.  Israel and her people alone will have to face and deal with the consequences, as the Oslo accords have taught us.  The mindset of the Arab world is that they can lose 99 wars with Israel – but all they have to do is win the 100th.”

Warning against failure to take advantage when destiny provides a window of opportunity, Falic recounted of the telegram, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, General George Marshall wired on May 13th, 1948, to David Ben Gurion “stating that if he declared an independent state of Israel, five Arab armies would attack and within 48 hours and not one Jew in the land would be left alive.  The rest is history.”

This same warning of fearing the worst and hence counselling inaction, occurred before President Trump announced the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “He was also warned by his Generals that there will most likely be a violent reaction around the world to US interests.”

And once again “The rest is history”.

This pattern of warning and suggested caution was to again repeat itself with President Trump’s “recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.  We can only imagine what would be the situation today if Israel had not conquered the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and held in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  Today, ISIS, the Syrian and Iranian regimes and the Russians would be overlooking the Sea of Galilee.”

Looking to Pompeo, and with a warm smile, Falic exclaimed:

“You are now being part of Israel’s History.”

Exposing European hypocrisy of singling out Israel for selective opprobrium, Falic drew attention to last year’s European Union Court of Justice, when “all 15 judges unanimously ruled, that all products made by Jews in Judea and Samaria, or what they refer to as occupied territory, must be labeled as products made in “occupied territory”.  There are close to 100 conflicts and disputes around the world regarding borders and territories, including Cyprus that is occupied by Turkey, but only Israeli products made by Jews, were singled out. Europe destroyed and eliminated century’s old Jewish communities and today they pursue Israel and the Jews in their courts and in diplomatic circles. The primary product that was part of this European’s court decision, was a wine called Psagot. Psagot is the “poster boy” of the BDS movement.

 

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Taste Of Ancient Israel. The Psagot winery is located in the northern region of the Jerusalem mountains, an area ripe with remnants of biblical-era vineyards and wineries. 

 

My family and I are partners in this winery.  We invested in Psagot over 10 years ago – against the advice of other investors and wine experts. We were told that while the wine is excellent, it is in a disputed area that one day might be part of a negotiated agreement and Jewish life and business there will be eliminated.

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Psagot winery. During the vineyard’s construction, a coin dating back to the Great Revolt of (66–73 CE) was discovered where its front face is stamped with the words “For Freedom of Zion” and adorned with a vine leaf, while the back face reads “Year Two” (a reference to the Revolt) alongside an image of an amphora – an ancient container used for storing wine. This coin appears on the label of each bottle of Psagot wine.

Ironically, these naysayers encouraged and emboldened us, even more, to invest to help establish Jewish life and business after 2,000 years.  Next to the vineyards is a cave and press where wine was produced and stored during the time of the Second Temple. An ancient coin of Judea was found in the cave, and today a replica of that coin appears on many of our bottles.  Psagot was a small unknown boutique winery producing 40,000 bottles per year. Today, after winning many prestigious wine awards in France and London, we produce 400,000 bottles per year.

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Shared Values, Common Destinies. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waves as he speaks at the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, at Washington Convention Center, in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019 (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“Secretary of State Pompeo, only one week after the despicable decision of the European court, you publicly announced the State Department’s determination that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not categorically inconsistent with International law. Your official announcement is widely referred to in Israel as the “Pompeo Doctrine”.  I don’t think you really know how loved and respected you are in Israel.”

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Simon Falic (right) with Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of the Christian United for Israel (CUFI) organization.

Reminding his Christian Zionist audience of the strong connection the Jewish people have with the land of Israel “where Abraham, Isaac, Sara, Leah, Rivka, and Rachel, walked, lived and are buried,” Falic concluded with  “Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and to all our Christian Zionist friends, “May G-d bless you and protect you. May G-d make his face shine upon you and treat you with grace. May G-d lift his face toward you and grant you peace.”

In a world currently plagued not only of a virus but one of uncertainty, it is reassuring that we have certainty on this critical issue – the unbreakable bond between the USA and Israel.

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Simon Falic flanked by his wife, the Honorary Life President, WIZO USA Jana Falic (left) and Nili Falic, Chairman Emeritus, Friends of the IDF (FIDF).

 

 

 

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

 

Mending a Broken Heart

By Rolene Marks

“It’s amazing when you stop for a moment and consider that this woman is not an Israeli and is not Jewish. She is a foreigner. She has no family or roots here. She has been through terrible physical abuse for a year. Yet together, WIZO, the hospital, all the good people in our community came together and reached into their pockets and hearts during this difficult Coronavirus period to save her life. It’s like it says in the Torah, “And you shall love the stranger,”(Deuteronomy chapter 10, verses 17-20. Leviticus chapter 19, verse 34).

It is never easy to be a stranger in a strange land. It is difficult to adapt to a culture completely different to your own and when a global pandemic spreads and brings with it seemingly insurmountable challenges, it feels like a battle that cannot be won. But this is a story with a difference. This story is proof that even in the most difficult and uncertain of times, there are always people that are willing to help.

Meet “S” a 26-year-old Eritrean woman, who left her home to come to Israel – at great personal risk. Many Eritreans seek work in Israel and are not Jewish and “S” was no exception. “S” life has been full of hardships. She began her long walk towards a better life in a strange land at 16 and was forced into an arranged marriage while staying at a refugee camp en route at 17. Her husband was already living in Israel and paid for her to come to Israel.

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Many migrant workers seek work in Israel.

Shortly after arriving, she became a mother to two gorgeous little ones, a girl and a boy, now aged 7 and 4. But the marriage was fraught with violence. Both “S” and her daughter suffered severe abuse at the hands of her husband and eventually fled for their lives, along with “S”’s small son.

“S” was referred to a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation’s) shelter by Israel’s welfare services and “Mesila” (assistance and information center for the foreign community), an NPO (non-Profit) serving the rights and needs of the tens of thousands of legal and illegal migrant workers and refugees living in and around Tel Aviv.

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At this safe haven, WIZO provided loving arms, therapy and shelter from the constant blows and abuse “S” and her small charges faced. At last, she could begin to heal physically – and maybe emotionally. But this was not the end of her story – and her remarkable journey.

In June 2015, before her arrival at the shelter, “S” was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva after fainting at work. Pregnant at the time, she was later diagnosed with a heart defect. This required her needing a catheterization and the doctors decided that in order to survive, she would need to abort. In the four years that followed she had no medical follow up – and the violence meted out by her husband continued.

When “S” arrived at the shelter in 2019, she began a process of medical checkups with the help of a refugee clinic in Jerusalem that works in cooperation with Sha’arei Tzedek  Hospital. She had a series of cardiological examinations, and began medical treatment. “S” needed a procedure that could potentially save her life.

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Asylum-seeking women (their faces purposely hidden to hide their identities) and a volunteer nurse at the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)

On April 30th, 2020, “S” met with Dr. Amit Korach, a cardiologist who took care of her at Sha’arei Tzedek. He recommended a procedure which would switch her mitral valve and fix her tricuspid valve. While not life threatening, this procedure was considered critical for her improvement of quality of life.

The staff at the WIZO shelter wanted to do everything in their power to help “S” not only have a second chance at life where she could provide for her children but to ensure that she received the best possible medical care. With the Coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world and limited resources available, these caretakers needed to figure out a way to move mountains.

Funds would be needed to be raised. The surgery cost 90,000 NIS. The medical staff at the hospital generously agreed to cover part of the procedure and Physicians for Human Rights helped file a request to the Ministry of Health, asking for further funding options and Mesila in Tel Aviv also assisted. Through WIZO and the local congregation, a crowdfunding campaign was started and additional funds were raised. This is an extraordinary feat – especially at a time when most organisations are stretched to the limit financially.

“It’s important to remember that “S” is the sole caretaker of her two children,” Rinat Leon-Lange, Director of the WIZO shelter said. “She is currently living at the shelter, but can stay only for a limited period of time. Since she is an Eritrean refugee, her occupational options are limited and consist mainly of work that demands physical effort like cleaning or working in a kitchen. Her current medical condition does not enable her to engage in such physical work. Without income, she is doomed to either live in poverty or be dependent on another person, which could lead to yet another dangerous and abusive relationship. Due to her lack of legal status in Israel she is not eligible to receive any kind of government stipend for financial support.”

” “S” is still a young woman, so the success rate of this surgery is high,” says Yael Zimran, a social worker at the WIZO shelter. “This surgery would not only improve her quality of life physically, but would also enable her to be financially independent without having to rely on someone else. So for S, this really would be a life-saving procedure.”

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Thanks to WIZO, “S” and her children are safe.

The surgery was finally performed at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in June 2020 – at the height of the Corona pandemic. Dr. Korach and Dr. Hila Elinav, who had been treating “S” at the refugee clinic advocated for “S” to receive the best care and throughout the procedure she was treated by medical staff who knew her well. The staff looked after her in the hospital and took care of her children who remained at the shelter. The children were therefore able to be in constant contact with their mother while she was hospitalized via the shelter’s dedicated staff.

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Integrated Cardiac Center – Cardiopulmonary Surgery at Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center

“The surgery was a success,” Leon-Lange proudly reported. “She is recovering slowly, but surely.”

Throughout the Corona crisis in Israel, WIZO has been on the frontline. “S”’s journey from Eritrea to a shelter and then life-saving surgery is proof of her remarkable courage and this has been recognized and honoured by WIZO who apart from providing an embrace of safety against abuse, also ensured the mending of a broken heart.

Thanks to the joint efforts of WIZO, Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital and other welfare organizations a young Eritrean mother living in a WIZO women’s shelter is on the road to recovery and independence.

Our gratitude to all WIZO Federations for their generous support in helping to provide shelter for women and children suffering from domestic violence in Israel.

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs.

Israel – A land beyond conflict

By Rolene Marks

Israel is a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East, barely the size of the Kruger National Park in South Africa or New Jersey in the USA yet seems to enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage in the media – often focused on the conflict with the country’s Palestinian neighbours.

A disproportionate amount of airtime and column inches are dedicated to coverage (and I use that term loosely because often fact and context are the first victim of headlines) and more often than not Israel is portrayed as the aggressive Goliath to the more passive Palestinian David. In the court of public opinion it could appear that Israel is nothing but a country perpetually mired in conflict.

There is so much more to Israel; a country which may be bantam in size but punches like a heavy weight.

Israel is a leader in so many fields. Let’s look at some of this tiny country’s greatest achievements:

A helping hand – Humanitarian assistance:

Wherever disaster strikes, be it natural or man-made, Israeli is one of the first to respond – even to countries with who there are no formal bilateral ties.

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Israeli commandos rescuing wounded men from Syrian warzone

Even though hostile relations exist between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and the Gaza strip, Israeli humanitarian aid continues to be dispensed. The IDF ( Israel Defense Force), at great risk to the soldiers, embarked on Operation Good neighbour during the height of the Syrian civil war and brought thousands of wounded Syrian adults and children into Israeli hospitals for medical treatment.

Every day, under the supervision of the IDF body called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) thousands of tons of aid are sent into the Gaza strip from Israel.

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IDF sends tons of aid to Gaza daily

Recently, Israel sent assisstance to the hurricane struck Bahamas by sending portable water purifiers along with the other aid including Post Trauma counselling.

Israeli aid NGO, IsraAid, is ever ready to be deployed, along with the IDF to parts of the world where humanitarian assistance is most urgent.

Today, while Turkish forces engage in conflict with the Kurds,  Israel has not only dispatched humanitarian aid to displaced Kurdish refugees but has also provided medical care for Kurd refugee children in our hospitals.

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IsraAid, brings humanitarian assistance to victims of an earthquake in Italy. (Credit times of Israel)

Army of the people

Israel’s army  is so much more than a sophisticated defense machine. It is a citizen army, and is as widely inclusive as possible. While conscription is compulsory for Israel’s Jewish citizens who are able to serve, many Arab, Druze and Bedouin citizens in fact volunteer for service. In the last few years, these numbers have increased.  The army tries to be sensitive to the cultural boundaries of these communities.

But minority communities are not the only sectors of society that the IDF include.

The IDF has introduced a programme called Special in Uniform in conjunction with JNF-USA and Lend-a-Hand to a Special Child, which helps to integrate people with mental and physical disabilities into the army to enable them to make meaningful contributions to the country. Special in Uniform includes a three-month course on occupational skills to teach disabled young adults to function independently and contribute to society in a positive way.

Soldiers who have participated in these programmes have gone on to have bright and better futures. We salute them!

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The IDF: Most Humane Army in the World

 

Where the prophets walked

Home to the three Abrahamic religions, Israel is the place where Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet.

Where else but in Jerusalem can you hear the Imam calling the Muslim faithful to prayer while church bells peal and the melodic Hebrew incantations at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) sound out?

Even though Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, freedom of religion is enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. While it is sometimes a complex issue, the right to worship as you choose is protected. Israel is also home to the Bahá’í World Centre – the name given to the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá’í Faith. The World Centre consists of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near Acre, Israel, the Shrine of the Báb and its gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, and various other buildings in the area including the Arc buildings.

Whether it is intoning ancient prayers or meditating in downward dog, all faiths are welcome. Perhaps this is why Israel is the Holy Land?

Innovation nation

Living in a neighbourhood where there is perpetual threat can turn one into the master of necessity.  As a result, Israelis have had to be fairly innovative. As Israel’s first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

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Israel’s first Prime Minister was a believer in miracles – today Israeli innovators are bringing them to fruition.

Israeli innovators do not only believe in miracles – they create them! Israeli innovation has become so attractive that it is attracting billions of dollars of investment and acquisition. From life-saving diagnostic tools, to the Re-Walk exoskeleton that helps paraplegics walk again, to hi-tech inventions like firewalls and communications technology and many,  many more including WAZE, low drip irrigation, Mobileye,  Israeli know how is changing and improving the world on a daily basis.

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Giving new hope to paraplegics. The Re walk Exoskeleton is making mobility possible (credit CNNMoney).

Make it Rain – Environmental leaders

Climate change is having very serious repercussions on global weather patterns. Many countries that in the past enjoyed high levels of rainfall are now severely drought-stricken. Today, water has become the most sought after commodity and wars have been started over access to sources.

Israel, being a desert country knows only too well the challenges that come with having no water.

Israeli start-up, WaterGen has developed a machine that can literally create water out of thin air! It has been so successful that it has been deployed to desperate communities around the world and even played a role in humanitarian efforts. In 2018, WaterGen machines were sent to northern California to provide clean drinking water for US police and firefighters battling major fires.

Water is not the only area in which Israel is helping to preserve the environment. The country is a leader in breeding programmes for endangered species such as rhinoceros, re-forestation, recycling of plastics, pursuit of natural gas,  high percentage of vegans and so much more.

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Israeli start-up WaterGen, creates water out of air and is helping to bring much needed relief to drought stricken areas across the globe.

Golda would kvell – Women’s rights leaders

Famous for her razor sharp wit, Israel’s first female Prime Minister, the formidable Golda Meir would be quite proud of Israel’s current record on the status of women – and that we continue to work for this to be improved.

In a neighbourhood where women’s rights are often eroded, Israel stands out. Apart from being one of the first countries in the world to have a female head of state, women in Israel are not only active in society but are leaders in their fields that include politics, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, minority communities, social welfare, education, the military, arts and culture, science, medicine and technology and so much more.

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A female combat soldier is put through her paces – Israel’s women are part of the fabric of society and are leaders in their fields, including the military. (Credit Public Radio International)

 

We can vote, drive, and own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and if we want to, raise a little hell.

The same cannot be said for many of the other women in our neighbourhood. Women in other parts of the Middle East are not as free as their Israeli sisters. In this part of the world, girls are often married off before they reach puberty or are killed because they have ‘dishonoured” their families. In this part of the world, women do not have the right to own property, vote, and receive and education or even drive. Gender Apartheid is rife.

Israeli women lobby and work hard to continue to elevate the status of women not just in our country; but in the region. Golda would kvell – I think she would raise her glass and toast L’Chaim to Israel’s women.

LGBTQ rights

In June the streets of Tel Aviv are decked with rainbow flags in celebration of Pride Week.  The city comes out in support of the civil rights of our fellow citizens and many across the country flock to Tel Aviv to march in solidarity.

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Israel is a haven for the Gay community in comparison to its neighbours.

While Israel may be a trailblazer in terms of tolerance for the LGBTQ community and is certainly the most accepting and progressive in the Middle East, there are still improvements to be made. Same-sex marriage is not performed in the country; however, Israel does accept and recognize common-law partnerships of same-sex couples that live together. There is always progress to be made, but Israel is certainly a leader of gay rights in the region.The IDF is LGBTQ supportive. The city of Tel Aviv is known to be one of the friendliest and most tolerant in the world and  Pride marches are also held across the country including in the capital, Jerusalem.

Israel is also a safe haven for many Palestinians escaping persecution for their sexual orientation.

Watch us on TV

I am not talking about the news – that is enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure.

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Israel’s hottest TV export, Fauda will have you hooked to its exciting, fast paced plot points. You can “Netflix and chill” while experiencing a taste of reality in the region.(Credit IMDB)

Did you know that some of your favourite TV shows are based on shows created in Israel? The award winning “Homeland” and “In Treatment” are just two of Israel’s stellar small screen offerings and have been followed by international hits like “Fauda”, “Shtisel”, “The Spy” and so many more.

Even our gal, Gal Gadot, has become a box office sensation! We always knew she was Wonder Woman; but now the world does as well.

 

People of the book

Israel has more books published per capita than any other country. And while we may be the people of the book, we are also the people of the book week. Israelis love reading – whether it is for pleasure or knowledge. Israel can boast one Nobel Laureate for Literature, Shmuel Yosef Agnon and award winning authors Amos Oz and David Grossman are just some of our writers who enjoy international support.

 

We are also now the people of the Facebook. Social media giant, Facebook has acquired several Israeli start-ups to increase their service and technology offering to users.

To the Moon – and beyond!

Israelis dream big. There is no such saying as the sky is the limit – we believe in pushing beyond that and reaching for the stars. And we did! In April 2019, Israeli NGO, SpaceIL, sent an unmanned spacecraft called the “Bereshit” (Hebrew for Genesis) to the moon.  On the 22nd of February, the Bereshit began its long anticipated journey and in April, entered lunar orbit and prepared for landing. If successful, Israel would be the 7th country, joining major powers like Russia, USA, Japan, China, India and the European Space Agency to have a presence on the moon.

 

The landing did not go as planned and while the Bereshit  crashed instead of descending gently, we still made it to the moon and this was a great achievement.   Morris Kahn, one of the sponsors behind the project, congratulated the team and spoke of a future second mission. Just days later, SpaceIL announced that they would not be attempting a second time but would rather set their target higher. We don’t know what they are planning; but we will definitely be along for the ride!

Israelis epitomize the tenet; if at first you don’t succeed, try to outdo what you did the first time. The universe, not the sky is our limit!

This is just a mere glimpse into the achievements that Israel has and continues to pursue. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, envisioned a Jewish State that would live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and would be in a position to help others.  Looking at what this 71 year old State has achieved, I think he would be proud!

 

Finding The “Magic Bullet”

Potential New Israeli Treatment ‘targets’ Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer

By David E. Kaplan

While South Africa’s premier university, UCT makes international news of its proposed boycott of academic institutions in Israel,  alumni of Israeli universities are making far more remarkable news seeking to save rather than destroy lives.

The irony is that some of these Israelis who are in the vanguard of groundbreaking medical research are former South Africans!

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Gastro-Intestinal Malignancies Expert. Doctor Talia Golan, is Medical Director of Early Phase Clinical Trials Programme and Medical Oncologist at Gastrointestinal Unit, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer, Israel

One such is medical oncologist Dr. Talia Golan, a graduate of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU) is the head of Sheba Medical Center’s Pancreatic Cancer Center.

While UCT conducts itself at the southern tip of Africa hardly befitting its historic moniker “The Cape of Good Hope”,  Israeli researchers headed by Dr. Talia Golan are offering genuine “Good Hope” for some pancreatic cancer patients. A world-renowned specialist and researcher in the field of pancreatic cancer, Dr. Golan is also the director of Phase I clinical trials unit at Sheba’s Pancreatic Cancer Center.

Having immigrated from Pretoria, South Africa with her parents Dr. Alfie and Dr. Myra Feinberg – prominent physicians in their own right – when she was 13 years old, Dr. Golan today is in the front lines of battling pancreatic cancer by striving to find the “magic bullet” that could possibly cure several forms of the disease in the near future.

In 2017, Dr. Golan was already feeling confident. “I believe the changes in the way we treat pancreatic cancer, using new and innovative technologies, will result in the emergence of game-changing drugs in the near future,” adding that “these treatments will target the specific gene mutation that causes the cancer, re-engineer it, and eliminate it as a threat.”

That “near future” may have arrived.

Potential Power of Polo

Last week in June 2019, the research team headed by Dr. Golan at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, announced that a targeted cancer therapy drug they developed together with two of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Merck & Co. Inc. – known as POLO –  offers “potential hope” for patients with a specific kind of pancreatic cancer, as it delays the progression of the disease.

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Top Ten. Sheba Medical Center or Tel HaShomer Hospital in Tel Aviv is ranked as one of world’s top 10 hospitals.

“The POLO trial using the medicine Lynparza offers potential hope for those who suffer from metastatic pancreatic cancer and have a BRCA mutation,” explains Dr. Golan. “This treatment also exemplifies the advent of ‘precision medicine’ based on a specific genetic biomarker, BRCA 1 & 2.”

Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 reported new cases in 2018 alone. It is the 4th leading cause of cancer death, and less than 3% of patients with metastatic disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. It is difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer early, as often there are no symptoms until it is too late. Around 80% of patients are diagnosed at the metastatic stage.

So, what are BRCA Mutations?

“A Huge Thing”

As explained in the research, “BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins responsible for repairing damaged DNA and play an important role in maintaining the genetic stability of cells. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly, and cells become unstable. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer. A significant number of Ashkenazi Jews (European origin) around the world are carriers of the BRCA 1 & 2 genes.”

The POLO study was held with 154 patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer who carried the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genetic mutations.

“When we saw the results were positive it was an exceptional, phenomenal moment,” said Golan in an interview. “For the field it is a huge thing.”

She added that this is the first Phase 3 biomarker study that is positive in pancreatic cancer and the drug “provides tremendous hope for patients” with the advanced stage of the cancer.  “This drug has shown efficacy and a tremendous really phenomenal response in this patient population,” she said.

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An illustrative image of a cancer patient and perfusion drip. (CIPhotos, iStock by Getty Images)

Light Unto The Nations

At the launch last December  during Chanukah in Cape Town of the South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center at the city’s contemporary art gallery, “WHATIFTHEWORLD”,  Dr Talia Golan said:

 “I’m extremely proud of my Jewish South African roots. Africa is in my soul and it’s an honour to represent Sheba Medical Center, where we work to bring cutting edge care to patients, from IDF soldiers to people of all walks of life in Israel and around the world.”

Yoel Har-Even, Sheba Medical Centre’s Chief of Staff added:

 “We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship between the South African community and Sheba Medical Center in Israel. Our goals include formulating programmes that will allow South African students from different spheres of the medical sector to intern and to specialize at Sheba Medical Center, assist disadvantaged communities in South Africa and the rest of the African continent by building bridges with us and ongoing support for Sheba’s highest standards of medicine, research, innovation and technology, transforming medicine in Israel and worldwide.”

Executive Director of the South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center, Naomi Hadar, who had spent the past 17 years as one of the most influential Jewish organizational community leaders in South Africa (IUA-UCF) said:

It is a privilege to be a part of Sheba’s innovative medical centre, which provides global outreach to communities around the world, including the South African community. As our event in Cape Town took place during Chanukah, we hope to bring light to the South African Jewish community and the African continent as a whole. I am looking forward to helping Sheba make a difference in many people’s lives.”

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Launching A Healthier Tomorrow. At the Cape Town launch of South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center are (l-r) Nilly Baruch, Professor Mordechai Shani, Chancellor of the Sheba Fund for Health Services and Research, Dr. Talia Golan, Mrs. Louise Swart and Naomi Hadar.

While Dr. Talia Golan, who left Pretoria at the age of 13, leads the battle to find a cure for Pancreatic Cancer supported by the Jewish community in South Africa, one wonders what will cure the ‘cancer’ gripping South Africa’s political leadership that seeks to alienate the country – diplomatically to academically – from Israel?

 

Israel’s “Iron Dome” For Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying, they spread killer diseases and are often called one of the most dangerous animals on the planet

By David E. Kaplan

Many Israelis are alive today ONLY because of the country’s penchant for finding solutions to existential problems. A classic example is the ‘Iron Dome’ – a mobile all-weather air defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets  from 4 kilometres to 70 kilometres away and whose trajectory would take them to an area populated with Israeli civilians. 

Its success has been proven in battle. The Iron Dome hits 90% of rockets aimed at populated areas.

However, there are “populated areas” all over the world  under daily threat for incoming aerial attacks of a totally different kind – the dreaded mosquito, and Israeli ingenuity have these critters now firmly ‘in their sights’.

Mosquitoes have killed many more humans than all wars in history.

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The Mean Machine. Mean and deadly, the mosquito about to penetrate human flesh.

It is the most dangerous creature in Africa responsible for killing more Africans than any other through the spread of malaria, dengue and other diseases. Malaria kills over a million on the African continent every year, most of these are children under the age of five.

While the threat in Israel is less lethal, they are super annoying. Who is unfamiliar with them buzzing around your bed keeping you awake all night with their infernal whining sound as they dive into attack like the once-feared WWII German Stuka dive bomber! For those that penetrate your ‘Home Guard” defense system – from protective clothing,  mosquito repellents, mosquito killer lamps to even eating garlic – the aftermath of an assault results in bites, itches, endless scratching, and finally sores  or what I describe as “my battle scars”!

The best defense against mosquitoes is making sure they can’t get to your skin and an Israeli start-up Bzigo has developed a device that scans and locates the biting insects in a room, sending a message to a phone app allowing you to easily kill them.  A future model will be capable of eliminating them as well!

This is like a computer game  but for real!

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Fighting Back. Taking down the enemy mosquitoes are Israeli startup Bzigo cofounders, Saar Wilf and Nadav Benedek.

Action Stations

Developed over the three years, the Bzigo device looks like a box the size of a compact smartphone that can be connected to the wall or stand-alone on a flat surface. It uses  infrared camera that marks the mosquito’s exact location with a red laser once it lands providing the essential ‘intelligence’ to the disgruntled humans to kill them.

Although the current model only helps locate the mosquito, Bzigo CEO, Nadav Benedek says “we are working a future model that will be able to eliminate the mosquito on its own. In reality, killing a mosquito is the easy part – the real challenge is in detecting them. Mosquitoes are adept at avoiding human vision, attacking us when we don’t notice them. But once you know a mosquito is in the room and see where it landed, killing it is simple.”

The technology is based on an algorithm that can detect the movements of a mosquito with a wide-angle high-resolution camera that constantly photographs the walls and ceiling of a room to locate the pest, before sending a message via Wi-Fi to the homeowner’s smartphone.

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Fighting Back. Taking down the enemy mosquitoes are Israeli startup Bzigo cofounders, Saar Wilf and Nadav Benedek.

The brains behind this potential “Iron Dome” against mosquitoes is Saar Wilf, 45, and company CEO Nadav Benedek, 38, both of whom served in the elite IDF intelligence unit 8200. They are trained to zero in on the enemy and firmly in their crosshairs is the mosquito.

To date, we have carried out hundreds of tests with live mosquitos,” says Benedek. “At first, Saar would spend hours trapping them with containers and nets, but then we found a supplier from the Emek Hefer region.”

Asked by YNet.news.com why they chose to focus on mosquitos, Wilf replied that “anyone with a technological inclination, has at some point in their life thought to find a technological solution to this annoying problem; we were just persistent.”

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Caught Red Handed. The Bzigo device monitors a room using an infrared camera and marks the mosquito’s exact location with a red laser once it lands. (Photo: Courtesy)

Benedek described how growing up in the central Israeli town of Pardes Hana, the home was surrounded by netting and recollects how “my Dad always checked my room before bedtime in summer for ten minutes to find and kill mosquitos.”

The Tel Aviv based start-up assures that its device is safe to use near children, food and in hospitals and although the initial model is made for home use, the plan is to produce a model suitable for industrial use, such as to kill pests on farms and in hothouses.

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Most Willful. Bzigo cofounder, Saar Wilf explaining the device programmed to take out mosquitoes. . Photo: Orel Cohen

The device is expected to be available on the market in 2021 and will sell for about $170.

Mosquitoes don’t play fair: They target some people more than others and I am one of them and welcome any addition to my arsenal to take on these critters.

Whatever it takes, the battle is on.

Cleansing Experience

Two Young Israeli engineers introduce clean water to Ugandan community

By David E. Kaplan

 

Israelis have their eyes on Africa, not to exploit but to enrich.

Such was the motivation for two 26-year-old water engineering graduates Selda Edris and Mayes Morad, both from the Galilee who as students were shocked on discovering the level of poverty in rural Uganda.

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Dirty Water. A major cause of children’s illness and death in Uganda.

“We were amazed by the living condition of the children,” said Morad. “We were exposed to horrible poverty and were shaken to see children shivering when it got cold, barefoot or with torn shoes.”

It was one thing to be “shocked”, but both asked the question:

Can we do something about it? Can we make a difference?”

Following their graduation it was not the exotic beaches of the far east that attracted these idealistic engineers. Armed with their education, they wanted to volunteer and knew exactly where. The calling was clear;  they wanted to help provide a specific Ugandan community with clean drinking water.

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“Clean Water”. Young Israel engineering graduates Selda Edris (left) and Mayes Morad providing water solutions in Uganda (Photo: Gali Margalit)

So, soon after graduating, Edris, from the Circassian village of Rehaniya, and Mayes from the Druze village of Beit Jann on Mount Meron in northern Israel, joined the HELPAPP organization and set off for a community in Uganda that pulled at their heartstrings. “There were 900 school children from the region that drank water  from a nearby swamp that filled up in winter,” said Edris.

Although the three schools in the community boiled the swamp water before drinking, “this was  hardly a safe solution” to the young Israelis.

Finding “a solution” proved challenging to the enterprising and innovative young engineers. However, Edris and Morad were finally able to install sinks and taps in the schools and connect them to a proper purification facility. When complete, 900 children had running clean water.

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Normal Life. Extracting dirty water from swamp in rural Uganda.

The reality of what they achieved struck home.

When I saw how happy they were when they just turned on the tap and water came out, I thought to myself,” says Morad, “what in the world would make me, or my nieces and nephews who are the same age as these schools kids, feel so happy?”

The joy in the children’s eyes when they opened a tap to wash their hands and water came out stayed with her. “It’s difficult to imagine that there are children in this world who don’t have the most basic commodity – drinking water – only because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the right place.”

For Edris and Morad “Clean water is a basic right for every person in this world – regardless of where you were born.”

After providing a solution to supplying the schools with running water, the two Israelis initiated a Facebook fundraising campaign to buy shoes for many the children who ran around barefoot on the hard-arid African terrain.

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“I feel beautiful for the first time”. Every day Helen had to choose how to use the little water she had. Now that she has a steady source, she says she feels beautiful for the first time.

We Shall Return

“We’ve helped hundreds of children, but we know there are so many others in other parts of Uganda, who don’t consider drinking water a given,” says Edris. “We want to come back to Uganda and initiate a larger scale operation.”

Ask a young teenager in Israel, the USA or Europe what they most want? The answers would not be even close to the answer a 13-year-old girl gave Edris. “All she wanted was clean water, clothes and an electrical light at home to light up the house when it gets dark. What we take for granted isn’t taken for granted in so many places around the world, and that’s sad. She broke my heart.”

It also broke Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1950s. When the future Prime Minister was appointed Israel’s second Foreign Minister in 1956, Golda announced that a cornerstone of her foreign policy was to reach out to the African states emerging from colonial rule. The rationale for this was lost to many at the ministry. After all, the new countries were often poorer than Israel and facing greater security, environmental and other problems; what could they possibly help Israel with?

She explained:

Independence had come to us, as it came  to Africa, not served up on a silver platter, but after years of struggle. Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together and how to defend ourselves…. The main reason for our ‘African Adventure’ was that we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”

That “African adventure” continues today inspiring young and talented Israelis like Selda Edris and Mayes Morad who could not stand idly by in the face of suffering.

 

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A refugee camp in Uganda, 2018 (Photo: AP)