Citri at his university office, surrounded by photos of his late wife and son, along with other diagnostic kits he’s invented. Photo by Lorena Sabater

Supreme scientist, to the very end

I received an email from Prof. Ami Citri informing me of the sad news that his father, Prof. Nathan Citri, passed away at home in Jerusalem just before Rosh Hashanah.

Though well past 90 and officially retired from the Hebrew University since 1989, Nathan Citri had never stopped seeking simple solutions to intractable world health problems. Together with Ami’s mother Naomi, who died in 2011, Prof. Citri invented a prototype for bedside kits that detect and identify “superbugs” from blood or urine, yielding lifesaving information within minutes rather than days.

He’d taken the prototype to England to get the ball rolling on developing the kit. When I came to his home to interview him earlier this year, he’d related how the expert with whom he met there predicted it would take a couple of years for the product to be commercialized. “Look at me,” he had told the expert. “I don’t have that kind of time. We need to do this right now.” And so the kit was fast-tracked toward getting the European CE Mark of approval.

I had asked him for his secret to longevity, and his smile faded. He refused to speculate on that, he told me, because he could make no sense of the topic. His parents and teenage sister were murdered by the Nazis – he had escaped to Palestine through the Youth Aliyah rescue project in 1937 – and in 1995 his beloved elder son from his first marriage, Yoav, was killed in an accident. Photos of Naomi and Yoav hung above his workspace, where he was involved in developing yet another medical diagnostic kit until shortly before his death.

Ami Citri, a neurobiologist who this academic year began a double appointment at the Hebrew University as an assistant professor at the Silverman Institute of Life Sciences and at the Safra Center for Brain Sciences, said in the email that there was no funeral for his father.

“Since my father committed himself to science in life and death, his body was returned to the Hebrew University Medical School,” he wrote.

Our sympathies go out to Ami and his half-sister Miki, a social worker at Hadassah University Medical Center.

Depression sets in at 43 seconds

Depression sets in at 43 seconds

So, there I was at the Olympic Building – National Sports Center in Tel Aviv, having just visited the Olympic Experience Museum when it was announced that judoka Arik Zeevi was up next.

Excitement was in the air. Workers left their offices to congregate where there was a television. Everyone here knows Arik. They know how hard he has trained. They all have something nice to say about him as a person, not just an athlete.

Moments earlier I had seen a hologram of Arik telling visitors to the Olympic Experience exhibit how the most important moment of his life was when he won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and how he hopes to bring another medal.

I was invited to watch the U100-kg. match with one of the senior staffers, who I had been chatting to about the exhibit I had just seen (and which I am writing about for ISRAEL21c). What better place to watch Israel’s greatest judoka than at the Olympic Building?

And then, just as the match between Arik and Dimitri Peters of Germany began, it ended.

43 seconds.

The people in the Olympic Building went into shock.

While Arik was crying in London, his fans felt his disappointment in Israel.

The despair at the National Sports Center was not just about Arik’s missed medal. People here were sorry that this was how such a great person and skillful athlete would be remembered at the end of his career.

People mumbled words like ‘unbelievable’ and ‘I just don’t believe it’ as they went up and down the stairs, back to their offices.

I wanted to tell them to go to the second floor Olympic Experience exhibit. Inside the third room, Arik’s hologram image sends shivers of pride through the room when he speaks about his medal win in Athens and how the fans in the stands impulsively belted out the Hatikvah in his honor.

There is a feeling of disappointment, no doubt. But Arik is much more than one misjudgment — even if it was made in a crucial fight.

Arik brought glory to Israel throughout the years in judo. We should remember that.

Israeli flag at Olympic Village

A capital crisis

By fifth grade most schoolchildren know the capitals of the world. So, when the BBC independently divided Jerusalem and earmarked ‘East Jerusalem’ as belonging to Palestine (which, it notes, is not recognized as a modern state), it made sense why Israel took offense.
In fact, a student who checked into the BBC website for geography information three weeks ago would have found that East Jerusalem is the capital of yet-to-be-declared-an-official-state Palestine. A click over to Israel, which the BBC admits is a recognized state, and the same student would have found that Israel is the only country in the world without a capital city.
Although slight adjustments have been made – East Jerusalem is no longer being called the capital of Palestine but rather the ‘intended seat of government’ – Israel is still lacking a capital.
So, the Israeli Olympians took part in a video titled, ‘Viral Response to BBC’s Map: Olympic Team Salutes to Jerusalem.’

Last week, the Prime Minister’s Office turned to the BBC to get Jerusalem listed as its capital on the British network’s Olympic Website but was refuted.
And so, according to the BBC, Israel is a country with its ‘seat of government’ in Jerusalem. But to make sure the broadcasting company is not accused of taking sides, heaven forbid, that remark comes with the stipulation that “most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.”
The Olympics are supposed to be about sportsmanship and fair play. At least the Games are being conducted outside the BBC’s studios.


Outbrain’s baby step is giant leap for preemies

New father Amit Elisha, VP of Products at Outbrain, recently blogged about how the Israel-founded company – which provides the content discovery platform underneath the covers of leading news websites – donated a few lines of code that could ultimately save little lives.

Aviv Elisha was born prematurely in February and spent 98 days in an Israeli hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). His parents quickly learned that the worst nemesis of fragile preemies is infection. NICU doctors and nurses spend much of their time on painstaking procedures to avoid passing germs to the newborns.

Amit writes that just before his son came home, a sign appeared on the NICU door asking for any computer-savvy parents to make themselves known to the charge nurse.

“I volunteered and spoke to the Director of Neonatology about the sign. He explained that ‘days with no infection’ is one of the most important key performance indicators for the NICU. He asked if I would be able to write a script that could count the number of days since the last infection and be reset with a click of a button. … What they really needed was software that could track the three different forms of infections while also highlighting the total number of days since the last incident.”

An Outbrain programmer named Uriel wrote the code, and the application was installed at the hospital and even mentioned at a conference about infection prevention.

Amit reports that each Outbrain employee gets $300 a month to promote content of his/her choice.

“Giving back to the community is one of Outbrain’s core principles. Our first dollar in revenue was shared with a charity organization. One percent of our founded equity is being donated to Tmura, The Israeli Public Service Venture Fund. We have donated traffic to help non-profits during disasters, provided food for families in need, helped save a few whales and Bluefin tunas and we have ‘Meatless Tuesdays’ every week. We are blessed with the ability to amplify content and write beautiful code and I’m proud and thankful that we were able to use these abilities to help other premature babies end their journey in a place where they belong … home.”

Now that’s a dad you can be proud of, Aviv!

Matkot at sunset (Photography by

Matkot are in full swing

The game of matkot is like Marmite. You either love it or hate it.

Considered Israel’s unofficial national sport, it’s a game in which two or more players hit a small ball back and forth using paddles. The game is a combination of paddleball, ping pong and squash. It gets its name from the paddle called a matka. Pluralised, it’s matkot.

In a country brimming with assertiveness, matkot comes with an interesting twist: It is a completely non-competitive beach game.

Fans of the game take to the country’s beaches throughout the year but especially in summertime. There’s no shortage of players – beginners to professionals – whacking a black rubber ball along the seashore.

Any time of day or night, beachgoers can hear the tic-tac-tic of the ball being hit.

Even the travel section of The New York Times recently dedicated a page to the matkot phenomenon in Tel Aviv.

Matkot is like Marmite.

But not everyone is pro-matkot. Like the fermented yeast spread, matkot evokes a polarized “love/hate” reaction.

The game can be dangerous to other beachgoers. Errant balls often hit innocent sunbathers.

And this prompted two local filmmakers from Tel Aviv to create a satirical short documentary on “the noisiest ball game in the world.”

“The beach could’ve been a fun place. But actually there is no beach, just matkot,” they bemoan in their film.

But like any good Israeli invention, this sport has crossed borders. Israeli travelers have already introduced the game to other beach cultures and people in Australia, Thailand and Brazil are fine-tuning their swings.

With the London Games upon us, it’s too late to add matkot to the sports lineup. But a group of veteran matkot players at Gordon beach in Tel Aviv told ISRAEL21c that though they hold international contests, they won’t be satisfied until matkot is an official Olympic sport.

Rio de Janeiro, are you listening?

(Photography of “Matkot at sunset” by