Going north: Days two and three
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

Going north: Days two and three

United Hatzalah of Israel founder Eli Beer with Journey to Israel tourist Cynthia Stroum.
United Hatzalah of Israel founder Eli Beer with Journey to Israel tourist Cynthia Stroum

Therapeutic clown Professor Sancho charms Susan Libitzky
Therapeutic clown Professor Sancho charms Susan Libitzky

Steven and Karen Ostrove check out an ambucycle outside United Hatzalah headquarters in Jerusalem
Steven and Karen Ostrove check out an ambucycle outside United Hatzalah headquarters in Jerusalem

The moment Professor Sancho steps into the children’s ward of Emek Medical Center in Afula, smiles begin to light up on faces.

He fiddles ludicrously with a screen, pushing it one way, then another, managing in the meantime to get in everyone’s way. Then he takes a parent in a wheelchair for a test drive around the ward, pretending it’s a car that he’s just purchased with an enormous dollar bill.

You’ve probably guessed it already – Professor Sancho isn’t a doctor. He’s a clown. Studies suggest, however, that medical clowns can be as effective as medicine, so while Sancho might wear a red nose, a ridiculous hat and a colorful outfit, his job is as vital on the ward as the real professors who visit the children with the stethoscopes and white coats.

One of those studies came from Emek Medical Center itself. Dr. Yaron Lang, head of pediatrics at the hospital, headed a study involving 142 babies and children undergoing radionuclide scanning for urinary tract infections, a procedure where the child must lie perfectly still.

Normally the procedure is carried out with sedation, but with the help of a clown, over 14 months, only five percent of the kids undergoing this scan needed sedation, as opposed to 100% under control conditions. Now it is hospital procedure not to use the sedation, but for the child to be accompanied by a clown instead.

The hospital, which is located in Israel’s northeast, is also a model of coexistence where Arab and Jewish patients are treated side by side by both Arab and Jewish doctors.

“There is something amazing going on here,” Larry Rich, director of development at the hospital, told ISRAEL21c Journey to Israel tour participants. “Arabs and Jews work here together for the well-being of everyone.”

Emek was just one of the many fascinating places that we have visited in the last few days.

On Wednesday, the morning began in Jerusalem with a talk by Eli Beer, who founded the volunteer emergency response system United Hatzalah of Israel in 2006. The organization has brought together some 2,100 trained volunteers from every sector of Israeli society to respond to medical emergencies in Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, and in June this year won the 2013 Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East from the New York-based Institute of International Education.

Next up, a complete shift of gears – on to Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Quarter in a beautiful renovated Bauhaus building near the city’s newest cultural destination, The First Station.

The JVP Media Quarter has been making waves in the media scene since it was founded by the venture capital firm in 2002. It is the brainchild of Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of JVP, and now provides a workplace for some 300 employees.

Some of the companies in the fold include Anyclip, Funtactix, Comqi, Celltick, Reduxio, ThetaRay and WiShi. WiShi is a new social fashion styling platform set up by two women, allowing users to create their own virtual closets. Expect to see a fuller report on WiShi in our feature section shortly.

From there the group had a relaxing ride up to Naharayim, the Israeli-Jordanian “peace island” that sits on the border of the two countries, next to the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers.

The park is the site of an old hydroelectric power station built in the late 1920s and ’30s. It ceased operations in 1948, and in 1994, with the signing of the peace treaty by Jordan and Israel, the island was returned to Jordan but leased with special visitation status to Israeli and international tourists.

At nearby Kibbutz Ashdot Yaacov we received a glimpse into the pioneering spirit that first built the kibbutz in the 1920s and then transformed it into a still thriving community in 2013.

On Thursday it was up early after a night at Nof Ginosar on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to visit Emek Medical Center, then on to wine tasting at Tulip Winery.

This family run business produces some of the best wines in Israel, using Cabernet, Shiraz, Sirah and Petit Verdot grapes grown at four different vineyards located in the north and along the Judean Hills.

Aside from winning awards for its wines, Tulip has also won accolades for establishing its winery in Kfar Tikva, a residential community in the Jezreel Valley for adults with special needs. It works closely with the members of the community, including several who work at the winery.

After a light lunch at Tulip, we drove to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa to meet professors and students involved in some of the country’s most cutting-edge research.

In September, the Technion announced that it had received a $277 million donation from the Li Ka Shing Foundation. Part of this money is a $130m. grant to the Israeli university to upgrade its home campus, and the rest is to be used to establish a new academic technological institute in China with the Shantou University.

The new Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology (TGIT)

will focus on the fields of engineering, science and life sciences, and the goal is to begin offering undergraduate programs in the 2014 academic year.

The Technion is also working with Cornell University in New York to construct a campus of technology at Roosevelt Island off Manhattan. This school will grant joint Technion and Cornell degrees.


Participants ended the day with a meal at Deca in Tel Aviv, a restaurant recognized by many food critics as one of the country’s best.

Look out for the next blog item on Friday’s events. 

The Journey to Israel group in the Old City of Jerusalem. That’s me, third from right in the blue hat. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

Journey to Israel diary: Day One

The Journey to Israel group in the Old City of Jerusalem. That’s me, third from right in the blue hat. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski
The Journey to Israel group in the Old City of Jerusalem. That’s me, third from right in the blue skirt. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski

I get to write about Israeli innovation every day of the week. What I don’t get to do is meet the people who read these stories – until yesterday, when I accompanied our Journey to Israel visitors on a day packed with wonder.

We started with a talk by Wendy Singer, executive director of the new Start-Up Nation Institute, and went on to a fascinating presentation at Mobileye, the Jerusalem-based company whose groundbreaking technology for identifying driving hazards is going into virtually every new vehicle in the world – making Mobileye the largest private high-tech company in Israel and the largest R&D center for artificial vision in the world.

Then, in a stark contrast, Keshet tour guide Kayla Ship took us back in time to the Old City of Jerusalem, showing us artifacts and archeological sites from more than 2,000 years ago.

We went back further still in a marvelous Israel Museum tour led by Elana Ben-Haim, using quotations from ISRAEL21c articles and passages from the book Start-Up Nation to draw parallels between current and ancient Israeli innovation.

Just one nugget: Jews developed the scribal art of micrography – creating biblically based artworks from nearly microscopic letters of the Hebrew alphabet – and then in modern times invented the microchips that power computers and wireless devices. Pretty cool comparison!

Wherever we went, participants were eager to learn more about the “secret sauce” of Israeli ingenuity from those who live it every day.

The inaugural ISRAEL21c Journey to Israel sets off. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski
The inaugural ISRAEL21c Journey to Israel sets off. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski

I’ll write more about the tour when it draws to a close at the end of the week. For now, I want to share some participants’ words about how ISRAEL21c has impacted them and why they signed up for the trip.

Karen Ostrove from Elizabeth, New Jersey: “I am the director of education for the Celebrate Israel Parade [in Manhattan]. I work with 200 marching groups, providing all kinds of information so they can share it with the 35,000 marchers and others from their schools, synagogues, youth groups, campus groups, AMIT, JNF, Hadassah and all the other organizations that participate. ISRAEL21c has been my main source of information. I embed the videos and stories from the website into my theme book.”

Martino Agostini from Rome, Italy: “I registered for the trip after reading about it in ISRAEL21c’s newsletter, which I started reading a few months ago. I was very curious. I was never here [in Israel], and everything I read gave me a picture and I wanted to be here to see if the picture was the reality. I wanted to see it with my heart.”

Bob Rifkin from Chicago, Illinois: “I write a weekly newsletter for my congregation called ‘Real Israel,’ and when I found ISRAEL21c online a few years ago I began interspersing my own writing with your material. It’s become a wonderful source for information. I’ve become just amazed at what goes on in this country.”

Here we are getting a briefing on Mobileye from Director of Business Development Iain Levy. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski
Here we are getting a briefing on Mobileye from Director of Business Development Iain Levy. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski

Melinda Travis from California and Washington State: “I heard about the trip from [fellow participant] Cynthia Stroum, who read about it in the newsletter. That was my first exposure to ISRAEL21c. I read the itinerary and read up on some of the companies, and I thought it sounded really exciting to learn about the cutting-edge technology that Israel was doing in different areas. I’ve never been to Israel before.”

Dr. Eli Taub of Los Angeles, California: “I look at the ISRAEL21c website every week. It’s a fabulous tour guide. I print out the articles about tourism – the best hikes, the best places for chocolate lovers, the winter festivals in Jerusalem — and I keep them in a file and write down names of places to go on our next trip to Israel.”

Susan Libitzky of Piedmont, California, ISRAEL21c board member: “I am interested in spreading the word about what makes Israel unique; what makes the energy of Israel and the passion come to life in businesses in so many enterprises.”

You said it, Susan! More to come.

ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin with Inbal Arieli of the Gammado high-tech incubator.
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

ISRAEL21c feature stories star in AIPAC Innovation Showcase

ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin with Inbal Arieli of the Gammado high-tech incubator.

ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin with Inbal Arieli of the Gammado high-tech incubator.

The three remarkable Israeli inventions demonstrated to 1,600 delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) National Summit in California earlier this month had been revealed to the world in their earliest stages by ISRAEL21c.

AIPAC’s Innovation Showcase featured Elie Isaacson, co-founder of Agilite, maker of revolutionary portable rescue equipment used across the world; serial biotech inventor Prof. Oded Shoseyov, inventor of the Paulee CleanTec device that scoops up dog droppings and turns them into odorless, sterile ash within seconds; and Gideon Ben-Zvi of award-winning video surveillance synopsis company BriefCam, whose technology helped Massachusetts police find the Boston Marathon terror attack perpetrators quickly.

ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin was among the attendees, and proudly notes that AIPAC relies on the website to find exciting new Israeli inventions to present to its members.

This was the NGO’s second Innovation Showcase; the first one stole the show for 13,000 participants at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, last March.

Session moderator Brian Abraham of AIPAC was brought to the stage carried on a helper’s back with the aid of Agilite’s Injured Personnel Carrier. Primarily meant for rescue situations, the device is also being used by people with disabilities the world over, Isaacson told AIPAC delegates.

“He read a letter from a parent of a disabled child in the US who thanked him profusely because now the family can take their child on hikes,” Friedkin recounts.

Isaacson told her that after ISRAEL21c broke the initial story on the new company, Agilite received inquiries from across the world.

Agilite’s Elie Isaacson with Amy Friedkin.

Agilite’s Elie Isaacson with Amy Friedkin.

Startup maven Inbal Arieli, most recently the CEO and founder of elite tech incubator Gammado, was on hand during the Innovation Showcase to offer insights as to why Israelis are such great innovators. Tolerance for failure, a need to improvise, and being permitted to play with “junk” from an early age are among the secret ingredients to later success, she said.

AIPAC member Dr. Katie Rodan tells ISRAEL21c that she had never heard of the three showcased companies before, and her main reaction was: “Those Israelis are damn smart!”

In the larger picture, Rodan adds, the showcase “helps to frame Israel beyond the conflicts of the region. It makes me very proud to witness the innumerable ways Israel is making the world a better place.”

Water fun
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

Winners of the Great Outdoors Photo Competition

We asked you to send us your best photographs of the great outdoors in Israel, and that’s exactly what you did.

We received some fabulous pictures reflecting virtually every different area of life in Israel’s great outdoors, from pictures of the sea, the fields, the mountains and the desert to beautiful shots of animals, plants and birds.

Out of the top 10 scoring photographs, ISRAEL21c staff chose the winning pictures.

We are pleased to announce that the winners of ISRAEL21c’s Great Outdoors Photo Competition are:

1. Rosh Hanikra, by Ethan Weg

Rosh Hanikra

2. Sunrise over Shiloh, by Devo Kessin

Shiloh sunrise

3. Run Forest Run, by Ludmila Sklyar

Waater fun

4. Camel ride in the Negev Desert, by Darren Dublet

Camel ride

The winners will be contacted by ISRAEL21c and will receive a unique aerodynamic sunshade developed by Israeli company Otentik as their prize.

There were many other great photographs entered into this competition and we will feature the best of these in our Photo of the Week section in coming weeks.

Thank-you all for taking part.

Big Bad Wolves scene
Art,Israel in the Spotlight

Film director Tarantino calls Israel’s revenge thriller best of the year

Will the next big cult film be from Israel? Big Bad Wolves, a revenge thriller film by Israelis Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales has won glowing praise by one of the greatest directors of our time. Speaking at the South Korean Busan International Film Festival last week, during a public question and answer period, the Academy Award-winning director Quentin Tarantino said that Big Bad Wolves, a sadistic film about revenge against a murderer of children, is the best film of the year.

Tarantino said: “Not only is this the best film in Busan, this is the best film of the year.”

Considering we’re already in mid-October and not the beginning of January, this is a very good sign.

Tarantino is known best for the cult films Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.

His comment about Big Bad Wolves has created a swarm of interest in the Israeli film and Israel in general among Tarantino fans.

One commenter on the official trailer site for Big Bad Wolves writes: “Just saw the film in AIFF [Aruba International Film Festival] last night…This one is like a poisonous candy, you’ll probably enjoy every great directed minute of it, but be warned about the consequences.”

Other commenters say they are surprised that the film is from Israel.

Israel has several, but two particularly outstanding, film schools: the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and the film school at Tel Aviv University.

Big Bad Wolves has already won several awards at the Ophir Awards in Israel – the country’s version of the Academy Awards.

It was the Official Selection for the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) this year, arguably the most important tastemaker festival before films make it to the Academy Awards. With access to film darlings graduating from nearby film schools like NYFA, it is a growing phenomena that Israeli films are grabbing the attention at international screenings and events, especially due to the limited budgets that Israeli filmmakers work with.

A reviewer from TFF writes: “The Israeli horror pioneers have stepped firmly out of the slasher genre with this deftly dark riff on unhappily ever after. An unsettling scenario of men pushed too far in the aftermath of a horrific crime against an innocent child, the film avoids cliché by delivering on its creators’ continued promise of unpredictability.”

While I don’t love revenge thrillers as a genre, and would choose drama or romantic comedy above all (read: chick flicks) I did enjoy the Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds, a revenge fantasy about US Jewish soldiers who kill Nazis.

I think that Big Bad Wolves is one Israeli film I will try. Here is the Facebook page for it. Or catch the clip above.