Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

PBS rewards Israeli innovation

Even before ISRAEL21c partnered with Behrman House to deliver lesson plans, Debbie Sasson – a history teacher at the Epstein School in Atlanta – realized that ISRAEL21c was the “go-to” website for news and information on 21st century Israel.

“Your site has a wealth of information and it is truly inspiring,” Sasson wrote to us, adding that “we might like to know” that she had just been named a first-place winner in the PBS LearningMedia and The Henry Ford Foundation Teacher Innovator Award competition.

Of course we wanted to know! We sent a “mazal tov” to Sasson right away.

“It is very nice to be recognized for my project, but I am most excited that Israel’s innovative character will also get some press,” she answered. “I discovered ISRAEL21c last year when I first developed the classroom project on Israeli innovations. Your site is a research source for my eighth-grade students. Students used the articles to help choose topics and gather information on various innovations.”

The nationwide contest recognized Pre-K-12th grade educators who best used digital media in new and unique ways to improve students’ learning across key subject areas.

Overall, 30 teachers won honors – but only the top 10 (Sasson included) will participate in a week-long “Innovation Immersion Experience” at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, from July 27 to August 2, 2013, and receive a free PBS TeacherLine professional development course.

From agriculture to technology, environment to culture, Epstein’s students explored the revolutionary contributions Israel has made to society. Sasson – who was recognized by the US Department Education as an Education Innovator — introduced her students to Israeli advances with drip irrigation and then “inspired students to examine other areas of innovation in Israel, emerging from its scarcity of resources.”

The students learned about Waze, instant messaging technology, ReWalk, Dream Doctors Project, PillCam, electric vehicles, desalination and argan oil, among others. They then showcased their projects in an “Israel Innovations Expo.”

“Whether it was the group examining OoVoo, a video chatting application, or the students who explored eyeSight gesture recognition technology, they were fascinated about how much innovation from Israel can impact their lives here,” Sasson wrote for the PBS award site.

“Perhaps most rewarding was to see how the students applied new knowledge in the presentation of the innovation. Rather than just report on an exciting piece of art, the students fashioned it themselves.”

Sasson summed up: “I appreciate this recognition and I am grateful that as a result, I will now have the opportunity to participate in a week-long Innovation Immersion Experience at The Henry Ford in Michigan this summer. I am also excited that through the students’ projects, Israel’s innovative character, which was at the core of the winning entry, will receive attention too.”

AIPAC Innovation Showcase brings ISRAEL21c’s stories to life
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

AIPAC Innovation Showcase brings ISRAEL21c’s stories to life

ISRAEL21c was proud to have brought to light many of the companies and inventors featured by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in its Innovation Showcase — a highlight of the recent AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. With 13,000 participants, this March event was the largest-ever Israel advocacy gathering.

AIPAC Midwest Regional Director Brian Abrahams introduced the showcase by noting that Israel — the 153rd smallest country in the world, with virtually no natural resources and surrounded by hostile nations — nevertheless has become a world leader in science, innovation and technology. He then brought on stage some of the scientists, inventors and CEOs behind these advances.

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Among them were Dr. Amir Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, maker of the ReWalk exoskeleton that enables people with lower-limb disabilities to walk; Tzameret Fuerst, CEO of a company that developed an FDA-approved system for non-surgical male circumcision used in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV; Isaac Littman, CEO of MobileEye, maker of a novel driver safety system now being installed in several brands of automobiles; Hebrew University Prof. Amir Amedi, a brain scientist pioneering “sensory replacement” methods for helping the blind to see; quantum physicist Boaz Almog of Tel Aviv University, who is working on “superconductors”; Prof. Alon Wolf, founder and director of the Technion’s Biorobotics and Biomechanics Lab; and the three founders of Space IL, engineers of a lunar robot that entered the Google Lunar X Prize competition.

Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor winner Nadav Ben Yehuda was there, too, telling his story about giving up his dream of scaling Mt. Everest in order to save the life a Turkish climber.

A showstopper

Though AIPAC conferences have included an Israel innovation panel for the past few years, the Innovation Showcase was an unprecedented celebration of Israeli ingenuity – and a showstopper, according to one attendee.

“The response from our delegation was very enthusiastic because it inspired people to remember what we’re fighting for,” says Anita Friedman, president of the board of AIPAC of Northern California.

“I think it was a very effective addition to the program because it helped create the full mosaic of what Israel is about. It was also inspiring, in that it showed how Israel connects its principles and philosophy with its practice — what it means to be the Jewish state and how those principles contribute to moving the world, ever so slowly, in the right direction.”

An AIPAC source mentioned that the focus on Israeli innovation “has been picking up speed in the last few years at AIPAC events. The plenary focused heavily on the human side of innovation, which is always very powerful. It helps to underscore the case for Israel.”

The 2013 showcase was designed to focus not just on military and homeland security-related inventions for which Israel is perhaps best known, but also medical, entertainment, agricultural and other diverse products that impact the well-being of people across the planet.

Friedman notes that she had first learned of many of the presented innovations on ISRAEL21c. “It was a nice partnership between ISRAEL21c and AIPAC,” she says. “The experience of being reminded about what Israel stands for really resonates with people from here [the Bay Area] who are so focused on innovation and technology and who are very proud that Israel leads the way.”

We at ISRAEL21c are pleased to enable AIPAC and other organizations in spreading the message about Israel’s amazing advances that are helping to make the world a better place.

Israel is leading the world in technology breakthroughs. (
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

Insider’s tour of Israel

Within days of announcing its inaugural “behind-the-scenes” tour of Israel, ISRAEL21c fielded wide interest from China to North America.

Join ISRAEL on a Journey to IsraelAfter all, it’s a tour of Israel unlike any other. ISRAEL21c and Keshet, The Center for Educational Tourism, have joined forces to provide an insider’s view of modern Israel.

The October 20-27, 2013 trip will give participants the chance to go behind ISRAEL21c’s headlines and visit the cutting-edge world of Israeli medicine, see how Israel’s innovative technology is made, and meet the people who help better Israeli society.

You’ve no doubt used the Waze navigation system to get around at home. This tour will give you the chance to find your way around Waze headquarters and meet with CEO Noam Bardeen.

Or, instead of waiting for the next big thing to hit headlines, you can catch a glimpse of some of the forward-thinking ideas emanating from the Startup Nation’s innovation labs.

You’ll also have the chance to meet ISRAEL21c’s reporters and find out how we get the story, how companies have changed after we published our reports, and get a scoop on what we’re working on next.

The itinerary includes standard touring and shopping options, of course, but this is not a hop-on, hop-off, take-a-photo bus trip. If you come along, make sure to pack curiosity, inquisitiveness and an open mind. Participants are expected to ask questions and take part in dialogue.

“Even if you’ve been to Israel before, you’ve never seen Israel like this. You truly will be immersed in ‘21st century’ Israel, taking pride in the ways that Israel is leading the world in technology, arts and culture, and humanitarian work,” says Amy Friedkin, president of ISRAEL21c. “Come join me in October.”

Ayelet Koplon, Lipaz Hirsch, Dafna Katz, Stuart Katz (in red sweatshirt), Brad Eckman, Yoni Wolf and Rami Lesnick participating in a cleanup at Arverne, a neighborhood on the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula in New York.
A New Reality,Life

Israeli teens help sop up Sandy

On December 6, a group of 10th-graders from Hashmonaim and Beit Shemesh arrived in New York to help in the ongoing clean-up and fix-up efforts after Hurricane Sandy. They dubbed their impromptu trip Masa Hashemesh, or Sunshine Journey.

“Unfortunately, six weeks may seem a like a very long time after Sandy, but there are still areas that need tremendous assistance,” coordinator Stuart Katz of Hashmonaim tells us. “It’s grassroots level and dealing in some neighborhoods that weren’t so well-off to begin with.”

Katz had flown over to help for the first 10 days after the storm did its damage, and then his youngest daughter asked if she could come, too. He took her along with five of her friends, arranging for the self-funded group to demolish a ruined basement in a home in the Arverne neighborhood of Queens, New York – taking out nails from the walls, tearing down sheetrock and carrying debris to the curb – and to clean up a Long Beach condo’s backyard and driveway (“all done in the rain, incidentally.”)

They also prepared fruits and vegetables and set tables for lunch at a soup kitchen run out of a Brooklyn church. “Our purpose is to show that we help all people – regardless of faith or religion – representing Israel,” says Katz.

During their week in New York, the kids are going on about 20 speaking engagements at local schools, and livened up Hanukkah parties in Long Beach and Brighton where they met many individuals whose homes and/or synagogues were damaged by the storm.

“Homeowners were very appreciative – they couldn’t believe that the journey was put together so quickly and were astonished that kid citizens of Israel (who they feel are under attack so much) feel a need to come and help,” says Katz. “They were amazed with the work that could be accomplished by teens with a team effort.”

Some of the peers they spoke with at schools said they would now like to visit Israel – a destination that was not in their plans previously. Maybe these six high school kids have a future in diplomacy.

sraeli residents take shelter against incoming rockets after a warning siren in Nitzan. Photo by Flash90.
A New Reality,Life,War

Cloudy with a chance of missiles

For the past year or two, missiles have come raining down on southern Israel every few months. Somehow, as the pundits endlessly talked it out on different evening news programs, this became an acceptable situation, as unavoidable as bad weather. The Israeli government was trying to avoid “escalation” in Gaza and confrontation with Egypt and the “oref” — the citizens at the front line — would have to tough it out — or not.

Resilience was the key to maintaining the status quo.

We, the residents of southern Israel who live within a 40 kilometer radius of Gaza, were encouraged to build safe rooms in our house, seek support if we were feeling nervous and otherwise learn to adjust to a situation where we were in ultimate waiting mode — waiting for the next alarm, the next school closure, the next “episode” when an occasional missile or two might fall nearby.

And oddly enough, like good lab rats, we did just that. We learned to drive with our car windows open so that we could hear sirens while on the open road. We taught our children how to fall asleep again once they were moved into the safe room in the middle of the night. We developed a whole slew of coping mechanisms that range from “dressing for missiles” – no heels or straight skirts allowed – to black humor, acknowledging the absurdity of living in this kind of situation. A child wakes up from a crash of thunder last winter screaming, “missiles,” and we get to make jokes about how children of the Negev are more familiar with the sound of falling Grad missiles than actual rain. We became old war heroes, exchanging stories of close calls from the missiles of 2009 versus those of 2010 and 11.

But as time has gone on, our resistance has worn away.

Our kids are showing signs of severe stress. Our spouses have stopped eating when there is news about an attack in Gaza. Our blood pressure goes up as we count off the locations where missiles have fallen – sometimes when we were only a few hundred meters away. The sound of a distant car alarm sets off a crying jag that simply has no real justification other than that burning feeling of not being able to take it anymore.

The unified, resilient front is still there, but it is being propped up by a million people living under threat of missile fire, each of us forced to confront our own individual fears. My own response has already become physical – clearly a manifestation of PTSD. And I am not alone. All my rational understanding of the futility of war has simply become raw, unpolished fear that comes over me when I hear that piercing sound of the siren.

Forget politics. This is Chinese torture. Adrenalin in overdrive. Kids crying. Powerlessness to the logical extreme. All I want is for someone to make it stop, but for that to happen there would have to be an acknowledgement that something was wrong. There would have to be international pressure on the Palestinians to stop these missile attacks.

But when I look at the international press coverage, beyond the scope of my circle of friends and family on Facebook, I find the world is indifferent, or even hostile to my situation. Israel is blamed no matter what it does. And this only strengthens the resolve of the extremists in Gaza to keep the missiles coming.

So as I sit here at home, listening to the booms of the endless barrage of missiles falling over Beersheba, I want to make myself heard. This is an unacceptable situation! War is not like the weather.

Missiles are not something that we have to learn to live with like the seasons of the year. This is not the blizzard of 2012. And telling me and my neighbors otherwise is only turning this forecast into one of despair.

Faye Bittker lives outside Beersheba.

Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post, with permission from Faye Bittker.