Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media
Profiles

NY all-star shoots hoops for Israeli team

Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media

Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and the Maccabi Electra basketball team is wrapping up a home-court practice at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena. The night before, Electra guard Sylven Landesberg tipped the scales against Ironi Nahariya with 16 points and six rebounds. Tomorrow night he and his teammates will be victorious over Alba Berlin, in Germany.

But right now, he’s taking a few minutes before hitting the showers to talk to ISRAEL21c about what it’s like for a high school and college all-star from New York City to play for the Israeli Super League.

When he arrived at age 20 to join Maccabi Haifa in 2010 – after playing for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA Summer League — Landesberg had never visited Israel and didn’t know the language.

“When I finished college and was considering my options, I sat down with my parents and we agreed that Israel was a good choice,” says the 6-foot-6, 205-pound player, whose mother is Trinidadian. Because his father is Jewish, he chose to exercise his right to immediate Israeli citizenship.

Landesberg was not short on options. He was a star player at Holy Cross High School in the New York borough of Queens. He was named 2008 New York State Mr. Basketball and 2008–09 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year for the University of Virginia Cavaliers. He set a freshman record with 12 20-point games and was named ACC Rookie of the Year.

Since signing a three-year contract with Electra in July 2012, Landesberg has been a standout scorer. He was pivotal to the Tel Aviv team winning the Euroleague basketball championship last season.

Soldier athlete

US and Israeli basketball aren’t identical. “For a lot of Americans, when they first come here it’s tough to adjust to the slower-paced games, and some of the rules are a little different,” Landesberg explains.

In America, for example, when a player gets his hands on the ball he can take a “first step” without violating the rule against “traveling” (moving the ball without dribbling).

“Here, if you do that it’s a travel, so in my first game in Haifa I had six, seven travels and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. They made me watch films so I could understand what I was doing. It took me five or six months to get used to it. But I still play like an American.”

Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 2014-15 (Landesberg is No. 15). Photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv BC

Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 2014-15 (Landesberg is No. 15). Photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv BC

Rules aside, he adds, “Israel is the easiest place to adjust to. All my teammates say the same thing. Professionally, the way the organization handles us is amazing — not every country and team is like that. Personally, I like that the food selection is amazing and the weather is great all the time.”

Maccabi Electra currently includes eight US citizens. Like Landesberg, two others — forwards Jake Cohen and Alex Tyus – have dual citizenship.

Landesberg is the only one among them who is also an Israel Defense Forces soldier. He completed military training last year and now serves his adopted country as manager of an IDF gym — not a basketball gym, he clarifies, but a “pumping iron” gym.

Hebrew lessons

With no known relatives in Israel, Landesberg’s basketball teammates and army buddies are his surrogate family.

“When I first came at 20, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be Israeli,” says Landesberg. “Doing the army made me feel closer to the country. I made a lot of friends in [army training] and still keep in touch with them. Some of them served in Gaza last summer and told me about their experiences.”

Most of his everyday conversation is in English; there is no need for Hebrew on the Maccabi Electra court. “That’s a blessing and a curse,” Landesberg says with a smile. “Next week, I’m starting private Hebrew lessons.

Though his big-picture dream is playing for the NBA someday, he likes where he is now. “The competition is great, the league is strong and I enjoy competing in Europe.”

Landesberg resides in seaside Herzliya Pituah, home of ambassadors and diplomats. “I didn’t expect Israel to be so beautiful, and when I got here it was just jaw-dropping,” he relates.

His mother and sister have come to visit, and he saw the whole family in October when Maccabi Electra took on the Brooklyn Nets in an exhibition game during its pre-season Euroleague US Tour. The Israelis lost the match, and afterward a Brooklyn Jewish community leader was assaulted outside the arena. Landesberg says he and his teammates nevertheless feel their foreign appearances are important and appreciated.

“I’m proud to represent the team and Israel,” he says. “We get so much support from Israelis and from fans around the world. They all want us to do well.”

 

Brayola founder Orit Hashay has been named to many lists of female entrepreneurs to watch.
Profiles

Forbes’ ‘female founders to watch’ (audio)

Brayola and 24me - two Israeli startups led by women.

Brayola and 24me – two Israeli startups led by women.

At the end of 2013, Forbes magazine highlighted “10 Female Founders to Watch out of Israel”.  One year later, ISRAEL21c checked in with them to see if the early hype helped or hindered their paths to success.

Joining Viva Sarah Press in the TLV1 studio were Orit Hashay, founder and CEO of Brayola  – who was also on the Girls in Tech Network’s “Top 100 European women in tech” list in 2012 – and Liat Mordehay Hertanu, co-founder of 24me, recently chosen by Apple as one of the best apps of 2014.

Listen to the program here.

 

Music: Tamir Grinberg - I was made to love her
To listen to other ISRAEL21c shows on TLV1 click here.

 

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.

 

Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.
Profiles

Using parasites to fight autoimmune diseases

Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.

Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.

It is common to make fun of men for acting like “big babies” when they’re even mildly sick. According to Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, who heads the Shlomo and Pola Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases (eng.sheba.co.il/567/329.htm) in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, there is a physiological basis for this behavior.

Indeed, says the world-renowned Israeli autoimmunologist, prolific author and founder and editor of the Israel Medical Association Journal, Autoimmunity Reviews and J Autoimmunity: “Women are literally the stronger gender, with a better immune system. Not only do they outlive men, but when a woman has a cold, she goes about her business, and when a man has one, he takes to his bed and cries for a cup of tea.”

But this stronger immune system is also why, explains Shoenfeld, “with a few exceptions, autoimmune diseases attack women more than men, and usually at childbearing ages.”

As he gives ISRAEL21c a guided tour of the 3,000-meter (nearly 33,000-foot) center, decorated by Israeli artists and sculptors, Shoenfeld delivers a fluid summary of autoimmune diseases and the breakthroughs being made on the premises.

There are 80 such diseases, afflicting an estimated 20 percent of the population. Among these are the ones most people have heard of — rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and lupus. All are characterized by an immune system gone amok.

“Instead of doing its work to prevent outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, from attacking our body, it turns inward and becomes the attacker,” says Shoenfeld, likening the process to “friendly fire” in the military.

“If it attacks the brain, for instance, the patient suffers from multiple sclerosis; if it attacks the intestine, it is Crohn’s disease. When it attacks many different organs and tissues, it is considered ‘systemic.’ Lupus is an example of a systemic autoimmune disease.”

Holistic approach

The innovation of the Zabludowicz Center is its holistic approach to researching, diagnosing, treating and finding cures for autoimmune diseases. It has brought together experts in every field of medicine (such as internists, immunologists, neurologists and gynecologists) to tackle what Shoenfeld and his colleagues call the “mosaic” of autoimmune diseases, which are always debilitating and sometimes fatal.

“Until recently, most of these diseases were diagnosed and treated by the individual organ specialists,” says Shoenfeld. “Over the last decade, we found that the causes of autoimmune diseases are the same, and that they include genetics, hormones and environmental factors such as the sun, pesticides and smoking.”

Through the work of more than 25 physicians and a research laboratory, the center has made strides beyond the first revolution in the treatment of autoimmune diseases — using biological drugs known as corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and immuno-suppressants. Shoenfeld describes both as “miraculous,” yet they cause multiple serious side effects and are very expensive.

Shoenfeld and his team studied regions of the world where there is a low incidence of autoimmune disease, and came up with the idea of “harnessing nature” in the form of helminth intestinal parasites – something that modern hygiene has largely eliminated.

Helpful parasites

In order to survive and thrive, helminths secret substances that suppress the host’s immune system.

“Wherever helminths thrive, autoimmune diseases are virtually non-existent,” Shoenfeld says. “We know from epidemiological studies that there is a connection between increased hygiene and increased autoimmune diseases and allergies.”

He relates that the Italian island of Sardinia was rife with malaria yet absent of autoimmune disease – until 1946, when the area was sprayed with DDT. Malaria was indeed curbed as a result, but the island’s population developed the highest incidence of multiple sclerosis in the world.

Hygiene theorists tried using helminths to treat autoimmune disease, having their subjects ingest the long parasites like spaghetti. The experiments were successful but “a bit disgusting,” says Shoenfeld. “So the next trial was to ingest helminth eggs — which are so tiny that they can’t be seen by the naked eye — and let them hatch in the patient.”

The problem is that the parasites are emitted in bodily waste, causing a public-health issue. The solution was to use the eggs of a pig helminth, which do not hatch in humans, or if they do, they die very quickly.

This method, approved by medical authorities, is currently sold over the counter via the Internet. And many patients who have tried it report beneficial effects.

Taking this a step farther, Shoenfeld and his team set out to mimic the helminth secretions that suppress a host’s immune system. The compound they patented, called TCP, is the basis of a startup they have established. They are seeking investors or pharmaceutical companies to mass produce the compound.

TCP is a mixture of two existing molecules in the body – phosphorylcholine, a non-immunogenic substance, and tuftsin, which is produced in the spleen and helps suppress the immune system. When introduced to mice in the lab at the center, via injection and orally, TCP completely eradicated lupus, colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Shoenfeld’s team is now expanding experimentation with TCP – which he believes can relieve almost all autoimmune diseases cheaply and without side effects — to tackle conditions such as hair loss and psoriasis. They are also starting a study on the connection between allergies and autoimmune disease.

“We believe that investors in this endeavor will get very rich,” he concludes.

For more information, click here.

 

Ronen Chen in the studio.
Profiles

Fashion designer Ronen Chen shares a secret (audio)

 

Ronen Chen in the studio.

Ronen Chen’s label is known internationally.

 

Women in Israel, North America London and several other European cities shop for the Ronen Chen label when they need casual, comfortable and stylish clothing aimed at the 30-to-55 age range.

When Chen joined ISRAEL21c reporter Viva Sarah Press at TLV1 Radio  to talk about his 20 years in the fashion industry, he revealed, among other things, that he once dreamed of becoming an architect.

To listen to other ISRAEL21c shows on TLV1 click here.

 

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.

 

Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel
Profiles

Yo! Meet the man behind the app

Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel

Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel

Meet Moshe Hogeg, the Israeli venture capitalist and entrepreneur tagged by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 “Start-up Nation movers and shakers you need to know.”

The 33-year-old founder and chairman of Singulariteam  (a private investment fund and incubator formerly called Genesis Angels) — with an extensive network of companies he has created, technologies he has invested in, or both — is making an international name for himself.

His illustrious list of backers and partners includes Hollywood A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Serena Williams, and influential financiers including Mexican magnate Carlos Slim and Kazakh businessman Kenges Rakishev. With their help, Hogeg has made strategic investments in key up-and-coming technologies.

Among the tech companies in which Singulariteam, with a staff of 12, is backing are 30-second phone charger Storedot, Effective Space, Beyond Verbal and Infinity Augmented Reality.

Hogeg is an entrepreneur and investor.

Hogeg is an entrepreneur and investor.

Best known for founding Mobli, a real-time photo- and video-sharing platform predating Instagram (though the latter beat it to the punch on the market), Hogeg also made waves with the vastly popular app Yo.

Released this year, Yo has more than three million users, the first million of whom took a record four days to generate. Yo is an abbreviated method of communication, a “poke” that is understood between friends according to context.

His latest launch – in 20 languages — is Mirage, which puts a twist on Mobli: text, photos, voice messages and videos shared among users disappear after a few seconds.

The philosophy behind this platform was to enable real-life communication that is not stored in the cloud or on any device.

“The Internet was built by engineers,” Hogeg tells ISRAEL21c at the Mobli offices in Tel Aviv, where most of the company’s 70 employees are located. “It is structured so that everything is archived and documented and has a recorded history.”

Hogeg acknowledges that this is often as necessary as it is beneficial. But, he says, “There is also room for unrecorded communication — like when you see a beautiful girl on the street, and when she turns the corner, she’s gone; other than in your mind.”

Live fantasy league

Though Hogeg is a “techie by nature” who spent seven years in the Israel Defense Forces, rising to the rank of captain and serving as a company commander, his career was actually born out of his passion for soccer.

During a World Cup game in 2006, the coach of the Barcelona team did not put Lionel Messi in one of the matches, and that made Hogeg livid.

“Millions of people wanted to watch Messi play that day,” he recounts. “And one guy decides that we don’t get to do so. It made no sense. Sports are entertainment, after all, and the fans are the engine that propels it and makes it prosper.”

Hogeg decided to try and rectify the situation by creating a live version of a fantasy league.

“I took a third-division league in Tel Aviv – Kiryat Shalom – and I ‘replaced’ the coach with fans,” he says. “I broadcast live on a website I built, inviting spectators to decide which players would be in the starting line-up, for example.”

Mirage erases messages after they’re read.

Mirage erases messages after they’re read.

The idea was to “crowdsource” the league, to shape it as the fans saw fit. And from this emerged Hogeg’s first company, Web2Sport, which he created in 2007 upon finishing his military service.

“Imagine the thrill of bringing in a player and he scores a goal,” he says. “That’s why the site was so popular. But it was only in Hebrew, which limited its scope. That was a big mistake. An even bigger mistake was not charging for it. I made about 1,000 mistakes every single day in that period, but I learned from them.”

Indeed, Hogeg lived off his own savings, skimping on rent by moving from “one tiny dump to another,” and paying himself a meager salary – until 2008, when the global economic crisis caused the company to close.

This pushed him to become a self-employed consultant and on-line marketer earning what he considered an exorbitant salary – NIS 20,000 (about $5,000) per month. But this was a function of his being overloaded with clients and having no assistant.

“I was spreading myself thin,” he says. “Instead of being able to excel at one thing, I was chasing my own tail and being mediocre at everything.”

The risk pays off

At the advice of a concerned friend, Hogeg decided to quit working for others, and spent a year investing his energy in a single project of his own.

The risk paid off. He and a small team of techies – who agreed to take shares in place of salaries – created Mobli, using a local Tel Aviv café as their office.

“When the wait staff got visibly impatient with us, we would order a croissant to keep them from kicking us out,” he laughs. “It was all we could afford.”

Once the platform was presentable, Hogeg was able to garner investments.

The budding endeavor brought Hogeg – now married, with a two-year-old son — to New York for three years to engage in further fundraising, business development and marketing. Last year, he returned to Israel, where he plans to remain while aiming at markets in China, Latin America and Russia.

Hogeg says that one of the most important people on his team is a behavioral psychologist, whom he “plucked” from the Weizmann Institute of Science. His job is to vet the right potential partners for Hogeg to approach.

“In the end,” says Hogeg, whose Singulariteam companies have a net worth of more than $1 billion, “this is a people’s game.”