(Don’t) Push the red button
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(Don’t) Push the red button

It’s 1997, and Men In Black‘s Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith: “Don’t touch the red button.” Which, of course he does, because who can really resist a red button?

Fast forward to 2012, and Belgian ad agency Duval Guillaume takes the ‘red button’ theme to a new level. To promote the launch of a new cable channel in Belgium, they create a brilliant viral video campaign featuring – you guessed it – a red button.


Without giving too much away, a red button is placed on a podium in the middle of a typical Flemish town square. There’s a sign that reads “Push to add drama” pointing at it.

Curiosity eventually overcomes passersby and once the button is pressed bystanders unsuspectingly find themselves in an action-packed Hollywood scene.

Sirens. Gun shots. Police. Laughing bystanders. An outstanding ad campaign.

Which brings us to the Israeli connection. Spoof video artist Roman Buchatsky and his brother Vitaly are surfing the web when they come across this video. “In a flash of a second,” he tells ISRAEL21c, the idea of a parody came to them.

‘A DRAMATIC SURPRISE ON A QUIET SQUARE – ISRAEL’ starts off the same way. But anyone who has lived in Israel will immediately find the original wording of the advertisement not quite in synch with life here.

No one needs to push a red button to add drama in Israel.

“It is not hard to notice that drama and action are part of our daily experience, whether it is on the news or on the street,” says Buchatsky.

In the Israeli send-up, the ‘quiet square’ has been replaced by bustling Magen David Square in Tel Aviv. Bystanders don’t take the bait so Buchatsky presses the red button.

Talkbacks to the Israeli video were quick to come. While many offer kudos, the anti-Israel/anti-Zionist comments are prominent as well.

“We are all human beings and we all want peace,” Buchatsky tells ISRAEL21c. “It doesn’t matter what our political views are, how observant we are or what our religion is, we all want to raise kids in a safe place, with good neighbors and live in dignity. I didn’t intend to talk about justice, politics or the price we have to pay to achieve peace. We only want the same things that every person in the world wants.”

And that is no drama. Unlesss someone pushes a red button.

Baby in diaper
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

ISRAEL21c gets results for Israeli inventor

Two years ago, ISRAEL21c reported on an all-natural superabsorbent polymer (SAP) invented in Israel that can help people lose weight safely, grow crops with less water and dispose of diapers without harming the earth.

Until our story appeared, the maker of this novel material, the Kiryat Gat-based Exotech Bio Solutions, had been unable to raise enough capital to make sufficient SAP for interested manufacturers.

“We needed help being discovered,” co-CEO Mendy Axlerad told us when he called with an update – and a big “thank you” earlier this year.

Because that’s just what we provided.

As a result of ISRAEL21c’s article, entrepreneurs in Europe and South America contacted Axlerad, and are now building factories to produce the unique Israeli product.

“A company from northern Portugal contacted us asking for a sample, and after we sent it, they said, ‘If you had a partner, would you build a factory?’ They came to visit us and we signed an agreement to build the first factory in the world to produce our SAP,” says Axlerad.

“We expect to start production in seven to nine months from now, making 5,000 tons per year.”

Managers of a German company also saw the ISRAEL21c piece and contacted Axlerad. In a few months, their facility will start producing Exotech’s SAP and transfer it via pipeline to a new diaper factory next door.

“Nothing like this exists anywhere else,” Axlerad told us with pride. “The raw material will move in a fully ecological way to produce the finished product.”

ISRAEL21c congratulates Exotech on these achievements.

Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

NJ fourth-graders’ Invention Convention enriched by ISRAEL21c

The story featured the 45 indispensable Israeli innovations highlighted in a special exhibit last year at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem. The ever-churning Israeli mind has brought us drip irrigation, the electric car grid, the Disk-on-Key, the PillCam, the solar window, a burglar-proof door and much more.

By coincidence, there are exactly 45 fourth-graders.

“I had my students look at your article and make a graphic organizer to display at the event,” Miller wrote. “We’ve talked about Israeli inventions in the past when we did this unit, and after reading about the exhibit I thought it would be great to do a separate display this time.”

A page of the graphic organizer made by Moriah School fourth-graders based on ISRAEL21c’s article.
A page of the graphic organizer made by Moriah School fourth-graders based on ISRAEL21c’s article.

Robin Wexler, associate principal of general studies in the Moriah Lower School, added, “I felt that introducing the students to Israeli inventors and inventions helped to broaden their understanding of the invention process and build upon their tremendous respect and appreciation for our Israeli ‘brothers and sisters.’”

Miller receives ISRAEL21c’s weekly newsletter for her own edification. “For teaching, I’d definitely want to use it more,” she says.

Indie rock discoveries at this year’s Jacob’s Ladder

Indie rock discoveries at this year’s Jacob’s Ladder

Indie rock discovery: Jenny & Gilad

Jacob’s Ladder is my favorite weekend of the year. Located at the picturesque Kibbutz Nof Ginosar, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, the festival is billed as “a unique bluegrass, folk, country, blues, Irish and world music extravaganza.” It is in equal parts a chance to catch up with old friends in a laid back atmosphere that encourages camping and potlucks, and an opportunity to hear music by both world class performers and emerging bands who may just be the next big thing.

Jacob’s Ladder began as an “Anglo Festival,” started by Menachem and Yehudit Vinegrad who made aliyah in 1967 and missed the folk scene from back home. The festival has evolved considerably, growing from 700 attendees at the first gathering to well over 3,000 today.

The demographics have grown too. The once Anglo majority has been displaced by Israelis – I heard far more Hebrew than English – including a large contingent of teenagers and twenty-somethings (many the children and even grandchildren of Anglos) who grew up at Jacob’s Ladder over the years.

I may be reading into it, but the younger population also seems to have influenced the music – high energy rock and roll and world music is much more prevalent than in years past; even the Irish/Scottish Bodhran Band rocks out…with bagpipes. The presence of Shmemel, an Israeli ensemble combining wailing electric guitars, a full brass section (saxophone, trombone and trumpet – think Blood Sweat and Tears or early Chicago) with rap, funk and the occasional klezmer, had the outdoor dance floor packed.

All that is good news for me: I love the festival but have never been a big bluegrass or country music fan. So my personal music discoveries included a number of unsung indie rockers who I’d like to see gain more exposure.

My top pick: a singer-songwriting duo who go by the simple name of Jenny & Gilad. write their own music in English and Hebrew and perform with lovely harmonies. The overflow audience went wild like hardcore fans, especially impressive given that the two don’t even have a CD out (“we’re working on it,” they pleaded).

Also on my list of show favorites were Omri Vitis – an Israeli with a voice reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot who has spent the last 12 years in the U.K. and belts out folk-tinged rock influenced by Native American tribal beats; the bespectacled Erez Singer whose happy clappy upbeat pop songs sound like another Israeli who croons in English, Shy Nobleman; and The Love Birds whose lead singer Efrat Kolberg occasionally channels the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde.

Here’s a clip of Erez Singer:


Another element to the evolution of Jacob’s Ladder is the number of religious people who spend Shabbat listening to electrified music. A minyan set up overlooking the water was attended by more than 50 people. You could hear the sounds of the Friday evening kiddush being said all over the campgrounds.

Pulling off a festival of this size and complexity takes the full time attention of the Vinegrads – I’ve written about the “business” of Jacob’s Ladder previously – but it pays off and attendees respond in kind: you can leave your chairs and blankets on the main lawn and no one will steal them, smoking is now prohibited at the concerts; and after the show, everyone pitches in to clean up, leaving the kibbutz nearly as clean as it was beforehand.

But maybe the best part: after the final performance Saturday afternoon, our friends have a tradition – we all head to the beach, pull our plastic chairs into the shallow part of the lake, and dip our toes as the coolness water mitigates a hot and sometimes muggy day.

I can’t wait until next year.


Giving trash the boot

Israel’s inaugural Clean the Land Day will take place across the country on Friday, May 18. This welcome initiative comes from four Masa Israel Government Fellows — Daniel Barnett, Max Friedenberg, Sam Silverlieb and Joel Wanger – who created a national trash pickup day out frustration with the countless cigarette butts, plastic bags and cups, and empty bottles and boxes littering the landscape.

A very user-friendly website invites would-be participants to register to join a cleanup crew. You get a packet with info, along with disposable gloves (better throw those away responsibly!) and trash bags.

I say it’s about time. The littering problem is among the few aspects of life in Israel that bothered me as a new immigrant in 2007. Anglos talk about it all the time with great disgust. Some other organizations have even tried to do something about it. Well, here’s a way to be part of the solution.

I couldn’t say it better than the founders do: “Clean the Land is a social movement that seeks to create a cleaner and greener State of Israel. The inaugural Clean the Land initiative is the first step toward the movement’s larger goal of establishing a socially and environmentally responsible Israeli society in which phrases like “leave no trace” and “reduce, reuse, recycle” are as common as “yalla’” (let’s go, hurry up) and “yihiyeh b’seder” (it will be ok).”

And that’s no trash talk.