ISRAEL21c goes to college

“Four years ago, two students came to my office and said they really wanted to do a business-related trip to Israel,” he tells ISRAEL21c at the Jerusalem hotel where he and 18 students stayed for part of the recent spring-break trip. “I was in Israel in 1990 but, like most people, I knew little outside the cultural, the religious, the conflict. When I started doing research I was surprised to find how Israel was thriving.”

Malter began fashioning a full-semester course that begins with six weeks of learning about Israel’s economy, its industries, its politics and culture. The 2009 book Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer is the primary text for the class.

“ISRAEL21c is a recommended resource,” says Malter. “I get [the newsletter] every week and find it incredibly helpful in staying current so I can introduce the latest advances in Israel directly into the classroom.”

Malter is assistant dean for student development and strategic initiatives, and he is also a member of the Israel Business and Technology Committee in St. Louis. “ISRAEL21c gives us good relevant information and helps us see what types of speakers and events we want to bring to the St. Louis community,” he says. “It has a really good balance of business and high-tech news – it’s very comprehensive.”

Jennifer Glick, a sophomore from the Chicago area, said she heard Malter talk about the course when she was visiting the campus in her senior year of high school. “I thought it sounded amazing and I knew I wanted to take it if I went to Wash U, and it actually was one of the reasons I decided to come to Wash U,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

“I had visited other schools that had study-abroad programs but I’ve always loved Israel and looking at it from business perspective was something I really wanted to do.”

Prof. Steve Malter and his students at Better Place.

Antony Santiago from Houston says that before the class he thought of Israel as “just a nation that warred with those around it. So when I came here it really changed my mind, because I saw how it’s really innovative and creative.”

He especially enjoyed the group’s visit to Intel-Israel in Haifa (“They have ‘clean rooms’ where no dust can reach the silicon they operate on”) and Better Place, the electric car network.

“At home I’ll be able to tell my parents and friends on campus that Israel is a bountiful nation with very interesting and active people,” says Santiago.

All the students blogged daily ( during the journey. And when they return, each will do a final project analyzing a particular Israeli industry, looking at its challenges and opportunities and comparing it to a similar US industry.

Wash U has a semester exchange program with IDC-Herzliya (, where 12 American and 12 Israeli students pair up to plan a startup company.

“We hope to put together some additional collaborations with IDC,” says Malter.


Parent apps

They’re not just new parents, nor are they merely a couple, one of whom is a physicist/amateur computer programmer and the other a Arabic literature and comparative religion university lecturer.

Jerusalemites Miriam Goldstein and Michael Feigenson are now app developers, having created two apps that will appeal to the new parent set, all part of Parents2ParentsApps, their “mom and pop, family business that creates mobile applications for parents. We build apps that answer our own needs as parents, and strive to make them useful to others and as user-friendly as possible,” writes Michael on their website.

Perfect Timing was their first app, using FAM, the Fertility Awareness Method, to help learn about and identify and chart natural family planning. They found the method helped them get pregnant easily, and the app is an easy way to keep all the information in one place.

Once their son was born, they came up with Sound Sleeper, a white noise app that can identify when a baby wakes and play a selected white noise — ocean, rain, car ride, even the sounds of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market — to lull the baby back to sleep.

As I always say, whatever works. And now I know why they always seem so happy and rested. Smart.

REM returns to Israel in the form of Robyn Hitchcock

REM returns to Israel in the form of Robyn Hitchcock

Peter Buck and Robyn Hitchcock on the left

In 1995, I got fired from a job. It was the first job I’d had in Israel and the first time I’d ever been fired from anything. Suffice it to say I was pretty despondent on that day.

REM saved me.

The night after I was laid off, my favorite rock band REM was playing in Tel Aviv. I had decided not to go – the tickets were too expensive – but after getting canned, I decided I needed something to cheer me up and take my mind off of the fact I was newly in Israel with two kids, a wife in ulpan and no foreseeable income. I went with my good friend Eliot who was also a massive REM fan.

REM has since broken up (a real shame because, after 10 years of producing mediocre records, they finally roared back into relevance with Collapse Into Now). But the band was back in Israel, in a way, this past weekend in the form of Robyn Hitchcock. I got a chance to catch them with my still good friend Eliot, and made possible by Israelity colleague and buddy David Brinn.

Robyn Hitchcock has been around for ages – in the late 1970s he headed up a proto-punk band called The Soft Boys. He had a number of college radio hits in the early 1980s with a band he called The Egyptians.

Now here’s the REM connection: in the last few years, he’s put together an occasional recording and touring band with REM guitarist Peter Buck. Calling themselves The Venus 3, they more often than not sound scarily similar to REM.

Buck is the master behind REM’s jangly pop bright guitar sound that was the band’s staple coda in its early years. That was ever present in The Venus 3’s original songs, and it happily bled into versions the band performed of early Hitchcock material too.

Hitchcock is no Michael Stipe – I’ve never liked the former’s voice that much – but his lyrics are keen, the music catchy and he has a quirky troubadour-like stage presence.

I wasn’t commiserating over any particular setback Saturday night when we went to see The Venus 3 Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. That  made the show pure pleasure rather than the compulsory catharsis of 17 years ago.

This was Hitchcock’s second time in Israel in less than six months. He played an acoustic set late last year at Tel Aviv’s Ozen Bar. This time out he was fully electric.

Hitchcock has a pre-rock star connection to Israel too: he spent time on a kibbutz in 1971.  Come back and visit soon, Mr. Hitchcock – and don’t wait another 40 years.

Eliot wrote a great review of the show for The Jerusalem Post.

Here’s a short video clip I made of the show.

Here’s a link to a full-length 1985 REM concert that showcases Peter Buck’s jangly guitar at its creative heights.

Falling in love again (not what you think)

Find every Israeli radio station online in one iPhone app

You may have noticed I didn’t post as much last week as usual. It’s not because I’ve been traveling overseas or that I’ve been sick. No, I’m in love…

With an iPhone.

Yes, my wife knows. She’s been very understanding, even when I take my new device to bed with me (ostensibly for “doing work”). She even looks the other way when I coo sweet nothings into the microphone for Siri, the iPhone 4S’s sexy female digital assistant, to schedule reminders, set up meetings and search the Internet (“Siri, show me a picture of a gecko” – yes, it really works!)

Like any good gecko…er geek, I’ve filled my new iPhone with the latest and greatest apps, including quite a few Israeli-made products. If I want to figure out how to get somewhere by bus in Jerusalem, there’s JeruBus. If my travels are farther afield, the “Bus Line” app brings me the whole country (although the functionality is pretty funky – you search for a route number and it gives you all bus lines in the country matching that number – i.e., the 14 bus in Jerusalem, Safed, Ashdod and Beit Shemesh…not all that helpful).

I’ve installed both Fring and Viber to make phone calling cheaper, and Israel365 to deliver a daily dose of inspiring Israeli photos. I found a local dog sitter on Janglo’s mobile app, and Haaretz is the place I go first for news about Israel, since they are the only one of the big English-language news sites to have an app (visiting a news website on your smart phone is so 2008).

My favorite app, though, is not Israeli at all, but has great value add for us Middle Easterners. It’s called Tune In Radio and it lets you stream just about every station that’s on the Internet. This includes web-only broadcasters like Israel’s Radio Free Nachlaot and Rusty Mike, but also terrestrial radio stations that have an Internet stream.

The coolest part is the “local radio” tab, which uses your location to find all stations near you. It accurately located every Israeli stream (from Galgalatz to the student station from the IDC in Herzeliya) as well as a few Arabic-language surprises like talk radio station Radio Sawa and Radio Bethlehem.

Like the “Israel loves Iran” campaign that’s tearing up Facebook, Tune In Radio is doing its small part to go beyond the conflict. It may not bring peace now, but the app has managed to get the bickering parties onto the same (app) page.

Immigrant Moments,Life,Music

A celebration of young Ethiopian musicians

Avraham Terifa

Avraham Terifa is in the eighth grade but he looks like he’s only nine-years-old. A tiny dynamo of a boy, he stands before an audience of several hundred at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot She’ananim concert hall and begins to play his violin. All around the room you can hear jaws start to drop as the music that emerges from his diminutive frame suggests someone twice as big and three times as old.

Avraham is just one of 30 children from the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem who is studying at the Jerusalem Conservatory Hassadna, a unique institution whose mission is to provide music instruction to children between the ages of 3 and 18, “regardless of physical or mental ability, socio-economic level, ethnicity or religious affiliation.”

Avraham is part of a program called “From Risk to Opportunity” which grants full scholarships to children of Ethiopian descent who, more often than not, come from very difficult home environments, rife with poverty and sometimes even abuse. Many of the children are referred to the program by social workers at Jerusalem’s Municipal Welfare Department.

The program was founded by Ruth Mason and Bob Trachtenberg, who have been active in supporting the Ethiopian immigrant community and were disturbed when they realized that, at a friend’s daughter’s dance recital, there were no Ethiopian children represented. Ruth says she thought “what if there are Ethiopian kids with musical talent? Can they develop it? The vast majority of their parents don’t have money for that.”

They established the “From Risk to Opportunity” in 2005 which, in addition to the scholarship, covers rental of a musical instrument, transportation costs and home tutoring.

Meron Moola

Avraham wasn’t the only Ethiopian-Israeli musician to perform at the concert held last week to celebrate the program’s success. Ronit Taklo was equally impressive. Even smaller than Avraham, one might expect this 10-year-old girl to be intimidated by the grand piano in front of her, but her confidence was stirring and the audience was once again riveted. The same for Meron Moola who belted out (in English) the lyrics to “When You Believe” from the animated film “The Prince of Egypt.”

While the music performed was primarily Western classics (Brahms, Mozart and the like) along with that Steven Schwartz movie pop tune, there were also two traditional Ethiopian numbers sung (and danced) by Molokon Patego, a guest performer.

The evening had two celebrities in attendance. Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch’s husband is on the Conservatory’s board and some of the program’s participants played at the swearing in ceremony of the new chief justice. Beinisch presented the children with certificates of appreciation. Belaynesh Zevadia, the Israeli ambassador designate to Ethiopia (and the first Ethiopian-Israeli to become an ambassador) was also in the audience.

The “From Risk to Opportunity” program is exemplary in another way: It does not segregate the children into a separate track for disadvantaged youth as too frequently happens with the Ethiopian community elsewhere in Israel. Rather, the young musicians are fully integrated into the Conservatory’s mainstream program, which provides instructions for 550 talented young people.

The results show: three students have been accepted to the Jerusalem Music Academy High School – the first Ethiopian-Israeli students to be accepted to the prestigious school’s music track.

As for Avraham, he is one of them. His fiddling days, it seems, are just beginning.