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.

Globetrotters bounce into Israel

Globetrotters bounce into Israel

If there are two things that are universal, it’s humor and basketball. So the Harlem Globetrotters have all angles covered.

The venerable touring jugglers/ball handlers glided into Israel last week for three shows – two in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem. An international institution since 1926, the Globetrotters have showcased their iconic talents in 120 countries on six continents.
I saw them a few times growing up in New England, with the legendary team featuring Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. So I was psyched to take my 11-year-old basketball-loving son to see them in Jerusalem.

And happily, aside from a few more showbiz hip-hop moments, the general premise was still intact – some amazing magicianship with the ball, tons of laughs, incredible baskets, and good, clean fun.

The names had changed – Hi-Lite was the Meadowlark funnyman-frontman, and Flip Atkins was the limber gymnast flipping around the court like he was on coils. But the game remained the same, down to the bucket of water chasing around the court during the break skit that ended up with confetti on the adoring crowd.

One ‘only in Israel’ moment occurred when Hi-Lite went into the crowd and came back with a women’s purse for some cross-dressing fun. He then asked the owner of the purse, Dina, to come to mid-court to regain her possession It turned out that, like much of the audience, she was religiously observant, wearing a head covering and a skirt.
She was a good sport, dancing with Hi-Lite and playing the straight woman to his Groucho Marx. However, when he thanked Dina and told her to give him a kiss, that’s where she drew the line.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Why not,” asked Hi-Lite.
“I can only kiss my husband.”
“Your husband? Is he here? Show him to me.”

They walked back to the stand and he shook hands with the husband, and turned back to Dina. “That’s your husband? Good luck to you!” And he gave her big hug, and returned to the court for the resumption of the game.

Of course, the Globetrotters won the game handily, against their worthy but hand picked opponents. And by the looks on the children, and adults leaving Malha auditorium, everyone went away happy. Even Dina and her husband.

Searching for a cure to insomnia the Israeli way

Haaretz recently published an article about an Israeli website they dubbed “Dr. Google.” The site is called Treato; its goal is to aggregate health and medical information, in particular on drug side effects, in a single place rather than forcing sufferers to wade through thousands of hits on Google, many of which are either irrelevant, unverified, or thinly veiled ads for the drug manufacturers themselves.

I had a chance to speak with the Treato guys last November for an article on ISRAEL21c and their aim, as Elvis Costello might croon, is indeed true. The site, which is backed by the former CEO of Israeli powerhouse Commtouch and some $9 million in venture capital, covers some 13,000 conditions and 11,000 medications. There are 800 million patient discussions indexed, coming from 23 million patients. Treato then analyzes and prioritizes all that data, so you don’t have to.

When I was writing the article, I decided to give Treato the personal touch. I’ve suffered from insomnia most of my life. People who don’t sleep have a lot of extra time on their hands, which often translates into trolling discussion boards in the wee hours of the night. Everyone has their own treatment successes or failures, and they’re all ready to share, push and proselytize as if their solution is just on the cusp of curing the rest of us.

There are the magnet hucksters, the CBT wonks, the magnesium machers, the anti-chocolate crowd, the acupuncture/homeopathy/chiropractor/melatonin/meditation groupies and, of course, an unending stream of recommendations for this or that sleeping pill or anti-depressant.

I’m not putting any of these true believers down – on the contrary, I’ve tried the gamut of proposals and some have actually provided some relief. It’s just that Google is an unforgiving intermediary. She doesn’t tell you what ranks higher and what the potential side effects might be. Treato does.

You still have to work it. A search on Treato for “insomnia + not sleeping” resulted in 33,000 comments, from both expected sites (,, and some surprises (, autismweb,com, But at least I don’t have to open each site one at a time; Treato puts it all in one place.

Treato launched in 2011, is aiming for revenues of $10 million this year, and hopes to break even in 2013. It’s not a play likely to be picked up by Mark Zuckerberg or other social media moguls. “People don’t like to talk about anti-depressants on Facebook,” Gideon Mantel, the company’s CEO says.

In the meantime, I’ll keep using Treato. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll discover that pickles and ice cream are the perfect cure for insomnia. Either that or I’m pregnant.