Tuesday, February 28, 2012

IDF and Bone Marrow Tests

Enjoy this wonderful article about the many ways in which we take responsibility for one another and become one people regardless of our geographic location.

Rabbi Mario
Copied from The Times of Israel
The army confronts a new kind of enemy

IDF soldiers have been asked upon induction to give bone marrow samples, with extraordinary results

By MITCH GINSBURG February 25, 2012, 12:12 am 75

They come in skinny jeans and sneakers, sweatsuits and eyebrow rings. Stunned into silence and herded together by a stern female corporal, they shuffle off the bus and into the army’s induction center. The process has roughly a dozen stops and at the end they emerge in comically large and firmly pressed uniforms. As in every army they are subjected to a haircut and a mug shot; their fingerprints are taken; their dental records are registered; they’re inoculated, photographed, assigned to a unit, and issued two sets of shirts, two sets of trousers, a belt, socks, underwear and two pairs of boots. But unlike anywhere else, these new draftees are also asked if they’d be willing to provide a bone marrow sample, or, as the promotional video explains, “to save a life.”

The collaboration between the IDF and the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry has recently pushed Israel to the highest per capita registry rate in the world. Nearly seventy percent of draftees agree to provide a sample. The implications of this have been profound. Last year fifty percent of all Israeli bone marrow donors were soldiers. In fact, although the numbers have not yet been fully crunched, soldiers appear to be roughly one and a half times as likely as other Israeli donors to be suitable matches for those in need.

According to Dr. Bracha Zisser, the founder and director of Ezer Mizion, the success rate is uncanny. “It has to do with the fact that they are young and largely male and that they are the product of a Jewish society filled with interdenominational marriage, but we don’t yet fully understand it,” she said.

This has implications for Jews the world over.

The International Bone Marrow Registry in Leyden, Holland, has some 14 million blood marrow samples, but for Jews, and any other distinct ethnic group, there is virtually no chance of finding a bone marrow match outside of one’s immediate family and larger circle of ethnicity. And the percentage of Jewish samples in the Leyden registry was, prior to Ezer Mizion’s inclusion, frighteningly small.

Soldiers are pushing the registry ever more swiftly toward its goal of one million samples, at which point virtually every Jew in the world would be able to find a donor match. Currently 40 percent of all bone marrow donations given through Ezer Mizion go to Jews living abroad.

This means that Israeli soldiers are not only defending their country but also the Jewish people, said Maj. Gen. (res) Elazar Stern, the officer who initiated the program.

A bone marrow transplant is, in essence, a stem cell donation. Those suffering from leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a host of other blood diseases are no longer capable of producing healthy blood cells. Their bone marrow is under attack from the disease and decimated by chemotherapy, and often their only chance of survival is through a genetically compatible donor.

In 1998, after trying unsuccessfully to find a match for Moshe Schayek, a young man from Afula in northern Israel, Zisser and her husband Moti, owner of Elbit Imaging Ltd., founded the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. They conducted mass drives, at times collecting upwards of 60,000 samples for a single patient, but still felt that they were unable to reach certain populations. Dr. Zisser believed that if she could enlist the army they would get samples from a diverse and healthy swath of the population and, no less important, the samples would have a shelf life of forty years.

The IDF was not easily swayed.

“I bounced around the halls of the army for four years, dozens of offices, and in the end I always landed across the desk from some legal authority who explained to me why it was impossible,” Zisser said during a recent visit to the donor registry, which is housed in the Oranit Guest Home for children with cancer in Petach Tikva.

By the summer of 2005 she’d given up hope. Then a friend contacted Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, the head of IDF Manpower at the time.

Stern himself was a donor and he supported the cause but he told the friend that it wasn’t worth pursuing. The army authorities were dead set against it.

“I’d tried to get the army to ask draftees to consider signing organ donation cards and was told that it was improper and impossible,” Stern said from his office at Tlalim Strategy, a planning and consulting group for educational organizations.

After standing by the bedside of an Israeli boy, the son of a noncommissioned officer, who slowly expired right before his eyes, Stern decided to invite Zisser to his office. Since he knew precisely what she wanted, he skipped the preliminaries and called the IDF’s chief doctor, its chief legal counsel, and the commander of the induction base to his office.

“Each one of them said why the army couldn’t do it,” he recalled. One contended that soldiers at the time of induction were under too much stress to discern between orders and requests. Another said there were other organizations that collected bone marrow samples and it would be wrong to give preference to Ezer Mizion. And one, the commander of the base, said there was simply no way to insert an additional station into the induction process.

Stern thanked them and told them that the process would begin in three months’ time, and that if need be he expected them to be able to defend him in a court of law.

“I told them that I like bananas,” he said, smiling broadly. “And in the worst case scenario I knew they’d fit nicely between prison bars.”

That’s proven unnecessary. Stern’s picture still stands at the bone marrow donation booth at the IDF’s induction center. Alongside it are shots of the commander of the air force, the former chief of staff, the defense minister and the two chief rabbis. It is one of the projects of which the army is most proud. In fact, during the Second Lebanon War an F-16 pilot was found to be a match for a two-year-old girl with leukemia -– a non-Israeli citizen –- and was given leave to go to the hospital to donate his bone marrow even though it sidelined him for days from the war.

In general, the higher the caliber of the soldier, the more likely he or she is to donate, said Dorit Hazan, the director of Ezer Mizion’s IDF station. “A few weeks ago we had flight school candidates in here and 94 percent of them consented.”

The numbers were considerably lower during a recent visit. “What is that, a needle?” asked one draftee still clad in a Superman sweatshirt. “No way. Can’t do it. I’m scared.”

But Tzvi Lox, a religious staff sergeant in the Kfir Brigade and a resident of Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood, knew he wanted to be registered even before going in to the army. Like all recruits he’d received a pamphlet in the mail prior to induction explaining the procedure. It was signed by Zisser and made clear that both the sample and any possible future donation are voluntary and not a mandatory part of the draft.

Four months later, while on leave from basic training, the half-Brazilian, half-Israeli infantryman received a call from Ezer Mizion. He was a perfect match for a sick young child. “In many ways it felt like winning the lottery,” he said, noting the relative ease with which a life could be saved.

In the past, the procedure was painful and performed under general anesthesia. Today it is little more than a blood transfusion, during which the stem cells are filtered from the donor’s blood.

Lox was taken to the Shneider Hospital in Petah Tikva. At the time he knew nothing about the patient beyond the fact that his donation was going toward a child with leukemia. Today they are in touch. The boy and his Tel Aviv-based family visit now and again. And, he chuckled, “they send me presents to the base all the time.”

Overturning the Draft Exemption

Judaism allows us to be part of a big umbrella with different denominations and streams, but how far do we go when the main concern and central issue is how to serve and defend the State of Israel and protect its security?  I hope you pay attention to Rabbi Hartman’s insightful message and personal story regarding this core value of our collective responsibility.

Rabbi Analia

Copied from Ha'Aretz
Overturning the Haredi Draft Exemption is a Mistake

My father broke with his ultra-Orthodox brothers when I was drafted into the Israeli Army. Seeing his nephews being “drafted into God’s Army,” while my life was in danger in Israel’s Army, was a dissonance too great for him to bear. This same feeling is experienced every year on Yom Hazikaron by masses of Israelis who, like my family, mourn the loss of a family member or friend and stand in pained silence in military cemeteries across the country, while ultra-Orthodox are deaf to the memorial siren and continue to walk around as if nothing happened.

This dissonance and inequality led Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the Tal Law, which exempted yeshiva students from military conscription. In doing so the Court gave expression to the rightful indignation felt by many Israelis. Equal rights must be accompanied by equal responsibilities, and the feeling is that the Haredi community, which has mastered the art of taking its share of society’s resources, must begin to develop a similar mastery when it comes to contributing to society’s needs.

On a personal level, the pain and insult that Israelis experience is understandable. Nevertheless, I believe that the forced conscription of the ultra-Orthodox community (and for that matter, the Israeli Arab one) is a mistake, and does not sufficiently take into account the current peculiar nature of Israel’s multinational Jewish identity.

There are two main types of democratic nation states. One, similar to the United States, forms a new national identity from the amalgamation and assimilation of multiple ethnic, religious, and national groups, creating a new and distinct community. Israel, like most European democracies, is a second type, and is built around a pre-existing national community which comprises the majority alongside one or more minority national groups. In the US model, the constitutional challenge is to ensure that no particular community hijacks the shared public national identity and forces its particular values and standards on it. In the Israeli and European model, the challenge is to enable, preserve, and protect the rights of the majority group to define the values and standards of the public sphere, all the while protecting the inalienable rights and space of the national minorities.

Israeli society recognizes the distinctness of the Arab national minority, and works, at times successfully and at times less so, to protect its rights. One of the core expressions of this is the broadly supported exemption of Israeli Arabs from conscription in the military. While they are taxpaying and voting citizens, there is recognition that they are not fully one of “us” in the sense that they are a minority within a country whose identity is that of being the national homeland of the Jewish people. If the Law of Return does not equally apply to Arabs, it is wrong to demand of them equal responsibility in defending the country.

When it comes to the ultra-Orthodox, a fundamental anomaly, embedded within our national identity, necessitates a similar accommodation. On the one hand, the ultra-Orthodox are part of the Jewish national majority. At the same time, they see themselves, and are seen by others, as a distinct community, a national minority within the national majority. We may have a common historical narrative and shared ethnicity, but we do not share a common system of values when it comes to the democratic State of Israel and the role of Judaism in it.

It is time to be honest: While Haredi Judaism rejects the value and values of the modern State of Israel and the legitimacy of the Judaisms lived by the majority of its citizens, this majority also rejects their values. The Haredi want to protect themselves from us, and consequently gravitate into separate communities. In truth, we have no desire to share our country with them and prefer that their integration be limited, all the while hoping for their religious assimilation.

There is no way to merge the modern, Jewish and democratic State of Israel with Haredi ideology, and as a result many are rightfully frightened of a Haredi population explosion, for Israel with a Haredi majority will simply cease to be Israel. There is no way for us to build a common value system for our shared public sphere. We speak different value languages, and our Judaism does not unite us; it divides us.

Within this reality, coexistence is to be facilitated only through divided and distinct spaces and not in shared ones. So long as the majority allocates sufficient space to the Haredi minority to define its space as it sees fit, and so long as the Haredi minority stays within its space, does not try to dictate the life of the majority, or does not violate the fundamental values and standards of democracy and equality, we can continue to live in peace - and in political coalitions - with each other.

Obligatory conscription into the military, however, blurs these distinct lines and separate spaces. A small Haredi presence in the military can be afforded its own units and rules. Massive Haredi conscription will not allow for distinct units, and necessitates a common code of values and conduct and a shared willingness and ability to live together, both of which simply do not exist. In the current reality, an obligatory draft, while seemingly equitable, is in fact punitive, as it attempts to force a so-called shared collective life on a community which sees itself and is seen by the rest of society, as distinct.

A time may come - if and when Israel ceases to commit collective suicide by continuing to fund an uneducated and unemployable Haredi community - that Haredi Jews fully integrated into a modern workforce may develop a more moderate brand of Ultra-Orthodoxy that incorporates some modernity within its Torah, and which can assimilate into the larger modern democratic State of Israel. If and when such a transformation occurs, the majority of Israelis can cease to see them as a demographic threat and we can begin to work together on building a shared value agenda for our common national homeland. Then and only then will it make sense to speak of a shared participation in carrying together the burden of securing our common future.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tal Law in Israel

This is a good article to help understand one of the main stories coming out of Israel this week.
And a good opportunity to get to know the latest publication in English to come out of Israel.

Rabbi Mario

Copied from The Times of Israel

 Tal Law has history of contention

With the High Court’s overturning of the Tal Law, 63 years of Haredi exemptions from the military might come to an end
By LINDA GRADSTEIN February 21, 2012, 9:56 pm 0

The Tal Law, recently overturned, differentiated between Haredim and other Israelis in terms of IDF enlistment. (photo credit: Gideon MArkowicz/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — When Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, granted a few hundred Haredi Orthodox Jews an exemption from army service, it’s likely he never dreamed that 63 years later, tens of thousands of Haredi Israelis would claim the exemption — or that the issue would be among the most contentious in modern Israel.

Haredi army service took center stage again this week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would not seek a five-year extension of the Tal Law but would allow the Israeli Knesset to vote on the issue.

The law, named after retired Supreme Court justice Tzvi Tal and enacted in 2002 under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, allows full-time yeshiva students to delay their army service until age 23. At that time, students either can continue studying full time, do a shortened 16 months of army service (instead of three years) or a year of national service. Afterward, they may choose to join the workforce.

“The Tal Law has failed,” said Yehuda Ben Meir of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “It has not been able to wean the community off the idea of not serving and not working. There is now a third generation that believes this is the way they should live.”

Dozens of reserve soldiers protesting against the Tal Law in front of the Knesset in 2011. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Until the Tal Law, Haredim were theoretically draftable unless they were full-time Torah students. Opposition to joining the army meant that tens of thousands of young men were staying full time in yeshiva just to avoid army service. Theoretically the men were subject to the draft if they left the yeshiva before age 40, but practically they could leave the yeshiva after turning 30.

The Tal Law was intended to get the students out of the yeshivas, into the army briefly and then into the workforce, solving a problematic cycle.

It hasn’t turned out as its proponents had hoped.

Only a small number of Haredi Israelis have joined the army, though the numbers are increasing slightly. According to Israel Defense Forces figures, 1,282 Haredi men enlisted in the army in 2011, up from 898 in 2010 and 729 in 2011. Most of them served in special male Haredi units, where the kashrut standards are higher and there is no mixing with women.

But the vast majority of Haredi men have stayed in the yeshiva, and their rabbis continue to discourage serving in the army. The opposition is largely ideological. Haredi leaders worry that the army will open up a path to lax Jewish observance. Some Haredi sects are anti-Zionist, and those that support the state believe that Torah study is a legitimate alternative way of contributing to Israel’s security by sustaining the state spiritually.

“Jews are fighting this war on many fronts, and learning Torah is also fighting a war,” said Rabbi Shimon Hurwitz of the Aish Hatorah yeshiva. “A hundred years ago Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘To educate a person in his mind and not his morals is to educate a menace to society.’ Torah study teaches morality.”

Hurwitz said some staff and students at his yeshiva do serve in the army. His main objection to his students joining the army is the difficulty in maintaining strict levels of Jewish observance, he said.

“We tell the students that there’s a lot of peer pressure not to be religious and it’s very difficult to stand against that,” the rabbi said. “We don’t want them to lose something valuable in terms of their personal and spiritual growth.”

Resentment against Haredi army exemptions from Israelis who do serve in the army — both secular and Modern Orthodox — is growing.

“Social justice begins with equally sharing the national burden and army service,” opposition leader Tzipi Livni told reporters this week. “This is a battle for everyone who believes in Zionism and who wants to live in this country.”

The Tal Law was passed initially for five years and extended in 2007.

The fight against extending the law was spearheaded by the same group of Israelis who were behind last summer’s protests against the cost of living in Israel.

They are working middle-class Israelis who serve in the army and find it difficult to make ends meet. They believe they are shouldering an unfair amount of the national burden both in paying taxes and in army service. They say they feel like “friars,” or suckers, something to which Israelis have an inborn aversion.

Last month, a group of these Israelis formed a “sucker’s encampment” to campaign against renewing the Tal Law.

“We want the government to legislate a law that requires mandatory service, army or civilian, from everyone — Jews, Arabs, religious and secular,” activist Boaz Nol told reporters.

The Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party has threatened to pull out of the government if the law is not extended.

It seems unlikely that the Haredi community will join the army in large numbers anytime soon.

“The government didn’t correctly estimate the cultural gap between the Haredim and the mere idea of military service,” said Zeev Lerer, a professor on gender and organization at Tel Aviv University. “The Tal Law failed and it will continue to fail. It will take a long and deep revolution to incorporate the idea of military service.”

Even if Haredim did decide to join the army en masse, it’s not clear that the army is prepared to utilize them. On one hand, there is a growing manpower shortage. At the same time, the army has to make special accommodations for them, such as organizing all-male units and providing glatt kosher food.

“It really is more of a symbolic issue,” Lerer said. “As the army has become more dependent on women serving, often in more combat roles, I don’t see how they can absorb the Haredim. It would mean a complete change in the identity of the army.”

Some analysts say that if the government decides that it is important enough for the state, Haredim eventually could be integrated into the army.

“You would have a tremendous social crisis, and many of the rabbis would tell their students to go to prison rather than serve in the army,” said Ben Meir. “But they don’t really want to go to prison.

“It can be done, perhaps. But not with this government and this coalition.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Judaism and Organ Donation

Many times we are asked "What does Judaism say about organ donation"? I always take out my driver's license and show the bottom -right of it, which says "organ donor". This article will clarify not only what Judaism and the Israeli society says about organ donation but also how to encourage people to become donors.

Rabbi Analia

Copied from the New York Times.
February 16, 2012, 9:00 AM

In Israel, a New Approach to Organ Donation

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

One of the most agonizing spots in medicine is the “transplant list.” When I’ve referred patients for organ transplant — heart, liver, kidney — it is the start of an anguished wait. The clock ticks for my patient as we watch her clinical status decline, all the while harboring that excruciating hope that someone will die soon enough to make an organ available. In the case of kidney donation, which can come from a live donor, it is the desperate hope that someone will decide to make this enormous personal sacrifice.

Some of my patients have died waiting, which is, sadly, not an unusual outcome. It is estimated that 18 patients on the waiting list in America die every day. In the United States, as in many countries, we rely on a simple system of altruism, or what might be called the opt-in approach. We hope that people will sign organ donor cards because they think it is the right thing to do, or that families will consent to donation after a loved one has had brain death because it will help someone else. But these mechanisms do not result in nearly enough organs for all the patients who need them.

Other countries, like Spain and Austria, have tried an opt-out approach, called presumed consent. Every patient who dies is assumed to have consented to organ donation, unless they have specifically declined. However, this hasn’t necessarily increased the number of organ donations, in part because doctors find it extremely difficult to go against family wishes if surviving family members are strongly opposed to donation.

A third way to increase donations is being pioneered in Israel. Until now, Israel ranked at the bottom of Western countries on organ donation. Jewish law proscribes desecration of the dead, which has been interpreted by many to mean that Judaism prohibits organ donation. Additionally, there were rabbinic issues surrounding the concept of brain death, the state in which organs are typically harvested. As a result, many patients died waiting for organs.

So Israel has decided to try a new system that would give transplant priority to patients who have agreed to donate their organs. In doing so, it has become the first country in the world to incorporate “nonmedical” criteria into the priority system, though medical necessity would still be the first priority.
Dr. Jacob Lavee

The Israeli program was initiated by Dr. Jacob Lavee, a cardiothoracic surgeon who heads the heart transplant program of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. In 2005, he had two ultra-Orthodox, Haredi Jewish patients on his ward who were awaiting heart transplants. The patients confided in him that they would never consider donating organs, in accordance with Haredi Jewish beliefs, but that they had absolutely no qualms about accepting organs from others.

That Haredi Jews would not donate organs was a well-known fact in Israel. But this was the first time anyone had openly admitted the paradox to Dr. Lavee.

The unfairness of a segment of society unwilling to donate organs, but happy to accept them, nagged at Dr. Lavee. After he operated on both patients, giving each a new lease on life, he put together a proposal that would give priority to those patients willing to donate their organs.

Working with rabbis, ethicists, lawyers, academics and members of the public, he and other medical experts worked to create a new law in 2010, which will take full effect this year: if two patients have identical medical needs for an organ transplant, priority will be given to the patient who has signed a donor card, or whose family member has donated an organ in the past.

A critical component of the law’s success was engaging the country’s highly influential religious leadership, which had long been resistant to organ donation. Even among the half of the country that is devoutly secular, when faced with death and whether to donate organs. “Suddenly the families become very religious,” said Dr. Yael Haviv, the medical director of the organ donation program at Sheba. “Suddenly they ask the rabbis.”

But in the Talmud, saving a life supersedes most everything, and many commandments may be transgressed if the goal is to save a life. Based on this, the argument could be made that organ donation fulfilled one of the highest religious virtues. The lawmakers also agreed on a definition of brain death that was acceptable to the vast majority of rabbis (though not the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), as well as local imams, making organ donation kosher to a large segment of the population.

This was accompanied by a huge public awareness campaign about organ donation, with radio, TV, billboard and newspaper ads promoting the new priority system and countering the perception that Jewish law forbids donation. Shopping centers and coffee houses were blanketed with organ donation information. The response was overwhelming, as people registered in droves as potential donors.

“We were swamped,” says Tamar Ashkenazi, the director of the National Transplant Center of Israel. The machine that prints the organ donation cards usually handles 3,000 a month — 5,000 if two workers are dedicated full-time to operating it. During the 10 weeks of the publicity campaign, 70,000 Israelis registered for organ donation cards.

The consent rate from families has already increased, and the number of organs available for patients has increased in parallel. Transplants have so far increased by more than 60 percent over all this year.

Other aspects of the new law provide “fair compensation” for living donors that covers 40 days of lost wages, plus expenses related to the donation. “This serves to remove the disincentives to donation,” Dr. Lavee says. Kidney transplants from live donors — nearly always from family members of patients — increased dramatically.

The new system, though, is not without its critics. Many say that any “nonmedical” factors in organ allocation are inherently unethical. Some say that the law enshrines religious discrimination, since Haredi patients decline to donate based on their religious beliefs.

But many feel that the new law adds a measure of fairness to the process, and now there are more organs available for everyone. It will be interesting to see how things play out when the priority system goes into effect on April 1.

Danielle Ofri is the author of three books, including “Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients.” She is an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine and editor in chief of the Bellevue Literary Review.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Israel and the "Arab Spring"

Another wonderful piece by AJC Executive Director, David Harris. While the world comes to terms with the fact that the so called Arab Spring is proving to look very differently from what particularly the West hoped it would, what are the implications for Israel?

Rabbi Mario

Copied form the Jerusalem Post
Israel, the “Arab Spring,” and the Wishful Thinkers

When it comes to Israel, advice is never in short supply.

It’s doled out steadily by diplomats, scholars, editorial writers, columnists, you name it.

The onset of the so-called Arab Spring – in actuality, it more closely approximates an Islamic Winter – has unleashed another tidal wave of counsel and critique.

They are summed up along the following lines:

“[T]he Arab Spring holds out a historic opportunity to complete the peace process in the Middle East” (French Foreign Minister Alain JuppĂ©);

“The Arab Spring is an Opportunity for Israel” (Natalia Simanovsky, The Journal of Turkish Weekly);

“Netanyahu’s prescription is to do nothing” (New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman);

“There is a need [for Israel] to look over the horizon” (Salman Shaikh, director of theBrookings Doha Center).

It’s as if some observers, wanting desperately to wax optimistic about the moment, fail to take note of another reality, one far more sobering for Israel.

Since the upheaval began in Tunisia, Israel’s immediate security environment has become more, not less, challenging. The chances for peace, already remote, seem still more distant.

I say this with profound regret.

As a long-time supporter of a two-state agreement, I wish for nothing more than the day that enduring peace will come for Israelis and Palestinians alike – and a more comprehensive settlement with the Arab world as well.

But wishful thinking has its limitations, especially in this rough-and-tumble neighborhood.

Consider the stark reality that Jerusalem faces today:

Let’s begin with Lebanon, long under Syria’s iron grip and now increasingly in the hands of Syria’s – and Iran’s – dependable ally, Hezbollah.

Named a terrorist group by the U.S., Hezbollah operates a state within a state. It has a well-trained militia and stockpiles of missiles and rockets estimated in the tens of thousands. The group’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, boasts that his weaponry can reach every part of Israel, a nation that, in his view, has no right to exist.

Then there’s Syria. Yes, the very same Syria that’s in the news every day for the savagery of its regime.

Should President Bashar al-Assad be ousted, could Israel then rest peacefully? Hardly.

Who would replace him? Most probably, Sunni Islamists. Al-Qaeda has already endorsed the opposition forces. And who would control Syria’s stockpile of advanced weapons, courtesy of Russia and Iran?

And if Assad somehow manages to hang on, with help from Tehran and Moscow, Israel now has an even better idea of the unbridled brutality of its northern neighbor.

To the east looms Iran.

Here is a nation that flouts UN Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency strictures, while developing nuclear-weapons capability and calling for Israel’s elimination. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on January 29th that Iran could get the bomb within a year.

Closer to the east lies Jordan, which has had quietly convergent interests with Israel for decades – largely driven by common fear of Palestinian radicalism – but may yet be touched by street protests and surging Islamist political muscle.

To the south is Gaza, the Hamas stronghold.

Want to understand Hamas? Read its charter, which sets forth its worldview in chilling detail. There is no place for Israel and not much love of Jews, either.

Listen to the words of Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who was just in Iran, where he declared for the umpteenth time that his group “will never recognize Israel.”

And consider the thousands of deadly missiles and rockets in Gaza, supplemented regularly by the smuggling of weapons across the lawless Sinai and through the tunnels.

Then there’s Egypt.

We all pray that, whoever ultimately gains power in Cairo, the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, will hold.

But with two-thirds of Egyptian voters choosing the Muslim Brotherhood or even more extreme Salafists, who today can be optimistic about the direction of Egyptian-Israeli ties?

And take note that, in the past year alone, there have been 12 separate terrorist attacks on the Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel (and Jordan).

Then there is the West Bank and the ruling Palestinian Authority.

President Mahmoud Abbas has been billed as Israel’s best hope for an accord.

Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Abbas, missing in action for most of the last three years, has had an odd way of demonstrating his commitment to the peace process. And his PA keeps undercutting the spinmeisters by glorifying Palestinian terrorists who have murdered innocent Israelis, and by teaching incitement to children.

To make matters still worse, Abbas has now embraced Hamas, the very group that ousted his forces from Gaza in a bloody coup nearly five years ago.

I don’t know how long that marriage will last, but even if it turns out to be short-lived, what message does it send to Israel and the world?

The PA is ready to join forces with a group openly calling for Israel’s destruction, and whose leader in Gaza travels to Iran to embrace its rulers. And yet Israel is supposed to see in all this an "historic opportunity"?

Oh, and by the way, one of Hamas’s demands for tying the knot was dropping Salam Fayyad as prime minister. There goes the one Palestinian leader who, more than any other, invited hope for a better future.

And in this tour d’horizon, a word about Turkey.

Once a close regional partner of Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the country in a different direction.

He has embraced Hamas, pandered to the Arab street, and lambasted Israel every chance he gets, including in the recent dust-up with American author Paul Auster.

New chances for Israel thanks to the “Arab Spring”?

Much as I’d love to see them, where exactly are they?

So, to the advice givers, at least the well-intentioned among them, here are my two cents: Please show more restraint and greater understanding of Israel’s difficult regional situation today.

Maybe in speeches, editorials, and columns there are easy answers. In Israel’s real world, alas, there are not.

Being Environmentally Friendly

As Or Hadash moves to an eco-era, starting with lighting soy candles every Shabbat as an example of taking care of our environment, look what is "cooking" in Israel.
Rabbi Analia

Copied From Israel21c.org
Cooking Oil - The Perfect Pesticide
By Karin Kloosterman
February 02, 2012

Insects and fungi are no match for a 100% safe blend of edible oils formulated by an Israeli agricultural research institute.

Volcani scientist Samuel Gan-Mor.

Thin-skinned vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini are susceptible to insect infestation and fungi, and even new organic pesticides are not completely safe, says Israeli agriculture scientist Samuel Gan-Mor.

He's got a new approach that could revolutionize the way bugs are kept from crops: a mixture of edible, off-the-shelf canola or rapeseed oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and even the slightly more expensive olive oil.

Seeds, the starting point of all oils, have developed complex evolutionary tricks to avoid being preyed upon. Unknown active ingredients in these oils, probably paired with the ability to block the breathing pathways of invertebrates and hamper their mobility, may explain why the oil solution developed by Gan-Mor and his colleagues works.

For years at Israel's renowned government-run Volcani Institute in Beit Dagan, Gan-Mor has been working on optimizing industrial sprayers to cover more plant surface with less pesticide. The sprayers now sold worldwide by the Israeli companies Raz Spayers and Degania Sprayers.

The advanced sprayer is part of the package containing the blend of oils, along with an emulsifier. The product is being marketed as a new organic pesticide alternative that is 100 percent safe, even if used minutes before harvest. Chemical pesticides require a "cooling off" period between application and harvesting because of the health risks involved to people and wildlife.

Conventionally grown tomatoes, for instance, carry at least 35 pesticide residues, according to the 2008 US Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program.

Oil-based pest control is simple and inexpensive.

Some pesticides are hormone disruptors, cancer-causing agents or neurotoxins that can have harmful effects on the brain and on the growth and development of babies. Little is known about how these pesticides, which we can't smell, see or taste on our produce, act in combination. Alternative earth-friendly solutions are much in demand.

Greasing the wheels of tomorrow's pesticides

A variety of natural oils is already known to keep insects and fungi at bay, including castor oil. But since there are some toxins in castor oil, Gan-Mor ruled it out, he told ISRAEL21c.

Instead he started looking to simple, cheap cooking oils, like canola or soybean oil. The Volcani Institute, a Ministry of Agriculture Agricultural Research Organization, is partnering with a company called Shelef to have these oil formulations tested at 20 different farms in Israel.

Other harmless solutions that could be used don't last more than a year in storage and can break down if not stored in a cool environment. Gan-Mor's oil emulsion, created moments before use, avoids these problems.

"If I take oil and store it next to the farm in room temperature, then all I need is a small processing machine that will turn the oil into an emulsion. With very little preservative and surfactants, I am not making huge quantities like factories need to, and I can store it for three days as I need it," Gan-Mor explains.

"The only problem with these ‘soft materials' is that ... they need to be applied often, about once a week, and the oils must be applied generously," he says.

Smaller farms could share a sprayer machine, and basic materials are cheap - about $1 a liter for the oil, which is heavily diluted with water. All that's needed besides the solution is access to electricity to run the sprayer.

Shelef is investigating and optimizing formulations to match specific crops and conditions, but is already selling a complete system ( uri.yaffe@gmail.com ) to interested farmers.

"The oil blends could be created to match the crop or the insect," says Gan-Mor, who continues to work on making the agriculture industry less toxic to humankind.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New app making healthy choices easier

Israel is conscious about creating a healthier future.

Rabbi Analia

Copied from Isreal 21c

The Smart Phone Way To Better Eating
By David Benovadia

An Israeli native's smartphone app, Fooducate, brings new ease to making more healthful choices in the supermarket.

The Fooducate app makes it easier for people to avoid unhealthful products.

Despite all the consciousness-raising about eating more healthfully over the past few years, people are still getting fatter, and rates of nutrition-related diseases show no sign of leveling off. Israeli-American Hemi Weingarten, founder and CEO of Fooducate, has made it his mission to make people more aware of the "bad stuff" they are putting in their bodies.

"As a father of three young children, I try my best to buy and prepare healthy foods for my family," says Weingarten. "But trips to the supermarket are really challenging -- so many products, so many promises. If everything is so good for us, why is everyone getting fatter and sicker?"

Fooducate started out as a blog, inspired by a grocery shopping trip. "I checked the ingredients on a container of yogurt and noticed a substance called Red No. 40, a food coloring that has been linked to hyperactivity in children," says Weingarten. "It's banned in some European countries, and in others products that contain it require a warning label."

After that experience, Weingarten began reading the small print on cans and packages to see what his family was consuming. "I read literature and analyzed data -- and was shocked to learn at how the commercial food industry was stuffing us with unsafe substances and risky chemicals, and manipulating consumers into buying things that are bad for them," he says.

Fooducate turned into a very successful blog about healthful eating. But Weingarten wanted to go beyond the web. Last year he created the Fooducate app, which has been downloaded more than a million times for iPhones and Android devices.

"I decided to parlay my love for technology and my concern for healthy eating into an app that would make it easier for people to make healthier shopping choices at the supermarket," Weingarten says.

What's really in those chips?

Working with a team of Israeli developers in Tel Aviv, and a sales office in the San Francisco area, Weingarten developed an app that automatically downloads data to shoppers as they wheel their carts through the market. They point their smart phone's camera at a product's barcode, which is then uploaded to Fooducate's servers. The product is checked against Fooducate's database of more than 200,000 products, sending back information about the ingredients, including any warning flags.

Using a unique algorithm, the app gives a grade to the product based on its overall healthfulness. Shoppers can easily and clearly see if there are excess sugar and sodium, tricky trans fats, additives and preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, controversial food colorings or other problem ingredients lurking in the item. If the product scores poorly, Fooducate offers healthier alternatives.

By making it easier to figure out what people are ingesting, Weingarten hopes that more people will make better choices. So far, he says, users have scanned more than 10 million products, and the app has changed eating habits for many of them.

"According to our data, more than 80 percent of users said that the app convinced them to make better choices, while 50% said they bought a better, healthier product they had never used before, thanks to the recommendation function.

Working with food manufacturers

Fooducate is not afraid of taking on the food establishment, he adds. "Food manufacturers realize that something is going on, that the movement to healthier eating is a real one. So they are adapting themselves to the new environment, pushing their own healthier alternatives."

In fact, one of the revenue streams Weingarten is examining is "healthy alternative" advertising by companies. "Say a cereal company's product gets a low score," he says. "We are examining the possibility of presenting that same company's healthier cereal as an alternative in the information box."

This will encourage manufacturers to come up with more healthy products, using Fooducate data for their product strategy, says Weingarten. This would give manufacturers an opportunity to reach more customers and provide what they really want. Several food makers have already approached him about this concept.

Fooducate has about 10 employees and is funded by several investors. "We are not sponsored or funded by the food industry in any way, and we certainly are not for sale," Weingarten says.

"We want people to look at us as sort of the Good Housekeeping of healthy products, perhaps even developing a symbol of approval that can go on products showing that we gave them high marks. Just like the food companies want to work with us, we want to work with them to help them develop healthier products. We believe that we can be that 'third eye' keeping tabs on things, to enable more people to eat a better, healthier diet.

Israel and Nuclear Iran

I hope you take 12 minutes of your day to watch this wonderful video describing the situation Israel is confronted with vis-a-vis the Iran threat.

Have a great week!


Rabbi Mario