Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama's start up tour

Obama's start up tour

The president will get a high-tech glimpse of some of Israel's most exciting products of the future, plus a unique nanotech gift.

A Jerusalem municipality worker hangs an American flag near the President's House in Jerusalem on March 12 in preparation for the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama. Photo by Yonatan Sindel

To mark US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will give him a gift that is small in size but shows off Israel’s enormous high-technology expertise.

The gift – replicas of the Declarations of Independence of the United States of America and the State of Israel inscribed side by side on a nano-chip – was specially created by scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute.

The replicas were chiseled on a gold-coated silicon chip on an area 0.04mm2 by 0.00002mm, using a focused beam of gallium ions, and affixed to a Jerusalem stone dating from the Second Temple period (first century BCE to first century CE).

“The unique gift symbolizes the main messages of the visit — the strong and deep state of bilateral ties, the link of thousands of years between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, and the leading technological status of Israel’s research and development centers,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Aside from politics, a central theme of the presidential visit this week is Israeli-made world-changing technologies.

“Our goal for the visit is to emphasize two things: One is the deep and abiding connection between Israel and the US. The second is that we would like to present to the world the products of the future that originate in Israel and which will be used in many places around the world,” said Liran Dan, head of the National Information Directorate.

The American president will officially launch his Israel stopover with a photo-op at the Iron Dome missile defense system. The system – the unexpected hero of November’s Gaza rocket attacks on Israel – is being brought to the airport for Obama’s convenience.

The president will inspect three other missile defense systems: Magic Wand, still under development and designed against short and intermediate missiles; Arrow 2 against long-range missiles; and Arrow 3, still being developed.

Netanyahu will introduce Obama to three Israeli technology leaders of tomorrow: middle-school students Yarin Frenkel, Omer Zamir and Omer Shoshan, who won the 2012 RoboWaiter robotics contest in Connecticut for their robot “butler” designed to help the disabled. It has 18 engines, sensors, a compass and a camera, and features “human” qualities to help users feel more at ease with the technology. The boys, along with Technion experts, are now working to perfect it.

Yarin Frenkel, Omer Zamir and Omer Shoshan will meet President Obama. Photo courtesy of the Technion

World-changing innovations

The startup nation is brimming with technology prowess ready to impress the president.

On March 21, Obama’s entourage will start the day at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. He will view the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book and then spend half an hour at a special exhibition, “Israeli Technology for a Better World.”

Chosen by a professional committee headed by Prime Minister’s Office National Economic Council Chairman Prof. Eugene Kandel, the products to be shown to Obama include:

Technion graduate Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, created this battery-powered external skeleton that enables paraplegics to walk, sit, stand and climb stairs.

ISRAEL21c was the first to report on this quasi-robotic ambulation system, which physicist Stephen Hawking called “one of the five most important machines for humanity.”

Developed in association with the Hebrew University, Mobileye’s pioneering Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) has been implemented so far by BMW, Volvo, GM and Ford in over one million vehicles. Beginning in 2014, the system will become standard for new vehicles as per the standards set by Euro-NCAP.

Phinergy: The aluminum-air battery designed for electric vehicles will allow for a three-fold increase in travel range and a reduction in energy consumption. The system, based on research at Bar-Ilan University, also boasts zero CO2 emissions, full recyclability, safety and low cost.

ElMindA’s Brain Network Activation technology aims to revolutionize diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders with its trademarked, non-invasive brain network activation (BNA) technology. One day, every psychiatrist and neurologist in the world may routinely use this groundbreaking technology in the office.

Developed by Technion professor Alon Wolf, the snake robot is a search-and-rescue device designed to “crawl” through wreckage without causing additional structural collapses and provide vital information about the status of people who might be trapped or the location of hazardous materials. Each of the robot’s many links is comprised of engines, computer, sensors, wireless communication and batteries, and the snake “head” includes a camera. Wolf has also introduced another robotic snake, CardioARM, to cut down the need for open-heart surgery.

Developed by Ben-Gurion University students under the supervision of Prof. Rami Puzis of the Department of Information Systems Engineering, MinDesktop is a thought-controlled, hands-free computer for the disabled that could enable people to operate a computer without using a keyboard or mouse — only their brainwaves. The BGU technology features a helmet equipped with 14 EEG connect points that sense brain activity.
MinDesktop team Ariel Rozen, Ori Ossmy, and Ofir Tam

The president will spend just 50 hours in Israel but his schedule is chock-a-block. The United States Embassy in Tel Aviv has been drumming up excitement for Obama’s visit. They released a video clip ahead of the historic visit, showing Israelis welcoming the president with a cardboard cutout.

The Embassy also held a contest for tickets to see Obama’s keynote speech Thursday at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

On the political front, Obama, who is the fifth serving US president to come to Israel, will hold bilateral talks with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. He will also take part in a festive ceremony at which Obama will plant a tree and meet three Israeli youth — a boy from a community near the Gaza Strip that has come under rocket fire; a girl participating in a science program named after the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon; and an Arab girl from Jaffa.

Obama will then take part in a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu and hold a joint press conference.Obama will also travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Meetings on an empty stomach are never a good idea. Obama’s visit includes sampling the best of Israeli cuisine – first at a dinner at the Prime Minister’s residence where chef Shalom Kadosh, who also cooked for Carter, Clinton and Bush during their visits, will be in charge of the menu.

He will be hosted at a state dinner by President Peres, where he will receive the Presidential Medal of Distinction. Newly crowned Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, as well as some 120 senior politicians, artists, scientists and writers will dine with the president. Israeli musicians Idan Raichel, Rita and David D’or are in charge of the entertainment.

Finally, Obama will not go home empty handed. Sara Netanyahu has gifts for the whole presidential family: a silver Seder plate for the First Lady, to be used at the Seders the Obamas hold each year in the White House; pendants for their daughters; and a toy for their dog Bo.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It’s time to end the slavery of narrow-mindedness

It’s time to end the slavery of narrow-mindedness 

The month of Nisan has begun, a month in which one of four Jewish New Years begins, and in which Passover marks our exodus from slavery; a perfect time to open our minds.

By Arie Hasit / Jewish World blogger

Spring is the season of rebirth, an opportunity to start all over again. 

"Great joy, great joy, spring is here, Passover is coming," go the words to the only Passover song I know that isn't part of the Haggadah. And the coming of spring is indeed an occasion to celebrate. Spring is the season of rebirth, an opportunity to start all over again.

Judaism wholeheartedly embraces the concept of spring as a time for new beginnings. So much so, in fact, that the Bible considers Nisan, the month in which Passover starts, as the first month of the year, and the Mishna considers the first of the month one of four New Year's Days.

The Passover holiday celebrates this new beginning, but, unlike the High Holiday season in which Jews are encouraged to repent their misdeeds and behave better as individuals, Passover calls on its celebrants to be introspective not only as individuals but as a people. At one point in the seder, we say "In each generation, every person must view himself as if he personally went out of Egypt," as a call to understand our personal journey. Yet, at another point, we say, "This year we have been slaves, next year we will be free people," a reminder that we undertake our journey from slavery to freedom together with our entire community.

A Hassidic teaching views Egypt in both a literal and metaphoric sense, and looks at the connection between its Hebrew name "Mitzrayim" and its second two letters, "tzar," meaning narrow. The teaching goes on to explain that while the Jews were brought out of Egypt in the past, today we must all see the ways in which we and our lives are narrow, and that we will only become free, as individuals and as a people, when we lose those constrictions.

Since last Passover, I have written extensively about the areas in which I see Israeli and Jewish society needing to be released from our self-imposed slavery. In some instances, unfortunately, history only seems to repeat itself, and I find myself feeling that I need to republish some of the articles I wrote a year ago. For example, before Rosh Hashannah, I wrote about acts of violence perpetrated by Jews against religious minorities, nicknamed "Price Tag" attacks. Now, on the 7th of Nisan, I found myself once again participating in a counter-protest, calling on the government to view these acts seriously and work toward their prevention.

Over the summer, I wrote about a disturbing trend I saw in Judaism in which men sought to control women, particularly regarding the "modesty police" and responses to Women of the Wall. Since writing that article, women continued being detained for the “crime” of wearing a prayer shawl, and a young religious woman with a lovely voice was suspended from school for singing in front of men. These moments remind me that what might look like isolated incidents are in fact part of a bigger problem. In many ways, these are perfect examples of the slavery that all Jews and Israelis must strive to escape.

Yet, at the same time, especially since the beginning of this holiday season, there has been reason for optimism. Near the end of the protest against violence toward minorities, we received a letter from Rabbi Shai Piron, a newly elected Knesset member of Yesh Atid, praising our action and calling on Israel to view education against racism as a top priority. In the days that followed, Piron was announced the next Education Minister. We can only hope that he will follow through on his beautiful words. Also present at that protest was Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, a rabbi at the settlement of Har Adar. The words of this Orthodox rabbi that were spoken at the event moved and inspired everyone who heard him. He certainly showed, as Emily Levy-Shochat and I recently claimed, that there are moderate rabbis, even in Israel.

On Rosh Hodesh, the first day of our new year, I returned to the Western Wall to join the Women of the Wall in their holiday prayers. The prayers that day were some of the most moving ones that I had participated in for some time. The police, to their credit, maintained order at the site, and not a single person was arrested. Many of the male "protesters" against the women simply sang loudly from the men's side, which resulted in lots of spirited prayer on both sides of the mechitza (prayer barrier). As the service neared its end, there was another spectacular site. Behind the women singing the Hallel service was a group of religious girls who were visiting the Western Wall upon returning from a school trip to Poland. Those young women sang and danced together, completely undisturbed. For that hour and a half during the Women of the Wall service, women's voices were truly allowed to shine.

The month of Nisan has only just begun, and I am still only cautiously optimistic. Yet at the same time, I feel that we are slowly witnessing positive change. Israelis are moving beyond their narrow conceptions into a wider view of Judaism in the world – one where we are able to see people as different while respecting who they are and what they do. I, for one, am excited for this new year. This should be the year where we release ourselves from the slavery of our narrow-mindedness and all become free women and men.

Arie Hasit, a student at the rabbinical seminary of Machon Schechter, serves as the spiritual leader for NOAM- the youth wing of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He lives in Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Female Israeli MKs join Women of the Wall; no arrests for first time in months

Female Israeli MKs join Women of the Wall; no arrests for first time in months

MKs Stav Shaffir, Tamar Zandberg, and Michal Rozin join Anat Hoffman in donning prayer shawls at Jerusalem's Western Wall.
By Jonathan Lis |

Anat Hoffman, MK Stav Shaffir, and MK Tamar Zandberg at the Women of the Wall prayer service.
Photo by Michal Fattal

Three female Knesset members participated in a prayer service held by the Women of the Wall in the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.

According to the legislators, their participation in the prayer service prevented the arrest of other women who came to worship. This marks the first time in many months in which no arrests were made at a Women of the Wall event.

The three women - MK Stav Shafir (Labor), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), and MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), confronted policemen who tried to prevent their entry into the area with prayer shawls – an accouterment traditionally used by men only – in their possession.

“At first they tried to stop us from entering the Wall Plaza on the grounds that we constitute a disturbance of public order but there is nothing that 100 women armed with prayer shawls can’t do," Shaffir said. "Surrounded by police, both male and female, and to the shouts of the ultra-Orthodox men and blasts of the ram’s horn from the other side of the fence – we stood facing the Wall and we prayed."

According to Zandberg, they fought with the police at the site and refused their demand to leave the prayer shawls outside the compound.

“I demand to enter. The extremist stream’s interpretation of the Holy Places Law is unacceptable to me, and I refuse to leave the prayer shawl outside,” said Zandberg. “I am a secular woman but I identify with these women’s struggle for freedom of expression and religion.”

Shaffir echoed Zandberg's comments. “I don’t usually put on a prayer shawl but I do feel it’s an obligation and a great privilege to stand here and see to it that all the Jews in the world can pray however they desire," she said. "It is untenable for one faction in Judaism to take ownership of the place that is sacred to all the Jews in the world. At a time when there are real disputes among the various streams of Judaism about the right way to worship God, we must remember that more connects us than divides us, and the little we have in our power to do is to enable all men and women to pray to the Creator to the best of their understanding.”

MK Miri Regev (Likud) condemned Shaffir and Zandberg, saying the two have hurt the feelings of the Jewish people.

“Damaging symbols of government and anarchistic actions have for a long time been a national sport among the extreme left in Israel. It is necessary to condemn this despicable behavior that tries to harm the Holy of Holies and hurt the feelings of the Jewish people and the public in Israel.”

New pope has history of good relations with Jewish community

New pope has history of good relations with Jewish community

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was first to sign petition demanding justice in AMIA bombing; rabbi calls him a ‘warm and sweet and modest man’

Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Bergoglio, who took the name of Pope Francis, was elected on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (photo credit: AP/Natacha Pisarenko, file)

JTA – Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal who was elected pope late Wednesday and will take the name Francis I, is said to have a good relationship with Argentinian Jews.

Bergoglio, 76, a Jesuit, was the choice of the College of Cardinals following two days of voting in Vatican City. He is the first pope to come from outside Europe in more than a millennium; reflecting the changing demographics of Catholics, he comes from Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in September 2007.

Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope is a “warm and sweet and modest man” known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.

After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he “showed solidarity with the Jewish community,” Rosen said.

In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He also was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.

“Those who said Benedict was the last pope who would be a pope that lived through the Shoah, or that said there would not be another pope who had a personal connection to the Jewish people, they were wrong,” Rosen said.

Soon after the chimney of the Sistine Chapel sent up a puff of white smoke signifying that the cardinals had selected a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, Francis addressed thousands of faithful from the balcony of St. Peter’s Baslica.

“Buonasera,” he told them, saying “Good evening” in Italian, and thanked his fellow cardinals for going “almost to the ends of the earth” to find him.

Benedict was the first pontiff to step down since 1415.

Israel Singer, the former head of the World Jewish Congress, said he spent time working with Bergoglio when the two were distributing aid to the poor in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, part of a joint Jewish-Catholic program called Tzedaka.

“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering togeher,” Singer told JTA. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He’s going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”

Bergoglio also wrote the foreward of a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”

Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.

He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.

“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years,” Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. “We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church.”

In his visit to the Buenos Aires synagogue, according to the Catholic Zenit news agency, Bergoglio told the congregation that he was there to examine his heart “like a pilgrim, together with you, my elder brothers.”

“Today, here in this synagogue, we are made newly aware of the fact that we are a people on a journey and we place ourselves in God’s presence,” Zenit quoted the then-archbishop as saying. “We must look at him and let him look at us, to examine our heart in his presence and to ask ourselves if we are walking blamelessly.”

Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, offered Italian Jewry’s congratualations to the new pope with the “most fervent wishes” that his pontificate could bring “peace and brotherhood to all humanity.”

In particular, Gattegna voiced the hope that there would be a continuation “with reciprocal satisfaction” of “the intense course of dialogue that the Jews have always hoped for and that has been also realized through the work of the popes who have led the church in the recent past.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pesach Jews Vs. Purim Jews: The Agony of our Dilemma

Pesach Jews Vs. Purim Jews: The Agony of our Dilemma
By Yossi Klein Halevi
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As I travel through North American Jewish communities, on a lecture tour about Israeli society in the aftermath of the elections, I sometimes feel as though I am in a time warp.
Find a large selection of articles, essays, videos, and more about Pesach from Shalom Hartman Institute scholars here: Pesach’s Many Questions: An Introduction
Visiting an Orthodox community, I may find myself back in the 1970s and 1980s, before the first Intifada convinced a majority of Israelis that the occupation is a mortal threat to the Jewish state; instead, right-wing American Jews will insist, Israel must continue building settlements and creating facts on the ground. And when I visit a liberal community, I may find myself back in the 1990s, before the second Intifada convinced that same majority of Israelis that a one-way peace process is likewise a mortal threat to the Jewish state; instead, left-wing American Jews will insist, a peace agreement is always within reach and just a matter of Israeli will.

And so I try to explain that most Israelis have internalized the left-right divide and agree with the left’s anxiety over the occupation and with the right’s anxiety over a delusional peace. For most Israelis, I note, a Palestinian state is an existential necessity that would save us from the demographic threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state - and also an existential threat that could turn greater Tel Aviv into the next Sderot, the Israeli town near Gaza that has absorbed thousands of rocket attacks in the last decade.

Most polls confirm the centrist persona of the Israeli majority. Asked whether they support a two-state solution, upwards of 70 percent of Israelis respond affirmatively. Asked whether a two-state solution would bring peace, upwards of 80 percent say no. In other words: Israelis want to be doves, but reality forces them to be hawks.

The rise of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party - appearing from nowhere to become the second largest party in the Knesset - is only the latest example of the longing of many Israelis for a centrist politics that embodies the realism of the left about the occupation and of the right about the peace process.

What most depresses me is that this insight - by now commonplace in Israeli discourse - comes as a revelation to many American Jews. The two most important Jewish communities in the world aren’t communicating.

During the recent elections, a puzzled American Jewish journalist asked me: Why aren’t Israelis debating the collapse of the peace process? My response was: Most of us have already resolved the issue. If there were a credible partner able to contain Hamas and address our red line issues, like the right of return, we would make the necessary territorial concessions. In the absence of a credible peace partner, we’re moving on with our lives.

American Jews today are divided over two anxieties relating to Israel’s future. Like Israelis, many American Jews are keenly aware of the external dangers facing the Jewish state. In a Middle East that is imploding and turning increasingly fundamentalist, and with Iran approaching the nuclear threshhold, there is a whiff of May 1967, the anxious weeks before the Six Day War, when threat pressed against Israel’s borders and war seemed imminent.

For many liberal American Jews, though, the primary focus of their Israel anxiety is on internal issues: the fraying of democracy, the seemingly irreversible occupation, the receding promise of peace.

A healthy people knows how to set its priorities of anxiety. It knows how to focus first on imminent threat. Yet a healthy people also knows that it cannot afford to allow even immediate threat to serve as pretext for denying long-term dangers.

Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Eypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naive.

The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. “Passover Jews” are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; “Purim Jews” are motivated by alertness to threat. Both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.

One reason the Palestinian issue is so wrenching for Jews is that it is the point on which the two commands of our history converge: The stranger in our midst is represented by a national movement that wants to usurp us.

And so a starting point of a healthy American Jewish conversation on Israel would be acknowledging the agony of our dilemma.

Imagine an Orthodox rabbi, a supporter of the settlers in Hebron, delivering this sermon to his congregation: My friends, our community has sinned against Israel. For all our devotion to the Jewish state and our concern for its survival, we have failed to acknowledge the consequences to Israel’s soul of occupying another people against its will.

Now imagine a liberal rabbi, a supporter of J Street, telling his congegration: My friends, our community has sinned against Israel. For all our devotion to the Jewish state and our concern for its democratic values, we have failed to acknowledge the urgency of existential threat once again facing our people.

When American Jews internalize or at least acknowledge each other’s anxieties, the shrillness of much of American Jewish debate over Israel will give way to a more nuanced conversation.

The good news is that parts of the Jewish community have begun that process. Jews from left and right are quietly meeting across the country, trying to nurture a civil conversation on Israel.

But civility is only the starting point. The goal is to create multidimensional Jews, capable of holding more than one insight about Israeli reality. It is to translate the centist Israeli ambivalence into American Jewish discourse.

Waze Named World's Best Mobile App

Waze Named World’s Best Mobile App
 BY: Viva Sarah
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Mobile navigation and traffic community app, Waze, is definitely headed in the right direction. The Israeli startup has been named Best Mobile App for 2013.

The world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app triumphed over the likes of Flipboard, Square and Dropbox to take the “Judges Choice – Best Overall Mobile App” prize at the 18th Annual Global Mobile awards.

“What an honor,” the company writes on its blog, “2013 marks the first time we’ve even been nominated, and we were in such great company.”

The Global Mobile Awards competition took place at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“Through these awards, we are proud to shine the light on the mobile industry’s many innovators and leaders, from all corners of the world,” said John Hoffman, CEO, GSMA. “This year’s new categories reflected the industry’s reach into many new sectors and we received more than 600 high-quality entries from across the mobile ecosystem. We would like to congratulate all Global Mobile Awards winners and thank the many hundreds of companies and organizations that support these awards by entering each year.”

Three other Israeli start-ups were nominated in the prestigious competition including MyCheck, uTest and recently sold Intucell.