Thou Shalt Innovate

Sharing the inspiration and hopeful story that is Israel

By Chandrea Serebro

If ever you wanted to hear good news about Israel, skip the small fry and head straight to thought leader and author Avi Jorisch, who took it upon himself to shout it out to the world. It came to him with a bang, quite literally, when both he and the people of Israel spent the summer of 2014 rushing in and out of bomb shelters during the Israel-Gaza conflict Operation Protective Edge. “This experience had a deep impact on me, and I found myself extraordinarily depressed. I had experienced a war before, but experiencing a war in Israel as a father, my kids with me in the shelter, was harrowing.”

New York-born, but Israeli-raised, Avi had spent the vast majority of his career focused on radical Islam and national security, as well as previously serving in the US Departments of Treasury and Defense. With a degree in history from Binghamton University in New York and a master’s degree in Islamic history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he also studied Arabic and Islamic philosophy at the American University in Cairo and al-Azhar University, the preeminent institution of Sunni Islamic learning. Avi was no stranger to the tensions between Israel and the Arab world, yet he experienced a deep-seated sense of disappointment in all that he knew.

“As a student in the 1990s, a period full of hope and optimism, I felt that I would be the first generation to experience peace between Israel and the Arab world. I travelled around the region hoping to witness a lasting change. But the people of the region have been plagued with seemingly never-ending violence.” Avi made a conscious shift in his perspective, taking the lesser-travelled route in a time of turmoil to look past Israel as a place of war, terrorism, and problems, and find the greatness that was happening in Israel, every day, and show that face to the world.

“There is no single narrative that defines Israel. Yes, the problems are there and they are all true. But I realised we needed to focus on what the world doesn’t know.” What Avi found in this new quest was immediately heart-warming and inspiring. “I suddenly began to see how Israeli technology brings light to so many people around the world in so many ways – to the sick, to the hungry, to the needy – making the world a better place.” Avi began noticing and chronicling the life-altering innovations of Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish, wanting most of all to publicise them and thereby change the narrative of Israel from a single (mostly negative) track to one of infinite possibility.

“I saw an inspirational and hopeful story begin to emerge.” For too long, says Avi, we have been feeding the next generation a diet of misdirected ways through which their connection to Judaism has become defined – partly through the Holocaust, and partly through the powerful and negative images they are seeing on TV depicting the relations between the Jews and the Arabs – “none of these conducive to engendering any goodwill towards Israel”. Israel wasn’t created for war, reminds Avi, but rather as a “home and refuge” for a people. This original story gave the people of Israel an innate responsibility to tackle the problems of the 20th and 21st century – and that, he says, “represents the most sublime hopes and dreams of our people”. “The most productive way to stimulate a close relationship between the next generation and Israel is to offer an advanced view of Israel, to tap into the heart and soul of the place, which is the hopefulness that the country embodies, warts and all. To make them aware of all that Israel is doing to make the world a better place.”

And Avi’s book Thou Shalt Innovate does the job. It is brimming with stories of Israeli innovation and inspiration, introducing the reader to Israelis who exude light in the face of darkness; people who have chosen hope and healing over death and destruction. “Israel is not the most innovative place on the planet. The Bloomberg Innovation Index rates it only as number ten.” But where Israel shines, says Avi, is with new ideas and the art of taking something from nothing and making it great. Israel is the start-up nation of the world, and what sets Israel apart even further is that not only is there innovation, but it is made meaningful through curing the sick, helping the needy, and feeding the hungry.

“If you take a look at the top ten problems facing the world,” says Avi, “there is bound to be someone from Israel looking to solve them.” Israel innovates to better the world. So how does Israel do it, asks Avi? Israel’s diversity (Muslims, Christians, Jews – of every stripe); the national reverence for secular knowledge and thought, embodied by her universities and military; the DNA of the Jews, which encourages the spread of morality and social justice far and wide, “the mission of our people, to bring more light to the world”. In these ways, through these strengths, “Israel is showing each and every one of us what we can do, no matter how small or big, to better the world if we all just dream bigger,” says Avi. “And I appoint each and every Jew around the world to be an ambassador for the State of Israel, to elevate and inspire others out there in any and every way.”

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In a box

15 earth-shaking Israeli technologies

(adapted from Thou Shalt Innovate)

1955 — The solar water collector

Dr Harry Zvi Tabor develops the black stripping that gathers solar energy and connects it to a contraption to collect heated water. This new type of solar heater, also known as the dud shemesh, yields more hot water and produces more electricity than a turbine.

1963 — The chemical structure of marijuana

Raphael Mechoulam discovers the chemical structure of the active compounds in marijuana, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is later used to treat seizures, among other disorders.

1965 — Modern drip irrigation

Simcha Blass and Kibbutz Hatzerim sign a contract to start Netafim and mass-produce the world’s first modern drip irrigator, which helps farmers, cooperatives, and governments conserve more water.

1979 — A drug for Multiple Sclerosis

Michel Revel discovers a novel way to treat multiple sclerosis by experimenting on foreskin. He develops Rebif, one of the leading drugs to treat MS.

1985 — Grain bags

Dr Shlomo Navarro develops the Grain Cocoon, a large, hermetically sealed bag for rice, grain, spices, and legumes that doesn’t require pesticides.

1987 — Preventing bird and aircraft collisions

Using radar, motorised gliders, drones, and a network of bird watchers, Yossi Leshem creates a precise map of the one billion birds that fly over Israel each year. His research reduces the collision rate between birds and planes by 76 percent, saving almost a billion dollars.

1990 — A better bandage

Bernard Bar-Natan develops the Emergency Bandage, a unique life-saving product that instantly controls massive bleeding and prevents infections in trauma situations.

1993– The internet firewall

Gil Shwed, Shlomo Kramer, and Marius Nacht create the first firewall to protect corporate and personal data online.

1993– A GPS for brain surgeries

Imad and Reem Younis launch Alpha Omega, the largest Arab high-tech company in Israel. It has created the industry standard for devices that act as a GPS inside the brain for deep brain stimulation procedures used to treat essential tremor, Parkinson’s, and other neurological disorders.

1998 — The PillCam

Dr Gavriel Iddan creates an ingestible camera and radio transmitter that can travel through the gastrointestinal tract to take photos of your insides. The PillCam provides doctors with an effective tool for less invasive screening, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal-related diseases.

2001 — Robotic back surgery

Moshe Shoham and Eli Zehavi, the founders of Mazor Robotics, create a guidance system that transforms spinal procedures into more of a science. Mazor’s revolutionary technology allows doctors to take a CT image before surgery and create a three-dimensional blueprint of the spine. This gives medical personnel the ability to plan the operation with a high degree of precision.

2004 — The Exoskeleton walking device

Dr Amit Goffer creates ReWalk, an exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk again.

2005 — Reviving extinct plants

Using ancient seeds found in Masada in the early 1960s, Dr Sarah Sallon and Dr Elaine Solowey find a way to resurrect something that vanished roughly two thousand years ago: the Judean date palm, one of the ancient Mediterranean’s most important plants.

2006 — First responder geo-locator and ambucycle

Eli Beer starts a group of volunteer EMTs called United Hatzalah, all of whom have a standardised app on their smartphones that acts as a dispatch, immediately notifying the five closest people to a victim. These EMTs often travel by way of ambucycles — refitted motorcycles that act as mini-ambulances and are nimble enough to weave through traffic.

2011 — The Iron Dome Missile System

Brigadier General Danny Gold and Chanoch Levine successfully down a Hamas rocket from Gaza using the revolutionary Iron Dome targeting system. Using advanced radar and software, this device predicts a rocket’s trajectory and shoots it out of the sky.

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