69 Years Young

Despite its phenomenal success, the Modern Jewish State is still in its relative infancy.  Its prospects depend largely on whether the next generation of Israelis can emulate and build upon the achievements of its predecessors. Based on what our youngsters have accomplished during the last 12 months, however, the future is very bright.

Israeli high school students regularly win International awards.  This year, two Israelis won medals at the annual International Chemistry Olympiad in Tbilisi, Georgia. Israeli children won four medals at the Physics Olympiad in Zurich and six medals at the Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong.

An initiative by Israel’s Education Ministry has resulted in the addition of robotics into the curricula of some 300 Israeli elementary schools.  This should allow more Israeli schools to continue the success of Israel’s Rothschild-HaShomron High School in Binyamina, which won through to the International finals of the FIRST Robotics Competition in Shanghai and finished second of the 57 competing countries.

Israel’s leadership in the hi-tech revolution is being sustained by several programs. First Israel is producing educational curricula in science and technology, with a special emphasis on cyber-security.  Meanwhile, ORT’s Israel Sci-Tech Schools are receiving international recognition for their network of institutions that focus on the education of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  Finally, Israeli technical skills are being introduced very early, as Sagy Bar of the Rashi Foundation (a philanthropic group managing Israel’s new cyber education center) said, “… first grade they learn the letters, then how to read and how to write. We are building the next level of knowledge – how to code”.

Educational opportunities for Israeli schoolchildren are literally “out of this world”.  Israeli pupils were the only high school students to build a satellite for the European Union’s QB50 Thermosphere research program.  Their Cubesat (nano-satellite) Duchifat-2 is currently on board the International Space Station and will be placed into orbit in June.  Israeli kids can soar to great educational heights at an even younger age. For example, pupils from Yigal Alon elementary school sent a meteorological balloon up 15 miles and used two GoPro type cameras, flight data recorder, locator and radio transmitter to collect images and complete flight data.  Finally, last year, the Ramon Space Lab program ran as a pilot in 12 Israeli middle schools and this year it has been launched in 100 more.

Educational success in Israel is not limited to its Jewish population.  For the second year in a row, the Galilee Druze town of Beit Jann achieved the highest rate (99%) of students passing the high school matriculation exam. The Arab village of Abu al-Hija, outside Karmiel, came in second.  Meanwhile, three students from the Israeli-Arab Bustan El-Marj Sci-Tech High School (part of the ORT Sci-Tech network mentioned above) won 3rd prize at Israel’s Young Engineers’ Conference.  But top of the class (and Israel’s highest achieving pupil) is Mohammed Zeidan, from the Arab community of Kafr Manda in northern Israel. He scored 800 on Israeli’s Psychometric Entrance Test, the maximum possible score, and now plans to study electrical engineering at Israel’s prestige Technion Institute.

For those kids that are not so lucky, Israel recently allocated half a billion shekels ($130 million) to the budget for after-school informal education for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. And Israeli children of Ethiopian origin graduating from high school are narrowing the educational gap with 89% taking the matriculation tests compared with the national average of 94%.  The disadvantaged are also supported by charities such as Colel Chabad which recently awarded 100 orphans with academic scholarships to pay for tutoring, music lessons, summer camps and therapies to help them succeed both in school and socially.  But there are many children with special needs, and Israel is there for them too.  Take Ilanot for example - a Jerusalem school attended daily by 70 children aged six to twenty-one with physical and cognitive disabilities.  The school provides students with knowledge to improve motor function and help independence to increase their quality of life.

Israel’s children will grow up to continue the task of improving relations between all of Israel’s inhabitants and seeking peace with Israel’s neighbors. They will hopefully include some of those currently studying at the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Tabeetha school in Jaffa.  They will also include many of the 2,300 Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin and Druze children from 152 Israeli schools who come together regularly through their love of soccer.

Israel reaches out to Jewish children everywhere. The Naale/Elite Academy brings Jewish teenage girls from around the world for a free high school matriculation program in top Israeli religious educational institutions all over Israel.  Naale is fully subsidized and supervised by the Israeli Ministry of Education.

Finally, InterNations’ Family Life Index in 2016 reported that of the world’s 41 best countries to raise a family, Israel was 4th on the list, behind Austria, Finland and Sweden. The 2017 list has recently been published and Israel has risen to third.  Good childcare and education options were major factors.

Israel’s children – our future builders.

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com

50 Ways to Count on Israel

The 50th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem on May 24th will be celebrated during the 50 days between the Jewish festivals of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). This feature article focuses on the significance of the number 50 in many of the recent amazing achievements of the Jewish State.

Among Israel’s numerous medical innovations, ApiFix’s minimally invasive system has straightened the deformed spines of 50 adolescents within two years of being approved in Europe. And the Israeli breakthrough treatment hCDR1 from XTL Biopharmaceuticals is the first new treatment for Lupus sufferers in 50 years. Finally, when surgeons from Save a Child’s Heart mended the heart of baby Lisa from East Timor, the Southeast Asian nation became the 50th country to have children treated by surgeons from the life-saving Israeli organization.

It’s refreshing to see how much Israel has done for the environment in recent years.  Thanks to making a substantial improvement in water quality, the freshwater Yarkon Bleak fish has now returned to the mid-stretches of the Yarkon river, after an absence of 50 years. And it is an annual event to watch newborn sea turtles scamper “home” to the sea just 50 days after the mother turtles lay their eggs on clean Israeli beaches.  But Israel’s biggest cleantech achievement by far is the 700% increase in crops that Israel has managed to produce from the same amount of water it used 50 years ago.

Israel can be proud of its inclusive treatment of the less fortunate in society.  It is even building a new town where 50 Israeli families will be integrated with dozens of high-functioning special needs adults, who will be employed alongside regular workers in the local services. Another highlight is how the all-volunteer Israel Lawn Bowls Association for the Blind coaches 50 adults with visual disabilities at clubs in Israel.

One example (amongst many) of co-existence was a soccer tournament in the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye where Israeli children (50 Jews and 50 Arabs) were split up into six different soccer teams, each representing a 2016 World Cup country.  Another is the Moona outer space research center in the Israel-Arab town of Majd Al-Kurum in which 50 Jewish and 50 Muslim high school students attend courses in robotics, drones, 3D printing, electronics and other technologies related to outer-space exploration.

Israel’s global impact is astonishing.  Israeli-Arab Bedouins are using Israeli HomeBioGas units (subsidized by Israel’s Environment ministry) to transform trash into bio-gas.  50 HomeBioGas units are now being tested in the Dominican Republic, as part of attempts to curb deforestation caused by the burning of wood for cooking.  In Africa, Israel’s award-winning Amiad Water Systems supplied 50 filtration systems to a project providing clean drinking water in Angola.  And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu improved relations with Africa immensely during the first visit by an Israeli leader to the continent in 50 years.

Trade relations were enhanced by visits to Israel by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and his delegation of 50 business and academic leaders.  Another 50 business professionals came to Israel for the New Zealand’s inaugural Innovation Mission.  And 50 university and secondary students from Hong Kong got the chance to see firsthand the secrets of Israeli entrepreneurial success, thanks to Israel’s Technion and the Li Ka Shing Foundation. 

It may be only the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s re-unification, but Jewish links to its capital city go back thousands of years.  To experience this, tourists can now do “the mikveh trail” - a newly-opened walk to see 50 ritual baths (mikvot) unearthed near Temple Mount. These were used by Jewish pilgrims to purify themselves, prior to making offerings in the Temple over 2000 years ago.  And please watch this video by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar about the ancient Jewish treasures discovered during excavations just 50 meters from Temple Mount.

Now let’s celebrate – there must be at least fifty ways!

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com

For Israel Enough is not Sufficient

On the Jewish festival of Passover, we sing the song “Dayenu”, which means “Enough”.  The song expresses our thanks for each stage of the Exodus from Egypt and we highlight that each event on the journey would have itself been sufficient.  Medical achievements of the modern State of Israel, however, clearly shows that today’s Israelis are not content with doing merely “enough” as these examples from the last 3 months illustrate.

In the medical arena, Israeli scientists have broken all bounds in their search for cures for deadly diseases.  Not only have three Israeli research teams discovered what keeps cancer cells growing, but they have just found a chemical that causes them to self-destruct.  Another cancer treatment from Israel’s VBL Therapeutics in Phase 3 testing prevents solid tumors from obtaining sufficient blood supply – causing them to die.

Just in case any of these amazing discoveries don’t succeed, scientists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute have used a twin-attack using inhibiting molecules EGFR and PYK2 against previously incurable triple-negative breast cancer, to significantly reduce the size of tumors.  Meanwhile, the amazing MRI-focused ultrasound treatment from Israel’s Insightec that has been curing tremors and removing uterine fibroids has now been given the CE mark to go beyond its current boundaries and additionally treat prostate cancer non-invasively. And Technion’s Israeli-Arab Professor Hossam Haick is taking his Na-Nose breath test further by using it to detect cancer even in apparently “healthy” people.

Cancer treatment in Israeli hospitals is not limited just to Israeli citizens.  At Sheba hospital in Tel Hashomer,
40% of Dr. Yoram Neumann’s oncology patients are Palestinian-Arab children from the Territories and Gaza.  Indeed, Palestinian Arab children occupy 50% of the unit’s beds.  Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian Arab researchers have been working together to discover risk factors for B Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in both communities.

It seems so appropriate that the Israeli biotech Biondvax has developed the Universal Flu Vaccine M-001.  Israeli scientists felt that it was not sufficient to target individual strains of influenza, but to look for a comprehensive solution. A 20% subsidy from the Israeli Government, plus a $2.8 million private investment should hopefully be sufficient for Biondvax to build a factory producing tens of millions of doses of M-001 annually, including for Phase 3 trials. 

Here are some more, recent Israeli medical innovations that are “over and above” what most would consider normal thinking. First, instead of treating resistant MRSA infections with limited antibiotics, researchers at Israel’s Technion Institute have neutralized the deadly bacteria by attacking the unique amyloid fibrils it uses to attack the immune system. Next, patients will soon no longer suffer damage to brain tissue and spinal cord during neurosurgery thanks to the ArtiFascia biodegradable nanofiber protective patch developed by Israeli biotech Nurami Medical. Nurami, by the way, was founded by Israeli Jewish and Arab graduates.
Then, when sufferers of blood loss trauma were found to be dying of hypothermia, Israeli startup QinFlow’s developed its Warrior portable system which warms the bloods and fluids used in transfusions faster than any alternative system.

Who but Israelis would have gone this far?  One of Insightec’s tremor patients was petrified of being enclosed in the MRI treatment machine, so staff at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center first gave him hypnosis therapy, and now he’s cured of the tremor and the psychosis!  Or how about the PMD200 device, developed by Israel’s Medasense Biometrics and recently granted European approval, that can monitor pain in unconscious patients so that surgeons can still effectively assess and manage their pain?  And the HyperQ device from Israel’s Biological Signal Processing (BSP) that discovers heart problems that normal ECG tests cannot. Even anti-Israel Venezuela has purchased them!

I have sufficient space only to mention Israeli startup TPCera which uses the excretion from parasitic worms to treat auto-immune diseases.  Or the smart human airbags developed by Israel’s Hip-Hope to protect the elderly from life-threatening falls.  And only an Israeli company such as Medaware would have had the “chutzpa” to develop a system to tell doctors that they had written out a prescription that could endanger their patient’s life.

Israeli doctors recently saved an Arab baby born with her intestines outside her abdomen.  After birth, surgeons at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital put her organs back in place and closed the wound with the Israeli TopClosure Tension Relief System. 

Finally, Israeli surgeons at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, can now detect and correct abnormalities in the fetus from eight weeks after conception.  Irregular heartbeats, anemia, twins sharing placentas, congenital hernias, repairing spinal cord. Israeli doctors are saving life before it has even begun! 

Israel - always trying to do more.

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com