5777 - What a Year That Was

The Jerusalem Post included two reports on the events of 5777 in its 20th September edition. Gill Hoffman wrote “very little of significance actually ended up happening in Israel” so he described the Top 10 stories that didn’t happen.  Amotz Asa-el struggled to find a “Person of the Year” – there was “no celebrity thinker, captivating artist or high-flying statesman”.

I would like to challenge these rather negative articles by providing a summary of just a few of the many hundreds of positive events of the past year.  Most of these news articles appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Where appropriate, I will name the exceptional people involved.

Tishri-Cheshvan 5777 / Oct-Nov 2016:-
Readers will know about IsraAID’s relief work after recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria, but may have forgotten that IsraAID’s Navonel (Voni) Glick and Yotam Polizer were organizing volunteers back in 2016 to help Haitian survivors of Hurricane Matthew. IsraAID has since helped survivors of the Italian earthquakes, refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, Sierra Leone, Peru, Yazidis in Iraq and more.
In November, the IDF announced that Avraham Yitzhak will be the first colonel of Ethiopian descent in IDF history when he becomes chief medical officer of the IDF Southern Command. Yitzhak came to Israel in 1991, graduated in medicine at Ben Gurion University and was the first Ethiopian-Israeli combat doctor.

Kislev-Tevet 5777 / Dec-Jan 2016:-
Israel received rare recognition from the BBC in December, when (after protest for their initial snub) BBC News finally interviewed Weizmann Institute’s Professor Avigdor Scherz, co-developer of the globally acclaimed TOOKAD prostate cancer treatment. Also in December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his series of global trips to improve Israel’s international relations and bilateral trade by visiting two Muslim countries - Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. He subsequently visited London, Singapore, Australia, West Africa and of course, the USA and the UN.  In January the PM announced that Member of Knesset Ayoub Kara would become the first lawmaker from Israel’s Druze community to serve as a cabinet minister. In his previous role as Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation, Kara was instrumental in setting up Israeli help for Syrian refugees in Syria, Israel and Jordan. Also in January, Israel’s leading crowdfunding organization OurCrowd, founded by entrepreneur Jon Medved, hosted Israel’s largest investment event with over 6,000 attendees. Most of OurCrowd’s portfolio of 110 startups were on view.

Shevat-Adar 5777 / Feb-Mar 2017:-
In February new judges chosen to sit on Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice included a Christian Arab, George Kara, and Yael Vilner - the first orthodox Jewish woman to get a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In the same month Dr. Michal Kaufmann of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital performed cochlear implant surgery on 16 Palestinian Arab deaf and mute children to allow them to hear for the first time in their lives.  Then in March, Israeli scientists announced one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment when they used derivatives of Phenanthridine to make tumor cells self-destruct in the most resistant and incurable cancers.  Also in March Intel purchased Israel’s Mobileye, founded by Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua, for $15 billion. Mobileye continues to be managed in Israel and expand through partnerships with Fiat-Chrysler and China’s Yutong and Nio.  Another Israeli company, SodaStream, led by David Birnbaum, unveiled its new packaging in March. It includes a picture of the Israeli flag, accompanied by the caption: "This product is made by Arabs and Jews working side by side in peace and harmony."

Nissan-Iyar 5777 / Apr-May 2017:-
One of April’s highlights was when Israeli President Rivlin invited Arab teacher Jehan Jaber to his Jerusalem residence, to praise her for teaching Hebrew to Arab elementary school children. The video of Jehan teaching catchy song “Geshem, Geshem Metaftef” (“Rain, rain is dripping”) went viral, with over two million views. In May Yehiel Tal, CEO of Israel’s CollPlant, which has been developing collagen-based bio-ink, made a major announcement.  He said that CollPlant is now “working with several large international companies, with the aim of collaborating in the development of organs and tissues printing.” Meanwhile, Israeli NGO Innovation: Africa, founded by Sivan Ya’ari, publicized its work installing solar power systems to provide electricity for Africans to pump water, illuminate homes and power medical centers. Sivan’s 8-year-old daughter then visited Uganda to see her mother’s work at first hand.

Sivan-Tammuz-Av 5777 / Jun-July-Aug 2017:-
In June, researchers at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, led by Professor Benjamin Rubinoff, transplanted retinal pigment cells from embryonic stem cells to prevent five sufferers of retinal degeneration from going blind. In the same month, Jerusalem Rabbi Dov Benyaacov-Kurtzman setup the UK National Emergency Response, Resilience and Treatment Program for Stress and Trauma. Its first work was with the victims of the Manchester UK bombing. In July Eli Beer, founder and President of United Hatzalah, explained his organization’s revolutionary model of life-saving at the largest dedication of emergency vehicles in Israel’s history. Later, in August United Hatzalah despatched its Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit to Houston, Texas.

Ellul 5777 / Sept 2017:-
In September, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon took up his new position as Vice President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly (GA). Earlier in the year, as chair of the United Nations Legal Committee, Danon increased respect for Israel at the UN. He saw two Israeli-sponsored resolutions passed by the GA and arranged a co-operation agreement with United Nations Women - the world body’s institution for the empowerment of women. He even organized a UN event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem. Then just before this Rosh Hashana as the presiding GA chair, he proudly invited Israeli PM Netanyahu to speak to the General Assembly.

In fact, it was a Very Good News Year.

Michael Ordman writes about positive news stories from Israel. www.verygoodnewsisrael.blogspot.com and a searchable archive www.IsraelActive.com

Ten Years

When I made Aliya from the UK 10 years ago, Israel was far different from where it is today.  It suffered from lack of water, few energy resources, a weak economy, high unemployment, low currency reserves, low tech and international isolation.

Now Israel has built desalination plants, recycles 90% of its wastewater and discovered huge natural gas deposits. It has become the Startup Nation, with the world’s 3rd most stable economy. It is at the forefront of medicine and cybersecurity. Together with its humanitarian activities and global development programs, Israel has now raised its profile on the World stage and is especially appreciated in the USA, Africa, India and China.

Just a few weeks into my eleventh year and this progress continues to amaze me.  Israeli ground-breaking medical research has just discovered a molecule that can restore damaged hearts and micro RNA that reduces susceptibility to epileptic seizures. Potentially life-saving treatments include an anti-rabies vaccination, transplants using lab-grown bone, and the curing and prevention of melanoma.

Dozens of innovative Israeli medical devices have been launched or announced recently, e.g. spectacles that read text to the visually impaired; a system that gives mute, “locked-in” patients the power of speech; a minimally invasive implant to treat congestive heart failure; a one-second per year treatment for glaucoma; hyper-MRI scanners to detect cancer; bandages that stop massive bleeding in 40 seconds; and a soft suit exoskeleton to allow stroke patients to walk again.

Recent Israeli global humanitarian activities include disaster relief for USA, the Caribbean and Mexico;  expanding the free treatment for wounded Syrians; aid for South Sudan and Sierra Leone; firefighting in Montenegro; free surgery for children in Ghana and Fiji; plus renewable electricity and clean water for Ugandan schoolchildren.

Latest technological breakthroughs include advanced systems for driverless cars and buses, wave energy systems for China, India, Chile, Gibraltar and now Mexico.  Israeli companies make water purification systems that utilize ultraviolet light and hybrid biofilters. Israelis developed hyperspectral imaging for amazingly detailed photos and video, including on a new Israeli satellite that monitors the environment. Israeli start-ups plant solar trees; use 3D printing for facial surgery and prosthetics; construct high-tech fish farms and produce smart pesticides to combat fruit fly and rootworm infestation.  

Israelis even beat their swords into ploughshares with unmanned drones delivering purchases to customers and military training systems being adapted for tennis, basketball and soccer.

Israel’s economy goes from strength to strength with international trade and exports on the rise.  Israel’s 300 cybersecurity companies exported $6.5 billion last year. Tourists visit Israel in record numbers and unemployment is at a record low. Massive foreign investment in Israeli start-ups means that they no longer have to make early exits, but grow to become Unicorns (over $1 billion in value).

Far from being isolated, Israel is the “go-to” place for international organizations, politicians, companies and celebrities.  The World Health Organization has just appointed the first Israeli for 21 years to its Executive Committee. Israel’s Prime Minister has been feted in Latin America. Visiting Prime Ministers include from Georgia and the Ukraine plus the first-ever visit from a Quebec Premier.   Recent delegations to Israel include business leaders from Iowa, Chicago and Australia; Massachusetts police, French doctors, Indonesian Muslim leaders and Jordanian Sheikhs.

Barely a week goes by without the announcement of another airline’s new service to Tel Aviv or Eilat. In the same week Air Canada and Air Transat began separate services from Montreal, Canada. China’s Hainan Airways has launched its direct flights to Shanghai.  El Al and Aerolíneas Argentinas are soon to begin scheduled flights from Buenos Aires and Ryanair will be flying in from Rome.

Israel’s OurCrowd has just launched OurNetwork to link at least 25 multinationals to Israeli start-ups.  Visa just became the 73rd international R&D center to open in Tel Aviv - nearly double the number five years ago.  Skoda is opening an Israeli technology office.  Intel are to open another microprocessor factory.  Many multinationals are promoting new Israeli startups by setting up incubators – the latest are Merck and Renault-Nissan.

Israeli technology is in much demand globally.  10,000 delegates attended Tel Aviv’s 5th annual DLD (Digital Life Design) Conference – Israel’s largest tech conference.  Israel’s Technion and Cornell Tech opened their joint New York campus. It’s a sign of the times that Israeli-made detection kits for explosives have been sold recently to the UK, the US and France.  And a dozen Israeli companies presented their solutions at a UK cybersecurity conference to counter the latest global cyber-attacks. Even UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Israel and saw Israeli technology at first hand. 

Israel’s popularity is not always so serious.  London’s “foodies”, for example, have been flocking to Israeli restaurant The Barbary – number one on TimeOut’s list. And for the first time in its 101-year history, Italian cycle race Giro d'Italia will begin outside of Europe when it has its first 3 stages in Israel next year.  Meanwhile, celebrities visiting Israel this summer included Conan O’Brien, Britney Spears, Guns N’ Roses, Radiohead and the Pixies, with Cliff Richard lined up for October.

Finally, my Aliya came just at the time when Israel was beginning to benefit from the million Russian immigrants who kick-started the Start-up Nation.  Since then I’ve seen the arrival of more Ethiopian Jews, Ukrainian Jews, Bnei Menashe from India, thousands from Europe - especially from France, and a steady stream from the USA thanks to Nefesh b’Nefesh.  The latest wave is from Venezuela.  We look forward to welcoming many more Jews in the next ten years who decide to make Israel their home and join all those who are making the world a better place.

A Very Happy New Year from VeryGoodNewsIsrael.

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.www.verygoodnewsisrael.blogspot.com and a searchable archive www.IsraelActive.com
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