Start-up Nation takes on disabilities


Voiceitt, an Israeli start-up developing voice-translation technology for people with disabilities, was named recently the audience favorite at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored international technology conference.

The company’s new app, called Talkitt, converts the utterances of people with various speech disabilities into more easily understandable elocution. It is slated for release in the middle of 2015.

But Talkitt is hardly the only Israeli tech innovation for people with disabilities. Last year, three Israeli organizations – PresenTense, Beit Issie Shapiro and the Ruderman Family Foundation – teamed to launch what they say is the world’s first “accelerator” focused on addressing the needs of people with disabilities. Called AI3, for Accelerating Inclusion in Israel, the Raanana-based program has enrolled 15 start-up initiatives, such as Sesame Enable, which has created a smartphone that can be controlled with facial and head movements instead of touch for those who are unable to use their hands.

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation – which has been a leader in promoting inclusion in the American Jewish community and Israel – praised Israel’s tech sector for developing solutions that “help people with disabilities and enable them to become part of society.”

However, he said, the Start-up Nation’s government is lagging behind on the disabilities front.

“What it supports is antiquated in terms of housing, employment and the right legislation,” Ruderman said, adding that while “the tech sector’s way ahead in Israel,” its inventions don’t “trickle down to everyone.”

“I’m not sure it’s helping the average person with disabilities yet,” he said.

‘Generation Next’ powow at Professional Leaders Project parley


Generation Next

By the end of the Professional Leaders Project gathering in Santa Monica, I walked away with three things: a stack of business cards, some good stories and a condom from KinkyJews.com in a package that featured an Israeli flag on the front and an off-color, yet highly creative tagline we can’t print here.

These may be the usual accoutrement, left over from a weekend of Jewish networking, yet with respect to this conference being a progressive think tank, the cards are unusually fancy:

There’s Ariel Beery, the 20-something editor and publisher of a cutting-edge mag on Jewish life (the current cover of PresenTense features three unmistakably ethnic Jews under a headline that reads, “Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish”). Then there was Lindsay Litowitz, who is independently seeking funds tofinance a documentary film project, called “Four Corners,” on Jewishcommunities around the world. Others there were producers, entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives, artists and budding religious leaders.

The invitation-only crowd was comprised of significant young Jewish professionals and volunteers — most were hip and well dressed, all shared “smart and successful” and were qualitatively labeled “talent.” And there you have the traits of the nation’s future Jewish leadership.

Well-funded and well-organized PLP flew in these rising stars for three days of Jewish learning, networking and highfalutin keynote speakers. Israeli-born Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who commands up to $20,000 for a single speaking engagement, delivered a spiel on positive psychology that didn’t quite live up to my expectations, so I hope PLP got his nonprofit rate.

During my in-and-out stint, I caught Dov Rosenblatt performing with his band, Blue Fringe. Afterwards, I mistakenly offered a handshake to Chasidic rapper Y-Love (a.k.a. Yitz Jordan), who abruptly flung his sweaty beret over his palms before he would touch me. The much-anticipated conclusion, “Michael Steinhardt Uncensored” was a bust when he fell ill, but the ever-eloquent and engaging Rabbi Naomi Levy stepped in and delivered an empowering message on good leadership.

Despite the lack of an overriding message articulated over the course of the conference, there was a sense of hopefulness. The Jewish future is in ready hands, able hands — and maybe next time, they’ll have a concrete objective of what to do with those hands.


Jane Usher is no plain Jane. She’s an active environmentalist, attorney and president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. Flanked by eco-Hollywood and go-green Angelenos, she was honored by TreePeople at their annual gala fundraiser, “An Evening Under the Harvest Moon,” which raked in half-a-mil for L.A.’s urban forest. Since a group of teenagers started the organization in the 1970s, more than 2 million trees have been planted in our beloved, angelic city.

What a pair! Of sisters, that is. Although the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s breast cancer fundraising luncheon makes clear reference to a woman’s most salient body part, the perky set at this event was actress Joely Fisher and her sister, Trisha Leigh Fisher, who presented Joley, the smokin’ star of FOX’s “Til Death,” with the Angel Award for her brazier-like support of breast cancer research.

Comedic actor and ubiquitous philanthropist Brad Garrett also attended the fete, as he and Joely are slated to emcee the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s seventh annual Discovery Award Dinner on Nov. 8.