Moving and shaking: American Technion Society, Jewish Educator Awards, LAMOTH and more

Audience members at the American Technion Society’s (ATS) “An Evening of Innovation and Inspiration” were presented with a moving sight on Oct. 29 as U.S. Marines Capt. Derek Herrera walked across the Museum of Tolerance stage wearing an Israeli-designed-and-built ReWalk robotic exoskeleton.

Paralyzed by sniper fire during a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, Herrera spoke about the positive impact that the ReWalk, which was created by Israeli computer scientist and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology alumnus Amit Goffer, has had on his life.

The gathering at the Museum of Tolerance drew nearly 200 community members, including ATS Western Region Director Diana Stein Judovits; Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Vice President for External Relations and Resource Development Professor Boaz Golany; ATS Southern California Chapter Board President Rena Conner and Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez.

The evening showcased groundbreaking innovations that were developed at the Technion, which is one of Israel’s leading universities. ReWalk, which assists victims of spinal cord injuries and whose company’s initial public offering on Sept. 12 was a huge success, is among them. It allows individuals with lower-limb disabilities to stand upright and walk.

Herrera is currently working with ATS to raise money for research at the Technion focused on advancing mobility and independence. The funds also will also be used to provide ReWalk devices to qualified individuals.

ATS solicits donors in the Diaspora that are interested in the mission of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

The final two recipients of the 2014 Jewish Educator Awards were announced on Nov. 3 by the Milken Family Foundation. The winners were Rabbi Menachem Mendel Greenbaum, principal of Cheder Menachem, an Orthodox boys school affiliated with Chabad, and Katya Malikov, chair of the math department at the Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School.

The distinctions from the Milken Family Foundation and Builders of Jewish Education-BJE come with an unrestricted prize of $15,000.

From left: MIlken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler and Builders of Jewish Education-BJE Executive Director Gil Graff join Jewish Educator Awards honoree Rabbi Menachem Mendel Greenbaum. Photo courtesy of Milken Family Foundation

The other winners this year were Ariela Nehemne of Valley Beth Shalom and Barry Schapira of Brawerman Elementary School West of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; they were honored Oct. 14.

Award presenters included Richard Sandler, Milken Family Foundation executive vice president, and Gil Graff, BJE executive director.

“They are all making a difference in a lot of kids’ lives, which is the reason we did this award in the first place, to drive home … the importance of teachers and educators and try to make students understand that education is a place where they can make a difference,” Sandler told the Journal in a phone interview.

The Jewish Educator Awards, first given out in 1990, honor Jewish educators’ contributions to day schools affiliated with BJE and those who “exemplify the Jewish day school mission to prepare our youth for successful lives in the context of our values as a people,” according to Winners are selected from a pool of more than 1,000 educators from 37 BJE-affiliated K-12 schools, Sandler said. 

A luncheon celebrating this year’s honorees will take place Dec. 16. 

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) annual gala dinner, which took place Nov. 2 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, raised nearly $1 million.

LAMOTH, a nonprofit organization, operates a Holocaust museum in Pan Pacific Park.

The evening in Beverly Hills honored community leaders and philanthropists Dr. Frank and Shelley Litvack, internationally recognized author and journalist Kati Marton, and celebrated concert pianist and author Mona Golabek, in recognition of their “commitment to Holocaust remembrance and education,” according to an LAMOTH press release.

From left: LAMOTH honorees Dr. Frank and Shelley Litvack and Kati Marton. Photo by Alex Berliner

“Today, LAMOTH is a vessel for history where the collective and individual stories of our parents, grandparents and neighbors can be preserved for all the future generations,” said Frank Litvack, who received the Legacy Leadership Award in honor of his late Holocaust survivor mother, Erika Frankl Litvack, as quoted by a press release.

Frank Litvack is a retired cardiologist and professor of medicine. His wife, Shelley, is a television producer and director and has been involved in many charitable organizations.

Marton received the Humanitarian Award in honor of her late parents, journalists Endre and Ilona Marton. She is a human-rights advocate who has chaired the International Women’s Health Coalition and served as a chief advocate for the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Golabek, who received the Righteous Conversations L’Dorot Award in honor of her late parents, Lisa and Michel Golabek, co-wrote the book “The Children of Willesden Lane” about her mother’s experience with the Kindertransport. A play based on the book ran at the Geffen Playhouse in 2012.

Jessica Yellin, a former White House correspondent for CNN, served as the master of ceremonies. Additional attendees included Holocaust survivor Curt Lowens and LAMOTH executive director Samara Hutman, who deemed the event — which drew 700 guests — a big success. 

“The evening was a poignant reminder of the importance of a community gathering together to carry on the legacy of memory,” Hutman said in a press release.

“Seven Beauties,” the ballet from Azerbaijan, kicked off the 25th anniversary season of the San Diego Ballet on Oct. 11. It was performed as a one-night-only event at the San Diego Civic Theatre, one of the largest opera venues in the United States. 

From left: Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev; members of Azerbaijan Parliament Samad Seyidov and Asim Mollazade; and Vice President of Human Resources and Regulations for the State Oil Co. of the Azerbaijan Republic Khalik Mammadov. 

Sponsored by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and presented by the Consulate General of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, this was the first time that this ballet had been performed on such a large scale in this country. San Diego Ballet Artistic Director Javier Velasco choreographed the ballet, and the Grossmont Symphony Orchestra played the music.

A delegation of Azeri leadership attended the ballet while visiting California for meetings with Jewish leaders in Los Angeles to discuss the importance of Azeri-Jewish relations: Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev; Vice President of Human Resources and Regulations for the State Oil Co. of the Azerbaijan Republic Khalik Mammadov; and Azerbaijan Parliament members Samad Seyidov and Asim Mollazade

The ballet was composed in 1952 by Azeri composer Gara Garayev, who based the lines of the ballet on the 1197 poem “Seven Beauties” by Azeri poet Nizami Ganjavi. 

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Israeli-designed device allows paraplegics to walk

As a result of an automobile accident in 2007, Southern California resident Stephen Wilson was only able to enjoy the outdoors from a seated position in his wheelchair for years. But thanks to ReWalk, an Israeli-designed-and-built device that allows some people with spinal cord injuries to stand and walk, Wilson got to go for a stroll again — with an ocean view.

“We walked outside in the marina,” Wilson said of a previous excursion to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was helping to promote the system. “It was nice to walk along with someone instead of them helping me walk. And it was wonderful to be outside. Usually when I walk, it’s in a clinic setting.”

ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that allows individuals with lower-limb disabilities to stand upright and walk. On June 26, it was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for personal use, the first such device to receive this designation. In fact, the agency created a new category for exoskeletons as a result of ReWalk’s application process.

And the company’s initial public offering on Sept. 12 was a huge success. Shares starting at $12 more than tripled in the first two days of trading, according to news reports.

The system consists of a wearable brace that supports the user’s waist and legs, motors that supply movement at the hips and knees, a motion sensor and a battery-powered computer control system that is worn in a backpack. The motion sensor detects when the user leans forward or shifts weight, and using a computer algorithm, the ReWalk produces hip and knee motions that mimic human gait. Wearing the device, users can sit, stand, walk and turn.

ReWalk was developed by Israeli inventor Amit Goffer, who became a quadriplegic following an all-terrain vehicle accident in 1997. Founded as Argo Medical Technologies, ReWalk Robotics Ltd. has offices in Yokneam Ilit, Israel; Marlborough, Mass.; and Berlin. The system is manufactured in Ma’alot, Israel, by San Jose-based global manufacturing company Sanmina Corp. 

At Precision Rehabilitation in Long Beach, Wilson demonstrated ReWalk in action. With the assistance of a physical therapist, he placed his feet onto foot platforms, put on shoes that go around the platforms, fastened Velcro straps around his waist and legs, and donned a backpack containing the machine’s battery and computer. 

Wilson pushed a remote control telling the device he wanted to stand, and he rose up from the chair. Using crutches for stability, he then began walking, one deliberate step after another. 

In total, Wilson made three loops around the facility, covering about 300 feet and working up a considerable sweat. He said the newer personal systems are easier to negotiate than the older rehab version he used for this demonstration. 

This fall, Wilson will simultaneously pursue an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at USC. He intends to work on future medical devices to assist people with spinal cord injuries. 

As she followed behind Wilson, Christy Malonzo, a physical therapist and the co-owner of Precision Rehabilitation, discussed the device’s value. 

“It allows for forms of exercise you can’t get in any other way,” she said, noting that individuals with spinal cord injuries don’t have many opportunities to increase their heart rate and work up a sweat. 

There are two forms of the device, one designed for providing physical therapy at rehabilitation centers, and one custom-fitted for personal use. ReWalk has been in use at rehab centers in Israel and Europe since 2011, and available there for personal use since 2012. Here in the U.S., the personal device costs $69,500. 

Precision Rehabilitation is one of more than 30 rehab centers, Veterans Administration hospitals or private clinics in the U.S. to partner with ReWalk Robotics in distributing the systems and training users. Malonzo said she liked ReWalk because it is the only system that enables users to negotiate stairs, although the FDA has not approved it for that purpose.

Users must meet certain criteria, including height and weight requirements, location of their spinal cord injury and ability to use crutches. They must undergo training and evaluation in order to use the device.  

ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski said the device is not meant to replace the wheelchair but to complement it. A wheelchair might be more efficient for long distances, he said, but ReWalk allows users to engage in activities such as shopping, attending social functions or working. He described a customer in London who uses his wheelchair to navigate the subway but wears the ReWalk at the office. There, he can walk from one cubicle to another or stand to give a presentation. 

More than 400 personal and rehab devices are being used worldwide, and ReWalk has found its way into more than 50 rehab centers.

Jasinski said companies like his “can do better development in Israel than [in] the U.S.” The culture is faster in early development phases, the Israeli government is supportive, and Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and other entities provide early grants that would be difficult to secure in the U.S., he said.

Exoskeletons have been getting increased media attention lately. The opening ceremony of this year’s World Cup featured a person wearing an experimental device that uses a brain interface to enable walking. ReWalk was featured in the Fox television series “Glee,” when it was used by fictional character Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale).

Jasinski believes the technology eventually will be able to help those with other medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and stroke, as well as aiding the elderly in walking.

Studies documenting ReWalk’s physical benefits are underway. It is expected that they will show increases in bone density, muscle tone, cardiovascular fitness and bowel function, according to Jasinski. 

Jasinski said the emotional benefits for users can be as significant as the physical ones. When he visited one of the first people in the U.S. to purchase a personal ReWalk system, the woman marveled how she was able to walk to the kitchen window and see the view outside and how she could finally reach upper kitchen cabinets without having to ask for help.

People in wheelchairs lose human body contact, Jasinski said. “When you try to hug a person who’s in a wheel chair, you end up leaning over and tapping them,” he said. “Now, they can stand up and put their arms around their loved one and give a full-body hug.

“I’ve been working with medical devices for 20 years,” he added. “This is the biggest in terms of depth of impact on the individual and on those around them. It changes the dynamic of the whole family. It’s incredibly gratifying.”

Finding a cure

Israel’s reputation as a tech pioneer extends far beyond wireless technology and computer chips to the biomedical field. While some of the most ingenious treatments are being developed at Israeli universities, others are being launched by private start-up companies.  

Here is a sampling of the many advances in the industry — some in the pipeline, others already on the market. 

Cervical cancer can be cured if it is caught early, but that rarely occurs in the developing world, resulting in 250,000 cervical cancer deaths a year worldwide. MobileOCT, a Tel Aviv start-up launched in October 2012, has developed a scope that can be attached to a smart phone, a digital camera or an endoscope to capture the data required to make a diagnosis. The device absorbs the light reflected from cervical tissue and turns it into a high-resolution image that is then analyzed by an algorithm developed by MobileOCT. 

According to Ariel Beery, the company’s co-founder, 2 billion women lack access to cervical cancer screening. In December, Beery and MobileOCT won the $100,000 first prize in the International Startup Festival’s Elevator World Tour, a competition for top startups. Now in the testing phase, the prototype is expected to go live in 2015.  

Many patients with sleep apnea, characterized by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep, live with this potentially fatal condition because the pressure masks their physicians prescribe, which are meant to keep oxygen flowing, are just too uncomfortable. Discover Medical Devices has created SomnuSeal, an adjustable mask it describes as nonintrusive and “much more comfortable” because it doesn’t come into contact with any sensitive oral or facial structures.   

The mask uses continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to keep the airways open. This is the same treatment used for preterm babies whose lungs haven’t fully developed, according to the National Institutes of Health. Discover Medical, which is marketing the product in Europe, hopes to enter the U.S. market as well. 

People with type-2 diabetes who depend on insulin injections may have an alternative in the foreseeable future. Jerusalem-based Oramed Pharmaceuticals has developed an oral insulin capsule intended to take the place of daily injections. The capsule is in Phase II clinical trials.

 “Going to market is a few years downstream,” said the company’s COO, Josh Hexter, referring to the long clinical trial process required before any medication is approved.

The company believes the capsule will be most beneficial in the early stages of type-2 diabetes, when it can still slow the rate of degeneration of the disease by providing additional insulin to the body before the pancreas can no longer produce any insulin. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar, either from the body not producing enough insulin (type 1) or because the cells have developed a resistance to the body’s own insulin (type 2).

Professor Zeev Zalevsky at Bar-Ilan University has developed a bionic contact lens that, he believes, will eventually give sight to people who were born blind. The product utilizes a small camera, held in the hand or worn on glasses, that transmits information to a special contact lens. Electrodes transmit signals of the image, which can be described as “electronic Braille,” which are in turn felt by the retina. 

“It’s like reading Braille, not with your fingertips but with your eyes,” Zalevsky explained in an online university newsletter. “We can encode an image with many more points than the Braille system and use these to stimulate the surface of the cornea.”

Zalevsky’s team is conducting feasibility studies on people with normal sight as a prelude to seeking approval for clinical trials. 

When President Barak Obama visited Israel last year, the government invited him to see some of the country’s most impressive tech inventions. The ReWalk exoskeleton was one of them. 

Awaiting FDA approval in the U.S., the exoskeleton created by Argo Medical Technologies, southeast of Haifa, enables paraplegics to sit up, walk and climb stairs. Used in rehabilitation hospitals in Israel, the U.S. and Europe, ReWalk is also available for private use in Europe. 

Powered by batteries, the exoskelton’s motorized legs are controlled by portable computers and motion sensors. The developers are currently examining whether ReWalk increases patients’ bone density and improves bodily functions. Featured on the TV show “Glee,” the product was named one of the “25 Best Inventions of the Year” for 2013 by TIME magazine.

Na-Nose, which was developed by a team of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is a system that tests and detects lung cancer from exhaled breath with a high rate of accuracy — it is able to differentiate between different types of cancer up to 95 percent of the time.    

The company’s goal is to detect early stages of cancer in a noninvasive way. A year ago, the scientists teamed up with the Boston-based company Alpha Szenszor, which manufacturers nanotube sensing equipment, to conduct more testing and seek FDA approval within five years.   

Na-Nose analyzes the more than 1,000 different gases that are contained in a person’s breath and identifies those that raise red flags. The gases bind with nanomaterials and the results are analyzed. The developers are seeking ways to apply the technology to the detection of multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other cancers.  

OrCam, a device that reads text from newspapers, road signs, menus, food labels and more, helps the visually impaired navigate the world. The product, made by a Jerusalem-based manufacturer of the same name, consists of a tiny camera that attaches to a pair of eyeglasses. A cable links it to a pocket-sized computer, which converts the words into speech when the user points to an object. 

Available only in the U.S. and in English — although it is currently sold out, according to its manufacturer — the manufacturers are planning to distribute the device more widely and in different languages. 

U.S. university heads in Israel to establish academic ties

A delegation of U.S. university presidents and chancellors met with their Israeli counterparts and viewed cutting-edge research, including the ReWalk headquarters.

The nine visiting university heads were in Israel to investigate opportunities for academic partnerships and collaboration through Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee.

In Tel Aviv, they visited the start-up PrimeSense, a high-tech company that has revolutionized the way digital devices, including the Xbox 360, see and understand the world by focusing on vision to provide digital devices that have a 3-D perception of reality.

At the ReWalk headquarters in Yokneam, the visitors met Argo Medical Technologies founder Dr. Amit Goffer, a quadriplegic who developed the ReWalk exoskeleton unit, which allows those with spinal cord injuries to walk again.

“I was amazed to watch two paraplegics walk independently using the ReWalk robotic device and moved when they showed how leaving their wheelchairs has transformed their lives,” said Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, also the head of its Laboratory of Brain Development and Repair.

The group, which will be in Israel through Saturday, is scheduled to meet with senior government, academic and civil society leaders across the Israeli social and political spectrum, and travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders.

Previous visits of university heads through Project Interchange have resulted in collaborations including the Cornell-Technion technology and science campus and a partnership between the University of Michigan and Ben-Gurion University to develop renewable energy technology projects.