November 21, 2018

Lev Landau: A Jewish Physicist and Nobel-Winning Genius from Azerbaijan

Swedish ambassador in the Soviet Union Rolf Sulman (L) on behalf of The Nobel Committee awards Lev Landau with the Nobel Prize in Physics in Moscow. 1962 car accident prevented him to travel to Stockholm to personally receive his Nobel Prize.

Swedish ambassador in the Soviet Union Rolf Sulman (L) on behalf of The Nobel Committee awards Lev Landau with the Nobel Prize in Physics in Moscow. 1962 car accident prevented him to travel to Stockholm to personally receive his Nobel Prize.


It is always interesting to follow the announcements of the Nobel Prize winners each year. This year the Nobel Prize winners are expected to be announced in October. Widely regarded as the most prestigious award in literature, physics, medicine, economics, chemistry and activism for peace, the Nobel Prize is annually awarded to extraordinary individuals for their outstanding contributions for humanity. I am proud to mention that one of those extraordinary individuals is a prominent Jewish physicist from majority-Muslim Azerbaijan – Lev Davidovich Landau, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1962 “for his pioneering theories for condensed matter, especially liquid helium.”

Landau was born on January 22, 1908, in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, into a Jewish family. His father was a prominent engineer working in the oil industry in Baku and her mother was a physicist and later taught at the Jewish High School as well as Baku State University. Both parents lived in Baku until the beginning of 1930s before moving to then Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

He began his schooling in Baku, graduating from the Jewish High School. Recognized very early as a wunderkind in mathematics, he enrolled at the Baku State University (BSU) at the very young age of 14, studying in two programs at the same time: Mathematics and Physics, and Chemistry. He learned fundamentals of physics at the Baku State University, which is the oldest and largest university in Azerbaijan. Established in 1919, BSU is also one of the first secular universities in the Muslim world.

Landau benefitted from the open and embracing long-standing culture of tolerance in Azerbaijan, where a Jewish child can grow to become a well-known scientist, with the rights and freedoms to pursue his passions and goals, just the same as anyone else. We have seen this with many other examples too, including Azerbaijan’s current Supreme Court Justice Tatyana Goldman, Jewish Parliamentarian Yevda Abramov, Jewish doctor and scientist Gavriil Ilizarov and many other leaders and heroes.

In 1924, Landau moved to Leningrad to continue his study in physics at the Leningrad State University and in 1927, at the age of 19 he successfully graduated from that university and began his academic career at the Leningrad-Technical Institute.

In 1929, supported by a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Landau embarked on an eighteen months-long scientific journey through Europe, conducting research and attending scientific conferences in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. The research he conducted at various universities of Europe, especially in Copenhagen and learning from well-known physicists Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr greatly influenced Landau’s views of physics.

After his return to the Soviet Union in 1932, Landau held various teaching positions, including the head of the Theory Department of the Ukrainian Technical Institute in Kharkov and the Head of the Theory Division of the Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Landau worked on many branches of theoretical physics, including atomic collisions, astrophysics, low-temperature physics, atomic and nuclear physics, thermodynamics, quantum electrodynamics, kinetic theory of gases, quantum field theory, and plasma physics. He conducted thorough research on the basis of physician Kapista’s general thermodynamical theory of phase transitions of the second order and in 1938, he discovered the superfluidity of liquid helium. Even suffering from Stalin’s “Great Purge” and spending a year in prison in 1938 didn’t stop his enthusiasm for getting more outstanding achievements in physics. Between 1941 and 1947, Landau wrote many papers mainly focusing on the theory of quantum liquids. His comprehensive research on this theory was recognized with the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physics. In his award presentation speech Professor I. Waller, member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, said: “Landau has by his original ideas and masterly investigations exercised far-reaching influence on the evolution of the atomic science of our time.”

In addition to Nobel Prize, Landau received many international honors for his contributions to the development of physics. He was a member of the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences (1951), the Netherlands Royal Academy of Sciences (1956), the London Physical Society (1959) and the Physical Society of France (1962). In 1960, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Fritz London Prize and the Max Planck Medal. Moreover, he was elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences (1946), received the State Prize three times (1946, 1949, 1953), received the Lenin Prize in 1962 (shared with E.M. Lifshitz for the Course of Theoretical Physics), was granted the title Hero of Socialist Labour (1953) and awarded twice the Order of Lenin.

He died in 1968 – suffering from the implications of a serious car accident six years earlier. Sadly, this accident prevented him to travel to Stockholm in 1962 to personally receive his Nobel Prize.

Lev Landau has always been the source of pride for the people of Azerbaijan and the Jews living in this country, where people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds have been living for many centuries in peace and harmony. In Baku, a memorial plaque has been placed on his birth house. Also, one of the beautiful streets in downtown Baku is named after Landau.

Being one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century, Landau’s work, dedication to science and outstanding achievements have taught and inspired many scientists not only in Azerbaijan and in the former USSR, but in the entire world. As he mentioned repeatedly: “Everybody has a capacity for a happy life. All these talks about how difficult the times are we live in, that’s just a clever way to justify fear and laziness.”

Episode 101 – Science is a Myth

Science and Religion. The ultimate standoff. It’s hard to imagine two more dichotomous extremes, right? Well, maybe not. Maybe these age old rivals have much more in common than we have been led to believe. Maybe the mythologies that make up religion have nestled in them some deeper truths. Maybe science is a mythology of its own.

Do the two not ultimately attempt to answer the same underlying questions: How was the universe created? How did life on earth begin? How does our consciousness work? What is morality?

Regardless of your personal beliefs, it’s hard to deny that both Science and Religion are extremely captivating.

But whereas the mythologies of religion have been refined to perfection, its stories inducted into sacred canons, crafted into bestsellers, science has been left to the scientists. The mythologies of science have been and are still being written in dry, technical, unapproachable language bereft of any poetic prose that will both enchant the reader and do justice to the vast knowledge scientists possess in 2018.

This ambitious mission is exactly what it seems Dr. Oren Harman took upon himself to accomplish in his new book, “Evolutions: 15 Myths that Explain our World” .

Dr. Harman is a professor in Bar Ilan University, where he’s the Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society. He studied in Harvard and received his PhD with distinction from Oxford University. His fields of expertise include the history and philosophy of biology, the theory of evolution, the evolution of altruism, the cultural history of science and more.

Harman’s work featured in Science, Nature, the New York Times, The Economist and many other honorable platforms.

Prof. Oren Harman joins 2NJB today to talk about his very own mythology of science.

Oren’s books on Amazon

Q&A with Barry Barish on His Nobel Prize — and Why He Never Wrote That Novel

California Institute of Technology physicist Barry Barish poses outside his home after winning the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shares with Caltech's Kip S. Thorne and MIT's Rainer Weiss, in Santa Monica, California, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon (Newscom TagID: rtrlnine183133.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915. But it would take the work of a soft-spoken Jewish physicist and Caltech professor from Santa Monica to help prove the most significant implication of that theory.

In recognition of the discovery, Barry Barish, 81, was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics on Oct. 3, along with colleagues Kip Thorne of Caltech and Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their accomplishment: observing gravitational waves, phenomena that Einstein predicted in his 1915 theory. Scientists say the discovery has changed how they study the universe.

Jewish Journal: What’s the significance of your discovery?

Barry Barish: After 100 years, we have for the first time shown that one of Einstein’s main predictions is true — that there are gravitational waves. Einstein had two new predictions from general relativity. One was that light would bend. That was tested in 1919, and basically, he was proven right. The second prediction was gravitational waves, which took us 100 years to prove. The theory itself, which is thought by most to be rather obscure, you use every day, probably. Your GPS on your cellphone wouldn’t work without general relativistic

JJ: How so?

BB: The satellites are high up, so the gravitation field where they are is about a quarter of what it is for us on the Earth. And they’re going at a reasonable fraction — about a quarter — of the speed of light. So, basically, there are general relativistic corrections for that. If you didn’t make that correction and you started on the road, you’d drift off the road within a minute or two.

JJ: How is your discovery going to change the way we study the universe?

BB: Everything we know about the universe is studied by using telescopes or other instruments that look at visible light, infrared, ultraviolet or X-ray — different wavelengths of electromagnetic interactions. Only 4 percent of what’s in the universe gives off electromagnetic radiation, so we don’t have any handle on the rest. Now, we have a new way to look at the universe, looking at gravitational effects instead of electromagnetics. That’s the long-term future.

JJ: Your son, Kenneth Barish, is also a physics professor. Is he upset that he has bigger shoes to fill now?

BB: No, he’s thrilled. He works in a different field of physics, teaching at UC Riverside, so I think for him it’s all very good. I don’t think all of a sudden my shoes have gotten too big for him.

JJ: When do you go to Sweden to accept the prize?

BB: The Nobel ceremony is always on Dec. 10, no matter what day of the week it falls on. And you have to go about a week early because they have an infinite number of events. I have to wear coattails and all that kind of stuff.

JJ: Is there part of you that would rather just have a quiet ceremony and get back to work?

BB: You’ll have to ask me afterward. At this point, it sounds overwhelming. I have a hand-me-down tux that I’ve used, but I never bought one. I never have owned a suit until now.

JJ: Would you rather just be left alone to do science?

BB: Well, look, if it goes on too long, I think it will get tiring. I mean it’s tiring anyway — it’s so much. But it’ll take time to tell. Right now, it’s kind of stimulating. I’m happy to ride the wave at this point.

JJ: What keeps you busy when you’re not in the laboratory?

BB: I live on the Santa Monica Beach and bike up and down almost every day. I like exercise, and I like literature a lot and plays and things like that. When I was really young, my ambition wasn’t to do science. I didn’t really know that I could. It was to write a great novel.

JJ: Did you ever start writing it?

BB: No. Too busy doing science.

Video: Do You Think Science and Religion Can Coexist?

SoulPancake, a popular YouTube channel, recently asked me to participate in a discussion with other faith leaders about the environment. That was something I could not pass up.

The interviewer is Zach Anner, a self-proclaimed “climate change idiot” who is on a mission to, “find out what the hell climate change is and what people across America are doing (or not doing) about it!”

In this Earth Your While adventure, Zach talks with a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Reverend about their religion’s perspective on caring for the environment.

New Israeli-developed therapy could prevent heart failure

Image via Shutterstock

Israeli researchers have developed a new therapy to treat atherosclerosis — the hardening and narrowing of the arteries — and prevent heart failure, using a new biomedical polymer that reduces arterial plaque and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease causes 56 million deaths annually worldwide, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of Disease Report.

Arteries are lined by a thin layer of cells, the endothelium, which keeps arteries toned and smooth and maintains blood flow. Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium, typically caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol.

When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called E-selectin, which brings white blood cells (monocytes) to the area. That leads to dangerous plaque buildup in the arteries.

At present, there are several available treatment options for atherosclerosis, but no therapy can reverse arterial damage and improve the heart muscle. An innovative nano-polymer made in Israel shows promise in reducing arterial damage and improving the heart muscle.

This E-selectin-targeting polymer selectively repairs damaged tissue without harming healthy tissue, so it has no side effects — unlike statins, which currently are the leading medication used for treating atherosclerosis.

“Our E-selectin-targeting polymer reduces existing plaque and prevents further plaque progression and inflammation, preventing arterial thrombosis, ischemia, myocardial infarction and stroke,” said Ayelet David of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) department of clinical biochemistry and pharmacology.

Patented and in preclinical stage, the new polymer has been tested on mice with positive results.

In a study soon to be published, David and fellow researchers describe how they treated atherosclerotic mice with four injections of the new biomedical polymer and tested the change in their arteries after four weeks.

“We were stunned by the results,” said Dr. Jonathan Leor, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Sheba Medical Center and professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University, who collaborated with David on the research study.

“The myocardial function of the treated mice was greatly improved, there was less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries,” Leor said.

David and Leor suggest that this polymer-based therapy also may be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions.

As such, the new polymeric therapy may have life-changing benefits for millions of people, they said.

“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer therapy through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” said Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies, BGU’s technology and commercialization company.

“We believe that this therapy has the potential to help a great number of people,” Horovitz said.

The Halacha* of Mayim Bialik

*Halacha (noun): set of Jewish religious laws

“It’s my job to be a public person and I get that,” actress Mayim Bialik told a packed crowd at the Barnes & Noble book-signing of her third book, Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular (Penguin), a manifesto, of sorts, for girls going through puberty. Somebody in the audience had just asked her how she dealt with the pressures of fame.

“But,” she continued, “it’s not my job to be super-anything.” (Still, it might be noted that she is donning a superhero cape on the cover of “Girling Up.”)

The actress-comedian-author-neuroscientist-feminist-Zionist is somewhat of an anomaly. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a celebrity who wants to be as authentic as I do. Like I literally posted a photo of me holding a toilet bowl brush,” she said, referring to a Facebook post where she’s holding aforementioned toilet bowl accoutrement.

“I posted that because I don’t want to be that celebrity who’s like, ‘I’m supermom!’ I’m not.”

Bialik, a real-life scientist, plays a neurobiologist in what’s being hailed as the most watched show on television today: “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS. But, in a culture downright obsessed with celebrity, she’s the polar opposite of a Kardashian. She wants (and makes a solid effort) to display her humanness, her Jewishness, her flaws.

In some ways, the 41-year-old actress wrote her newest book for herself, although perhaps a younger version of herself. “I think I basically wrote the book that I wish I had when I was in this age range and going through all those changes,” she told the Journal.

Bialik is still going through changes – not to mention a divorce in 2012 to her now ex-husband – but, when undergoing major life events, she turns to Judaism for answers. On Kveller, an online community for moms, grandparents and women, Bialik wrote a post about Rabbinit Alissa Thomas-Newborn of B’nai David-Judea, the first woman to be hired as Orthodox clergy in Los Angeles.

Well, when I was getting divorced, I spoke to male rabbis. I spoke to their wives. I spoke to therapists, and mentors, and other women who had been divorced. But there were questions I longed to ask a woman who was trained in halacha. I needed her then.

“The Big Bang Theory” star said if she weren’t acting, she probably would’ve pursued a rabbinical career. She first became aware of this yearning at the age of 15, she wrote on her website GrokNation. Bialik admits that had her life path been different, she could’ve easily pursued a rabbinical education at Yeshivat Maharat, the first yeshiva to ordain women as Orthodox clergy.  

I am now a PhD-holding divorced woman and a mother of two sons. I support myself and my children by being a full-time actor. My chance to be a rabbi is gone; my life is meant for something different. But I still remember, understand and feel the desire to lead.

“How do you balance your religion with your science?” It’s a question raised time and time again with Bialik. To her, science and religion go hand-in-hand. During the author’s Q&A, it was, inevitably, one of the questions asked. “The snarky answer is: I just do,” she quipped, before delving into the physics of faith. There’s a hint of sermonizing in the way Bialik speaks. As one might expect, there’s science, fact and logic embedded in her diction. And also, there’s something deeply Talmudic. Listen to her full response here (with a gratuitous animation):

STEAM-powered fun for kids and teens

It’s no secret that educators are finding magic in forward-thinking and multidisciplinary STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curricula. For parents looking to bring a little of that home, there are plenty of hot items out on the market to help. Here are a few favorites suggested by area educators.

The free “SWIFT PLAYGROUNDS” app (pictured above) for the iPad (no age appropriateness suggested) uses puzzles and games to teach Apple’s powerful coding language used for making many of today’s popular apps. That’s an important head start on college — and whatever comes next, according to Rick St. Laurent, principal of general studies at YULA Boys High School. “Getting teens started with coding early is vital to their future education,” he said. ” target=”_blank”>

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Israeli-German research team makes skin cancer breakthrough

Scientists in a collaborative Israeli-German research project say they have unlocked the secret of how melanoma spreads and are now able to point the way toward prevention of the killer disease.

Melanoma is the most aggressive and lethal type of skin cancer, causing the death of one person every 52 minutes, and scientists warn that global warming is likely increasing the number of cases.

The World Health Organization estimates that a 10 percent decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma skin cancer cases yearly, and Israel’s Health Ministry says cases of the disease have doubled over the past three decades.

“We found that even before the cancer itself invades the skin, it sends out tiny vesicles containing molecules of microRNA. These induce the structural changes in the dermis, and prepares it for receiving and transporting the cancer cells to other parts of the body,” said Doctor Carmit Levy, the research leader at Tel Aviv University’s School of Medicine. 

“The danger does not come from the initial tumor that appears on the skin, but rather in its metastasis — cancer cells sent off to colonize in vital organs like the brain, lungs, liver and bones,” Levy said in an interview with the Journal.

The 25-member research team from the German Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg, along with doctors and scientists from four Israeli universities and hospitals, used advanced microscopy tools to examine the interaction between the cancerous melanoma cells and the skin.

Their findings were published Aug. 22 in the prominent scientific journal Nature Cell Biology.

While the study published in that journal was subject to peer review, independent researchers have yet to weigh in.

The researchers said that by examining pathology samples taken from melanoma patients, the group was able to discover a central mechanism in the metastasis of skin cancer.

“To our surprise, we found changes that had never before been reported in the morphology of the dermis — the inner layer of the skin. Our next task was to find out what these changes were and how they related to melanoma,” Levy said.

Having mapped the cellular pathway melanoma cancer takes to spread to other organs, researchers began a quest to block it.

“This is a good example of how knowledge of the mechanism permits the identification of appropriate chemicals,” Dr. Jorg D. Hoheisel said in a telephone interview from Heidelberg, “All this work was a true collaboration between Tel Aviv University and our national cancer research center.”

The binational team identified two chemicals to stop melanoma.

A pair of selective inhibitors — SB202190 and U0126 — were found to retard the sprouting of the vesicles from the melanoma tumor to the skin and to prevent changes in the dermis even after the vesicles have emerged.

 “Although the mode of action is different, both chemicals inhibit the changes in the recipient cells in the dermis, which in turn affects the invasion of melanoma cells into the dermis,” Hoheisel said.

After successful lab tests with the two chemicals, the researchers believe these substances may serve as promising candidates for future drugs.

Despite the development of a range of melanoma treatments, including some successes in recent years in use of immunotherapy, no assured remedy yet exists for this life-threatening disease.

But German and Israeli scientists seem to disagree on the timeline to produce a pharmaceutical solution for melanoma. 

“What we generated is understanding, no cure,” Hoheisel said. “Unfortunately, it will be years before our findings may result in a benefit to patients.”

Levy is significantly more optimistic.

“We now have this amazing know-how on how melanoma spreads and even which chemicals can stop it,” Levy said. “We are enthusiastic that with these findings, the right funding and a good pharmaceutical partner, we can start testing experimental drugs within two years.” 

Brand-new labs, advanced equipment prep students for sci-tech careers

While Jewish day schools across Los Angeles have always tried to keep children and teens rooted in their ancient faith, new programs are now helping students develop the skills and creativity needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Over the past decade, secular and religious schools have adopted STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEAM (which factors in arts) curriculums, integrating these previously disparate disciplines. These initiatives — customizable for grades K-12 — are based on the premise that the future success of today’s students depends on not only what they know, but also on how they use what they know. 

Yet this type of learning requires new classroom approaches — such as hands-on, project-based learning — as well as specialized facilities and equipment, such as advanced computers and 3-D printers. To meet these needs, many schools are creating “innovation labs” on their campuses.

YULA students working on a robotics project in the new YULA Genesis Innovation Lab. Photo by John Solano

Allison Sostchen, director of general studies at Gindi Maimonides Academy, said the school’s addition of an innovation lab has “been a complete game-changer, as it adds so much value and opportunity to our activities. For example … use of a 3-D printer to demonstrate principles of design, circuitry and basic programming; and use of digital storyboarding and ‘mindmaps’ as methods for integrating writing, research, and visualization of abstract concepts.”

Jewish values, such as compassion, are often integral to projects. At YULA Boys High School in West Los Angeles, students used a 3-D printer to create a prosthetic hand. And at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, middle-schoolers created and patented a Word Ring, a scanning device for sight-impaired people that converts text to audio. 

“Sure, there was science and math going on before [STEM and our innovation lab] came to our school,” said Larry Kligman, head of school at Heschel. “Yet when we embarked on this, we realized this was beyond ‘new.’ This inspiration came from the fact that we don’t know what jobs our kids will apply for 20 years from now. What we do know is that there will be a new set of skills they are going to need to be able to secure those jobs and thrive in them.”

At Milken Community Schools’ Saperstein Middle School, the STEAM department offers elective, extracurricular and co-curricular courses in design, robotics, programming and more. Milken’s high school has had four semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search; 16 students with patents or provisional patents on their Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge products; and 18 Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) students whose research at Milken has been published in scientific journals. 

Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev, center, visits Milken Community Schools’ MAST classroom. Photo by Roger Kassebaum

Although there is great excitement about the prospect of pushing education into the 21st century, change does not come cheap. The process of procuring investors, grants, donations and other forms of financial support has been a learning experience for leadership at the schools.

“STEM requires both instructional support, financial support and time,” said Tami Weiser, head of school at Wise School, which goes from kindergarten through sixth grade. “I have a group of teachers and administrators who meet twice a week just for that integrating step. We discuss initiatives, planning STEM events, and making sure things get carried out in the different spaces.”

It cost $300,000 to develop Wise’s new innovation lab, which was made possible by a donation from the Tyberg family and is used by all the academic disciplines. The Moradi family donated $50,000 that went toward remodeling the science lab, and this academic year, the school also added a project studio, which integrates STEM with social studies and further bolsters the science program’s engineering component. 

At YULA, parents and lay leaders Sherri and Arnold Schlesinger approached the school about unifying existing STEM efforts into the Genesis Academy for Innovation, said Richard St. Laurent, general studies principal. Genesis provides STEM education for students at all levels, including those at YULA Girls High School, St. Laurent said. The centerpiece of Genesis is the innovation lab, a hub for a variety of programs.

YULA students working on engineering projects. Photo by John Solano  

YULA teacher Ian Arenas oversees Genesis, which opened in its current form this academic year, and he described some of the ways lab activities are enriching students’ education. 

“For example, a 3-D printer can be used to re-create Hellenistic architecture to document and preserve information. … Genesis Academy partners with corporations and organizations such as [after-school program] LA’s Best, the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) schools and the national Veterans Affairs office through a teaching and mentorship program, using the mobile science/innovation lab,” he said.

At Wise School, science teachers Alexandra Coatney and Mandy Bolkin are excited about how their initiatives came to life this year.

“Students are taking what they learn home with them,” Bolkin said. “They are loving our in-class projects and are taking advantage of opportunities to get more involved with their community, such as participating in Coastal Cleanup Day.” 

Seeing kids and teens in these labs, engaged in creation and invention, provides a palpable sense of how these investments are already paying off.

At Heschel, the newly remodeled Robotics Club space was packed with kids brushing up on their programming skills or preparing their entries for the upcoming First Lego League competition, where thousands of teams from around the world will be tasked with building robots that perform a particular job. This year’s competition focuses on trash and recycling. 

YULA students Eitan Tennenbaum, 17, and Benjamin Goldstein, 15, talked about the impact that their STEM education has had on them.

“The school already has computers we use every single day, [but] having a lab where you can express yourself with [things such as] 3-D printers and the Oculus Rift [a virtual reality device] really enhances the experience,” Eitan said.

“Learning how to use technology now … can help you when you’re finished with school to get a job,” Benjamin said. “It also teaches creativity and how to use your brain, and in the end, will help you succeed in anything. 

“[I’ve learned] that you can build anything with anything, and that your mind opens up when you walk into this room.” 

Healing: Where religion and science meet

What does Judaism have to do with healing?  This was the topic of the lively conference, “Healing: The Interplay of Religion and Science,” October 26 and 27, 2014 at Arizona State University.  Three local attendees were Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University, myself from The Lippman Center for Optimal Health and Neil Wenger, MD  Chair of the Ethics Committee at UCLA Medical Center and Director of its Center on Ethics. 

Rabbi Dorff described Judaism's emphasis on maintaining our health and the various community resources that contribute to assisting people in that endeavor.  The emphasis on addressing the whole individual, not just a symptom or an organ system, carried through the entire conference.

I discussed the similarities between alternative medicine and Judaism.  Drawing upon some of the resources Rabbi Dorff described, as well as his writings, I noted that taking a proactive approach to our health and asking questions are two commonalities.  Additionally, I showed how keeping ourselves as healthy as possible facilitates our vitality as well as easing our ability to connect to God, a particularly important topic during the High Holy Days.  It is easier to change our habits and to improve ourselves when we feel better.

Dr. Wenger's summation of research on religiosity and health was enlightening.  Scientific studies reveal that those who are more religious tend to live longer than the general population.  On the other hand, praying for the health of another, while it might benefit the person doing the praying, does not seem to improve the outcome for the ill individual. 

Throughout the two days, the importance of empathy by the health practitioner became one of the most desirable characteristics.  There was general consensus that the empathetic doctor creates the space where better healing can occur.  Amen to that.

The true story of how scientists battled Typhus and sabotaged the Nazis

By now, of course, we know full well that the Holocaust is a bottomless pit. More than a half-century after the liberation of the last camp, new and wholly unsuspecting tales of both suffering and redemption continue to reach us. “The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis” by Arthur Allen (Norton: $26.95, hardcover) is one such remarkable book.

At the heart of the saga is the humble but also much-hated insect known as Pediculus humanus humanus or, more colloquially, body lice, the transmitters of deadly typhus, a now-unfamiliar disease that was the source of dread over the centuries. Rudolf Weigl, the eccentric Polish scientist whose name appears in the book’s title, experimented with lice in order to come up with the world’s first effective vaccine against typhus — “a disease,” writes Allen, “that terrorized the world, inspired the creation of Zyklon B gas, and provided the pretext for the worst crimes in history.”

One of Weigl’s assistants was a young Jewish biologist named Ludwick Fleck, now best known as
a philosopher of science. Fleck ended up in Buchenwald, where his scientific training prompted the Nazis to spare his life and exploit his knowledge in the camp laboratory, where typhus germs were cultivated and vaccines were developed under the direction of German doctors.

The bitter irony that suffuses “The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl” is found in one of the commonplaces of Nazi propaganda. “Nazi ideology had identified typhus, which is spread by lice, as a disease characteristic of parasitic, subhuman Jews,” the author explains. “Learned German doctors convinced themselves that it was better to kill the Jews than to allow them to contaminate others.” Both Weigl and Fleck were doomed to play roles in what Allen calls “a theater of medicine gone wrong.” 

Much of the book is devoted to the long and dreadful history of typhus and the pioneering efforts to eradicate the disease.  Then, too, Allen conjures up life in the Polish city then called Lvov (which Allen spells “Lwow”), where “learned unemployables” resorted to spending long afternoons at cafes and coffee houses because it was the only available venue to “intellectual cross-fertilization.” Fleck availed himself of the cafe life after leaving Weigl’s lab until a favorable marriage at last enabled him to set up his own private laboratory.

Weigl, by contrast, enjoyed considerable success in scientific circles. “By the late 1920s, Weigl’s lab had become a mecca for serious typhus researchers,” Allen writes. “The endless supply of typhus germs he could offer visiting scientists was well worth the eight-hour train ride from Warsaw or the two-day trip from Vienna.” Later, he employed some 50 workers at the task of raising and processing lice by the millions in order to manufacture a typhus vaccine. The process, described in lurid but also lighthearted detail in the book, is the stuff of a horror flick.

The real horror begins in 1939, when Poland was conquered by Nazi Germany (and, from the east, the Soviet Union), and the likening of Jews to lice turned from a political metaphor into mass murder on an industrial scale. “Jews – Lice – Typhus” was the message on a German poster displayed in occupied Poland, which displayed the image of a louse and a bearded Jew. Both Weigl and Fleck, each in his own way, were recruited by the Nazis to address the authentic public health issue of typhus, but for Fleck, the venue was a concentration camp, where the metaphor took on life-or-death implications for the Germans, too.

“The Germans were indifferent to the suffering of the camp inmates, and encouraged death by overwork, beatings, torture, starvation, exposure, dehydration, diarrhea, and other diseases,” Allen writes. “But there was one illness that Nazis did not want inmates to contract, and that was typhus. They feared that typhus would infect SS men, or Germans outside the camps, and they feared the spread of lice.”

So the camp inmates encountered both literal delousing and, sometimes, the use of delousing as a method of crowd control: “Delousing was so routine in the Nazi realm, in fact, that at Auschwitz it could be used as a pretext to get Jews peacefully to remove their clothes and enter the gas chambers — which were equipped with fake shower heads.”

The ordeal of Weigl and Fleck is narrated with compassion and discernment by Allen, a journalist and historian whose previous work includes “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver.” Each man found ways to resist and subvert his Nazi masters, sometimes in astounding ways. The Weigl Institute, for example, became “a mysterious labyrinth of science and deception,” and protection from Nazi oppression was available to the lucky souls who were willing to strap cages full of hungry lice to their thighs: “Anyone who needed saving became a louse feeder,” reports one of Weigl’s assistants.

Fleck, for his part, was ultimately consigned to a particularly tragic circle of hell where typhus was studied within the confines of Buchenwald. Inmates accustomed to the starvation diet of camp rations were offered lavish meals without being told that the food was doused with typhoid cultures. Fleck himself contrived to perform experiments that were intentionally inconclusive out of fear that “if he ever finished the work … he’d be killed.” Daringly, Fleck and his comrades produced a total of 600 liters of useless vaccine that the Nazis intended to use to inoculate SS men and German soldiers while also producing six liters of effective vaccine to be used inside the camp itself — “a bold act of vaccine sabotage,” as Allen puts it.

At the end of Allen’s wholly surprising and affecting story, we are introduced to a man whose father always kept a small wooden louse cage as a keepsake of his work for Weigl. Only because he served as a louse feeder did he manage to survive the war. “I’m alive because of those lice,” the son says. Exactly here is the genius of Allen’s brilliant book — the moment when we realize how the humblest of creatures and the unlikeliest of human contrivances can change history. 

With electromagnetics and metal caps, Israeli companies aim to zap brain diseases

It looks like a futuristic salon hair dryer.

Connected to a computer by a bright orange strip, the half-cube with rounded corners sits comfortably atop the head, a coil of wires resting on the skull.

As a doctor stands at the computer, the patient gets comfortable. A few seconds later, a brief electromagnetic pulse hits the head.

Do this every weekday for six weeks, doctors tell Alzheimer’s patients, and you’ll feel your brain come back to life.

The technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, uses electromagnetic waves to penetrate the brain and activate underused neural connections.

Two Israeli companies are hoping it will change the way brain diseases are treated.

“This is the first time in neuroscience that we have a noninvasive tool to directly penetrate and influence deep structures of the brain in a targeted way,” said Ronen Segal, the chief technology officer of Brainsway, based in Jerusaslem. “No shocks, no hospitalization. You come into the clinic, you sit in the chair for 20 minutes, you get a series of electromagnetic zaps.”

Unlike electroshock therapy, now known as electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT — a risky and controversial procedure long used to counteract severe depression and other disorders — TMS targets specific regions of the brain rather than the whole organ and at a much lower intensity. Unlike ECT, Brainsway’s clinical trials show TMS carries almost no risk of seizure.

Brainsway is working on using TMS to combat a range of diseases. The company received approval this year from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat depression with TMS, and has European Union permission to use the technique to treat 10 diseases or disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism, even tobacco addiction. Other drug addictions and obesity are next on the company’s list.

Another Israeli company, Neuronix, focuses on Alzheimer’s, which affects 5 million Americans — a number sure to rise as the baby boomer generation ages.

“Every emotion, thought or action starts with electric activity in the brain,” Segal said. “The problem is if you have too much or too little activity, you get a brain disorder.”

In a person suffering from depression, for example, the section of the brain that regulates mood isn’t as active as it should be. Electromagnetic pulses targeting that section stimulate brain cells to fire, restoring them to a normal level of activity, Segal says, and teaching them to be more active in the long term.

For Alzheimer’s patients, treatment entails an additional step. Patients who receive Neuronix’s electromagnetic pulse have less than a minute of increased brain activity. During that window, a computer screen flashes a simple task meant to exercise the affected region of the brain — asking patients, in one example, whether two sentences mean the same thing.

Affirming that “The salad has tomatoes” equals “There are tomatoes in the salad” helps sustain the short-term benefit of TMS therapy.

“To understand [the sentences], to process them, to understand whether they have the same meaning, is a challenge,” said Orly Bar, Neuronix’s vice president for marketing. “We want to get to a point where the mechanism improves.”

While both companies emphasize that treatment should complement existing medication, not replace it, clinical trials show that TMS can be more effective in counteracting Alzheimer’s than current medications. And unlike pills that enter the bloodstream, the electromagnetic zaps have no side effects.

“We know there’s medicine that works on the same mechanism,” Bar said. “There’s no contradiction. They can work together great.”

Neuronix and Brainsway were both featured at Braintech Israel 2013, a conference in October highlighting Israel’s growing brain technology industry. Along with medical advancements, the conference showcased innovation in fields such as brain modeling and mind-control gaming.

“It’s widely accepted that we’ve made a lot of progress in heart disease and cancer,” said Miri Polachek, executive director of Israel Brain Technologies, the nonprofit that organized the conference. “The one area where we need to make a big push is the field of brain research.

“It’s no longer science fiction. You can see these things becoming real.”

New Israeli study explains coral’s pulsation

This story originally appeared on

Do you find yourself dragging; craving a nap in the late afternoon? You're not alone. Soft coral beneath the waters near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat does the same thing.

A new study by scientists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion, Israel's institute of technology, discovered that a soft coral called Heteroxenia, found in the reefs off Eilat, pulsates continually except for a period of one-half-hour just before sunset. The study does not answer the napping question, but the scientists do have a theory.

“During the day the coral uses the photosynthesis to generate its food, and during the night it goes through respiration like other animals,” Uri Shavit, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion in Haifa told The Media Line. “Just before sunset when the level of oxygen is very high it can take a rest without harming its metabolism.”

What the study, funded by Israel's National Science Foundation, was trying to discover was why, unlike all other species of coral, the Heteroxenia pulsates incessantly, using up valuable energy. The reason, they found, is that the level of photosynthesis, which transforms sunlight into chemical energy, is between five and eight times greater with the movement than without it.

“Corals, which are animals, are important for the ecosystem because they live in symbiosis with algae,” Maya Kremien, a graduate student at Hebrew University who worked on the study told The Media Line. “The pulsation creates the optimal conditions for the photosynthesis of the algae.”

The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (PNAS). Kremien worked on the project for four years, developing an underwater measuring device called a particle imaging velocimeter (PIV) which measures the flow of water around the coral.

“By taking hundreds of thousands of images with the PIV, we basically have velocity vector maps,” Shavit said. “We found that the coral pulsates almost 24-hours a day. It's very beautiful. You can sit and watch it for hours.”

The study comes amid concern that the coral reef in Eilat, which is one of the most diverse in the world, has been gradually degrading. Of the nine miles of Israeli coastline along the Red Sea, less than one mile has been designated as a nature preserve. The development of the city of Eilat, sewage outflow and industrial installations have all taken a toll on the coral reefs.

In a previous study, the same group of Israeli scientists found that the motion of water is needed to increase the flow of oxygen away from the corals. This time they found that the pulsation means the coral will not be filtering the same water each time. In addition, each polyp, or coral flower, pulsates at a different rate.

The research could have some practical applications as well, in engineering or medicine.

“We are not there yet but there are a lot of interesting questions that could lead to practical use,” Shavit said. “Nature is very smart through evolution and people mimic nature in other fields. We learned to fly from birds, and to swim from fish.”

They are not sure what people can learn from coral, but they are sure it will be valuable.

SpaceIL: Israel’s race to the moon

One day in 2015, a small Israeli spacecraft will land on and reconnoiter the moon, joining the United States and former Soviet Union in the world’s most exclusive extraterrestrial club.

That vision is not fantasy or chauvinistic braggadocio, but the sober prediction of Israel’s most experienced engineers and space scientists.

According to the leaders of the SpaceIL (for Israel) project, the unmanned micro-spaceship will pack more instrumentation into a smaller and lighter capsule than ever achieved before.

During a visit to Los Angeles in mid-February, Yariv Bash, founder and CEO of SpaceIL, and Ronna Rubinstein, the chief of staff, outlined the genesis, scope and anticipated impact of the moon mission.

In late 2010, Bash heard about the Google Lunar X competition, which offered awards up to $30 million for the first team to land a robotic craft on the moon that would perform several complex missions. For one, the craft had to move 500 meters (1,640 feet) from its landing site to explore the moon’s surface – or send out a search vehicle to do so – and beam high-definition videos back to earth.

Bash, an electronics and computer engineer, said that SpaceIL will traverse the distance in one spectacular jump. SpaceIL, by the way, is only an interim name and when the time comes will be replaced with an official designation.

Initial names suggested by the project staff include Golda, for the former Israeli prime minister, Ramon, for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia shuttle disaster, and Hatikvah, Hebrew for “hope” and the title of the Israeli national anthem.

As soon as Bash absorbed the details of the Google competition, he posted one sentence on Facebook, asking, “Who is coming with me to the moon?” Among the first respondents was Rubinstein, a lawyer who now oversees the project’s organization, marketing and fundraising.

The total estimated cost for the project will be $30 million, of which $20 million has been raised so far, primarily from industry and private contributors. The Israeli government has allotted funds for 10 percent of the total cost, the maximum a government can put up under the contest rules.


Israeli President Shimon Peres visits SpaceIL. Photo courtesy SpaceIL

According to Israeli statistics, the government money will be well spent, since for every $1 invested in Israel’s 10 satellites and other high-tech research, $7 are returned in civilian and commercial applications.

The prize for the winning entry is $20 million, with another $10 million available in bonus prizes for accomplishing different aspects of the mission.

But it’s not the prize money that is driving the 11 full-time staff members and some 300 professionals who are volunteering their services evenings and weekends, after finishing their regular day jobs. In any case, any money won will go to schools to enhance math and technology programs.

“What counts for us is the impact the moon landing will have on Israelis and Jews around the world, to show what Israel is and what it can do,” Bash said.

Most important is to instill both pride and scientific curiosity in Israeli youngsters, Bash added. Together with the Weizmann Institute of Science, the project has launched a nationwide program of high school visits, which so far has involved 27,000 students.

Plans also call for lectures and exhibits in Diaspora communities, and Bash and Rubinstein will address a plenary session at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC during the first week of March.

Other key partners in the project are Israel Aerospace Industries, Tel Aviv University, Technion, Israeli Space Agency, Ramon Foundation and private companies like Rafael and Bezeq.

The Israeli spacecraft, whatever its final name, will compete against 24 other entries, of which 11 will be launched by various U.S. teams. Other competitors will come mainly from Europe and some from South American countries, but none from China, or, for that matter, Iran.

Early favorites are entries from the United States, Israel and Spain, Bash said.

Israel’s main strength, he noted, “lies in its nano-miniaturized technology, and SpaceIL will be the smallest craft ever sent into space.”

At liftoff, it will weigh 120 kilograms (264 pounds), but on landing, after burning off its fuel, it will weigh less than 40 kilograms (88 pounds). To get into orbit, SpaceIL will piggyback onto a commercial rocket, either American or Russian, at a cost of between $3 million to $5 million.

To Israelis watching the moon landing from 239,000 miles away, “it will be the most exciting reality show of all,” Bash hopes.

The impact on Israelis, especially young people, would be similar to that created in 1969 by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he descended from the Apollo spacecraft to the moon’s surface, proclaiming, “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Israeli supporters of SpaceIL already have their own inspirational motto, taken from Theodor Herzl’s words as he prophesized the future creation of a Jewish state.

“Im Tirzu Ein Zo Agada” – “If you will it, it is no dream.”

For additional information, visit

For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free

The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Prenatal whole genome sequencing technology raises Jewish ethical questions

Expectant mothers long have faced the choice of finding out the gender of their child while still in the womb.

But what if parents could get a list of all the genes and chromosomes of their unborn children, forecasting everything from possible autism and future genetic diseases to intelligence level and eye color?

The technology to do just that — prenatal whole genome sequencing, which can detect all 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the genome from fetal blood present in the mother’s bloodstream — is already in laboratories. While not yet available in clinical settings because of the cost, once the price falls below $1,000 it is likely to become common, according to a report by the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute.

With it will come a host of Jewish ethical dilemmas.

“We need a serious set of conversations about the implications of this new technology,” said Peter Knobel, a Reform rabbi who teaches bioethics at the Spertus Center in Chicago and is the senior rabbi at the city’s Temple Sholom.

How will parents react to a pregnancy destined to produce a child with an unwanted condition? What do parents do when genetic sequencing shows a predisposition for a deadly disease but not a certainty of it? What about diseases not curable now but which may be cured by the time the child reaches adulthood? When, if ever, is the right time to tell a child he or she has a genetic predisposition toward a particular disease?

It likely will be the most contentious social issue of the next decade, predicts Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

”Anyone who thinks that information that could lead to abortion isn’t going to be controversial has been asleep since Roe v. Wade,” Caplan said.

According to Orthodox Judaism's interpretations of Jewish law, abortion is permissible only when the mother’s health is at risk. The Conservative movement agrees, but its position includes other exceptions.

“Our real concern will be massive increases in the number of abortions,” said Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of bioethics at Yeshiva University. “You have a young couple, 22, 23, 24 years old, and they don’t plan to have more than two or three children. Why take a defective child? I call it the perfect baby syndrome. The perfect baby does not exist.”

Rabbi Avram Reisner, a bioethicist on the Conservative movement’s Committee of Law and Standards, says abortion by whim is clearly prohibited.

“Judaism is not pro-life,” said Reisner, the spiritual leader at Congregation Chevrei Tzedek in Baltimore. “Jewish law allows abortion. And it is not pro-choice. It is concerned with managing the health of the mother. It does not support abortion as a parental whim.”

The Reform movement, though adamantly pro-choice, has a similar position.

“Abortion should not take place for anything other than a serious reason,” said Knobel of the Spertus Institute, “hopefully in consultation with a religious or ethical adviser.”

As far as Jewish ethics are concerned, prenatal whole genome sequencing has some elements in common with current genetic testing.

Embryos of Ashkenazi Jews routinely are tested for such diseases as Tay-Sachs and the breast cancer genes BRCA — two illnesses disproportionately common among Ashkenazim.

In haredi Orthodox communities where arranged marriages are common, matchmakers routinely consult databases that hold genetic information anonymously to see whether a match would face a genetic obstacle. That practice, and genetic testing during pregnancy, has practically eliminated Tay-Sachs disease in the American Ashkenazi community, according to Michael Broyde, professor at the Emory University law school and a member of the Beth Din of America, an Orthodox rabbinical court.

The difference between prenatal sequencing and current genetic testing is the amount of information and its usefulness. Current tests look for specific genetic disorders. Prenatal sequencing is a fishing expedition, looking at everything.

At present, the information is of limited use. No one knows what 90 percent of genes do, and it usually takes more than one gene to do anything. Furthermore, genes are not destiny: Just because one has the genes for certain diseases, such as coronary heart disease, does not mean one will get it.

“All genetic stuff is probabilistic,” Caplan said.

Some say that raises the question of whether Jews should be undergoing genome sequencing at all.

“Just because you can get the whole genome, why do that?” asked Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Law and Standards. “How much do you want to find out and how much do you want to share with the couple, and later with the child? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

The operative question, he notes, is whether it will cure or detect a serious disease.

“With all questions of this type, the law doesn’t ask how something is being done; it asks what we are accomplishing,” Broyde said. “If sequencing makes people healthier, it’s a good thing. If it’s going to make people ill, it’s sinning.”

Knobel says, “We need what I call an ethics of anticipation. We need a serious set of conversations about the implications of using the new technology, about how we can understand the values and ethics and come to grips with what it means in the long term.”

Qualcomm acquires Israeli start-up for $150 million

San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. acquired the Israeli chip manufacturer start-up DesignArt Networks for more than $150 million.

The Israeli company, located in Raanana, is considered a leader in the design of modems and small communication cells for cellular base stations and high-speed wireless backhaul infrastructure.

“DesignArt and its products will both enhance and accelerate our initiatives to drive increased capacity and coverage in mobile networks,” Qualcomm President Craig Barratt said in a statement. “Operators can significantly improve user experience across residential, enterprise and outdoor networks given the greater network efficiencies derived by implementing small cells and heterogeneous networks.”

The sale, which was completed last week, is Qualcomm’s second acquisition in Israel following the buyout of the mobile web company iSkoot in 2010, Yahoo Finance reported.

DesignArt specializes in developing data-centric mobile radio access networks coupled with highly integrated system-on-chip technology.

The deal will allow Qualcomm to offer new system-on-chip and mobile offerings, according to It comes two months after another Israeli start-up,, was acquired by Facebook for more than $100 million.

Health issue or anti-Semitism: Switzerland joins German circumcision ban

Today come reports that hospitals in Zurich and St. Gallen have suspended the practice on Jewish and Muslim boys in the wake of a similar ban in Germany ordered by a judge in Cologne.

Judges in Cologne concluded that circumcision, even when performed by a doctor, is considered “bodily harm,” since a boy under age 14 years cannot legally give consent. And now Berlin’s Jewish Hospital banned this procedure out of fear that its Doctors could face prosecution and even incarceration.  The Netherlands had banned circumcision stating that ‘it was ritual slaughter’, but recently reversed this ruling.

Great Britain’s Orthodox Chief Rabbi said that a ban on circumcision was mandated by two of the Jewish peoples’s worst enemies – the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV and the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Believe it or not, an American city, San Francisco, was set to vote to proscribe one of the central rituals of an entire religious community, the Jewish people, who have been circumcising male infants since the time of Abraham.  Fortunately, the vote was postponed.  Many Muslims, of course, also practice circumcision, while millions of other American parents have eagerly supported this procedure for their infants for hygienic or health reasons.  To add fuel to the fire, anyone who performs a circumcision may be fined $1000 or be committed to a year in jail if this vote was affirmative.  Mark Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Committee, said, “This is the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States.  It is unprecedented in Jewish life.”  The proponents of the bill insist that circumcision is “mutilation and barbaric.  Under pressure, the vote did not materialize.

Russell Crowe (the actor) said: “Circumcision is barbaric and stupid.  Who are you to correct nature?”  Is the “You” the Jew?  ” But do not be concerned,” Russell Crowe continues.  “I have many Jewish friends.  I love my Jewish friends.  I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats, but stop cutting your babies,” he declared.  Who gave him a moral authority that he knows what is best for Jews, Muslims, and others who prefer the benefits of circumcision for their male children.

Anti-circumcision activists have been speaking out against circumcision for decades, but in the last several years the San Diego-based advocacy group has prepared anti-circumcision legislation for 46 states.  The head of the group says that “his circumcision as an infant resulted in diminished sexual sensitivity as an adult.”  Is this double-speak?  How would he know the difference?  Does he know for a fact that his limitations or an inability to have sexual gratification is a result of his circumcision?  Does he conclude that for thousands of years, no Jews or Muslims or billions of other people have had no or limited sexual satisfaction?  There are some data to suggest the opposite – that removal of the foreskin allows greater gratification.   


The warm, moist mucosal environment under the foreskin favors growth of microorganisms creating an environment that could lead to infection both to the man himself and his sexual partner(s)

Paraphimosis is a condition in which the skin that normally folds over the penis, the foreskin, tightens and retracts and cannot return to its normal position over the head of the penis.  If not corrected, the penis will swell and the blood flow to the head may be cut off, damaging the tissue.  It is usually caused by inflammation or infection of the foreskin and may be associated with poor personal hygiene.  Paraphimosis can only occur in uncircumcised men.  Treatment includes circumcision on an emergency basis.

Phimosis occurs when the distal foreskin cannot be retracted over the glans penis.  In the infant, the foreskin normally cannot be retracted over the glans and should not be forced.  With normal growth and stretching of the foreskin, it will become retractable in 90% of children by the age of 6 years.  However, local irritation or infection (balanoposthitis) can cause an abnormal constriction of the foreskin, preventing it from retracting normally.  Often there is pain and swelling, which may be associated with infection of the glans.  Occasionally, a urinary tract infection is present.  A circumcision is indicated particularly when there is superimposed balanitis, balanoposthitis, urinary tract infection, or obstruction.

Balanitis and balanoposthitis are infections of the glans and foreskin.  It is most commonly found in uncircumcised males and frequently presents during the preschool years.  Balanitis may be caused by entrapment of organisms under a poorly retractable foreskin—gram-negative or gram-positive bacterial organisms may be causative, and recently, group A beta hemolytic strep has been implicated.  Monilia infections (yeast) are also associated with balanoposthitis in infants.  Syphilis should also be considered. 

Signs and symptoms include swelling, erythema, penile discharge, pain on urination, bleeding, and occasionally ulceration of the glans.  Additionally, a careful examination of the base of the penis should be performed to look for a strand of hair, which may cause strangulation and edema.

Various types of injuries and trauma can involve the foreskin.  One extremely painful example is when the foreskin “gets caught” in the zipper of the boy’s pants, resulting in an extremely painful emergency situation requiring immediate circumcision.


The benefits of circumcision include: (1) decrease in many types of infections (2) decrease in “strangulation” of the penis; (3) lower incidence of inflammation of the head of the penis, (4) reduced urinary tract infections, (5) fewer problems with erections, (6) a decrease in certain sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, HPV, genital herpes, syphilis, and other microorganisms in men and their partners, (7) almost complete elimination of invasive penile cancer,  (8) a decrease in urological problems generally, and (9) prevention of the foreskin getting “stuck in the zipper.”

An article was published in Lancet on January 6, 2011, written by Maria Wawer, et al. from Johns Hopkins University and Rakai, Uganda.  Male circumcision has been linked to a reduction of HPV infection in men and a reduced risk for cervical neoplasia in women with circumcised partners.  The results showed a significant reduction of 28% in the prevalence of high-risk HPV infection in female partners of circumcised males.  Male circumcision also reduced the incidence of high-risk HPV in women.  The authors suggest the reduced penile HPV carriage may explain the way in which circumcision helps prevent HPV infection in women.  The authors conclude that their findings indicate that male circumcision should now be accepted as an efficacious intervention for reducing the prevalence and incidence of HPV infections in female partners.

Problems involving the penis are not rare in pediatric practice.  A study by Wiswell (1980-1985) looked at 136,000 boys born in U.S. Army hospitals, where 100,000 were circumcised, and there was less than 0.01% complications, which were mostly minor with no deaths.  But of the 36,000 who were not circumcised, the problems were more than ten times higher and there were two deaths (Wiswell and Hachey, 1993).


The WHO and several Centers for Disease Control support circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV transmission.


There are recent alarming reports of harassment by medical professionals of new mothers (especially Jews) in an attempt to stop them from having this procedure carried out.  There has been a trend by pediatric organizations to skirt the truth in favor of what could be viewed as “New Age political correctness,” spurious “human rights” rhetoric, or perhaps fear of litigation stemming from a very, very unlikely surgical mishap.

Is it remotely possible that we are beginning to experience the events of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany – where governmental rules were “codified and classified and recorded to ensure the proper conduct of current and future generations.”?

Dr. Norman Lavin is a clinical professor at UCLA Medical School.

Israeli company testing insulin pill for diabetes treatment

Some people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can manage their disease with diet and exercise. Others must turn to insulin injections and other medical interventions to control their blood sugar levels. But diabetes is a progressive disease — even if medication isn’t needed at first, it may be needed over time, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

And while most people with Type 2 diabetes would like to avoid insulin shots, they are a daily reality for many diabetics.

That’s where the promise of a new insulin pill comes in. Israeli company Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc. just received an Israeli patent for an oral insulin capsule — what researchers have called “the holy grail” of diabetes treatment.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar, either due to the body not producing enough insulin (Type 1) or because the cells have developed a resistance to the body’s own insulin (Type 2). (Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy and are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.) Left untreated, diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels, and lead to complications such as heart disease and stroke. Other health problems can include kidney failure and vision loss. 

By 2030, there will be 366 million people worldwide affected by diabetes, the World Health Organization estimates. More than 25 million Americans currently have diabetes, and by 2034, this number could increase to 44 million, the ADA reports. Americans’ increasing obesity, sugar-laden diets and lack of exercise don’t help.

Injectable insulin was first given to people in 1922. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to find a needle alternative, including an inhalable version. But various problems — including possible lung cancer and low profitability — forced inhalable insulin off the market, while research continues. Diabetics are hopeful the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve Generex’s Oral-lyn inhalable, which uses a mist spray.

There are two main obstacles to creating an insulin pill: One is that insulin is a protein and, in a pill form, it would be broken down by enzymes in the stomach, much the way protein in food is, so insulin would never reach the bloodstream. The second is that the insulin molecule is too big to pass through the stomach or intestine wall.

“Imagine the intestine wall is a tennis net, and when you take a Tylenol, it’s like a small ball that passes through the net and reaches the bloodstream,” Oramed CEO Nadav Kidron said. “But if the ball is bigger than the hole in the wall, it will never reach the circulation and will have no effect,” he said.

He should know. His mother, Miriam Kidron, studied the disease for 35 years at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. At 70, Kidron is a unique woman: the great-niece of Rabbi Abraham Kook, Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, she went into the army and then got a master’s degree in pharmacology and a doctorate in biochemistry at Hebrew University. She researched diabetes at Hadassah while raising four children in Jerusalem (she now has 13 grandchildren). 

In 2006, she went to her son and said, “We have a breakthrough.”

Their new capsule has both an enteric coating, which prevents it from being dissolved in the stomach, and an anti-protease that prevents the pill from being dissolved by enzymes.

The technology, which received Israeli patent approval in May, has the potential to be used for flu vaccines, among other injectable medications.

A lawyer and MBA who worked with Israeli startups and the nonprofit world, Nadav Kidron, 38, and Miriam Kidron founded Oramed in 2006; Hadassah is a partner. The drug is entering phase 2 of its FDA trials, and Oramed hopes to have the capsule on the market by 2015 in the United States, and earlier in countries such as China and Russia.

Oramed is one of several companies in the race for the cure. Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk is spending $2 billion on a pill, but its research in the United States is only at phase 1 of FDA trials. A handful of smaller companies searching for an insulin pill include Philadelphia’s Diasome Pharmaceuticals and Diabetology Ltd. in the United Kingdom.

But competition doesn’t bother Miriam Kidron. “Personally, at the end of the day, I am not afraid,” she said, noting that there will probably be a few options. “There is no one medication good for 100 percent of the population.”

Analysts believe the market for a successful pill is from $5 billion to $10 billion.

But it’s not the money that excites her. “Money is not my motivation. My children are all married [except Nadav], and I have what I need. Maybe if it was 50 years ago,” she mused.

What really drives the Jerusalem grandmother is simple: “I will be happy when people will have oral insulin.”

Opinion: The end is nigh. Seriously.

In countless cartoons, there’s a guy in a robe and long beard who’s walking around carrying a sign saying The End Is Nigh. The joke is that he’s ridiculous – some loony who takes the Book of Revelation literally.  But what if the joke’s on us?

The June 6 issue of the leading scientific journal Nature contains a ” target=”_hplink”>already happened.  It will be irreversible, “a planetary-scale critical transition” whose consequences may include mass extinctions and “drastic changes in species distributions, abundances and diversity.” 

Its consequences could be as catastrophic as an asteroid hitting the Earth.  But unlike asteroids, volcanoes, plate tectonics and other suspected culprits in the prior Great Extinctions, the cause of this tipping point is people.

There are 7 billion of us now; there will be over 9 billion when today’s toddlers start having kids.  To support that population, we’ve cleared more than 40 percent of the planet’s surface for agriculture and urban development, and that will hit 50 percent by 2050.  Add to that the fossil fuels we’re burning, and the resulting carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere is acidifying the oceans, melting the ice caps, messing with the climate and heading us toward “widespread social unrest, economic instability and the loss of human life.”

So what do we do with news that bad?

The right’s response has been denial – a ” target=”_hplink”>bad news head on.  What if the specter of a global tipping point, an irreversible environmental catastrophe, grabbed our attention as powerfully as the prospect of extinction grips the people of Earth in space invasion movies?  We’d do everything we could to stop it, right?

In the U.S., the scale of action required to prevent such a state shift in our planet’s biosphere can only be attempted by our political system. 


Special interests own Congress.  The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision holding corporations to be people, together with the demise of campaign finance laws, puts plutocrats first.  Big media, while raking in billions from political ads, is holding audiences riveted to spectacles instead of holding candidates accountable for lying.  If you think a re-elected Barack Obama could get a decent energy policy passed by the next Congress, you haven’t been counting the Koch brothers’ money or ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the

Iran arrests alleged assassins of nuclear scientists

Iranian security forces have arrested the alleged assassins of thee nuclear scientists, an official state news agency reported.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced the arrests in a statement Thursday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s official news agency. The arrests were made “in various regions and through timely and blitz operations,” the statement said.

Details of the arrest would be made public, the statement said, “after lapse of security precaution.”

At least five nuclear scientists have been assassinated in the last two years. Iranian officials have said they believe that Israel and its Mossad intelligence agency were behind the killings.

In May, Iran executed a man convicted of spying for Israel and assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was sentenced to death in August 2010 for the murder of Ali Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at Tehran University killed by a remote-controlled bomb in a January 2010 attack.

In April, more than 15 Iranian and foreign nationals reportedly were arrested for carrying out alleged terrorist missions for Israel in Iran, according to IRNA. The group was accused of spying for Israel, the attempted assassination of an Iranian expert and sabotage.

Survey discovers Israel’s digital divide

The higher one’s income the more likely he will be connected to the Internet, a new survey of Israelis’ Internet use has found.

Some four out of 10 respondents, or 40.7 percent, who defined their income levels as “well below average” are not connected to the Internet, but fewer than one in 10 respondents, or 8.7 percent, who defined their income levels as “well above average” are not connected to the Internet. 

In addition, as the level of religious observance increases, the number of people not connected to Internet also increased: just 7.7 percent of the secular public is not connected at all to the Internet, compared with 58 percent of the haredi Orthodox.

The survey also found that more than half of Internet users in Israel participate in a social networking service at least once a week. Some 73 percent of users aged 15-17 use a social network every day and one of every 10 users aged 65 and older use a social network each day. In addition, 100 percent of new immigrant youth aged 15 to 17 are active in social networks, which allows them to stay in touch with friends in their country of birth. 

One in four Israeli teenagers aged 15 to 17 writes a blog. In addition, 28.3 percent of the Arab public who reported that they write a blog do so each day, compared to 12 percent of older Jews who write a new blog post each day. Some 37 percent of readers of blogs from the Arab public read blogs every day, compared with 24 percent of readers of blogs from the Jewish population who read blogs every day.

The study also found that one-third of Israeli Hebrew speakers only visit Hebrew-language sites.

The study “Israel in the Digital Age 2012” was conducted by the Mahshov Institute and funded by Google Israel. The survey spoke with 1,200 respondents and examined unique segments of the population, including children (aged 12-14), teens (aged 15-17), the haredi Orthodox, Arabs and new immigrants.

Israeli green tech highlighted at Milken Institute Global Conference

Israeli scientists and the entrepreneurs who bring their innovations to market have accomplished some remarkable feats during the Jewish state’s 64 years. Israel has long had dairy farms, despite not having any pastureland. Today, thanks to drip-irrigation technology, its desert regions produce quality wine.

These and other eco-friendly innovations from Israel were discussed at a panel on May 1 at the 15th annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.

One of many sessions coordinated by the Milken Institute’s Israel Center, the panelists, including a representative from the Israeli prime minister’s office, a venture capitalist who invests in Israeli green technology, a researcher with the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the CEO of a company developing cutting-edge seed technology, discussed, among other subjects, role a government should take in supporting the development of innovative technology.

Panelist Glen Schwaber, an American-born, Harvard-educated partner at Israel Cleantech Ventures, said that his company, which has managed a $75 million fund that invests in Israeli companies pursuing ecological innovation since 2007 and is now recruiting investors for a second $100 million fund, has backed about 50 different companies in that time.

One of the major drivers of Israeli innovation, Schwaber said, is a program run through the office of the chief scientist at Israel’s ministry of industry and trade that offers Israeli green tech startups significant non-equity funding to help get them off the ground.

French group suing Google for Jewish auto-complete searches

A French anti-discrimination group is taking Google to court for offering to search if celebrities are Jewish.

SOS Racisme, a French organization that fights discrimination, is scheduled to meet Google attorneys in a French courtroom on Wednesday for a hearing on the matter, according to the Hollywood Reporter, citing French media reports.

The suggestion of Jewish comes as part of Google’s auto-complete feature, which appends terms to searches to make them faster. Some of the celebrities’ names associated with Jewish include News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm.

Google says on its support webpage that suggestions made by the auto-complete feature “are a reflection of the search activity of all Web users and the contents of Web pages indexed by Google.”

In court filings, SOS Racisme claims that Google allegedly is violating a French constitutional law against compiling files on people that reference their ethnicity.

SOS Racisme is joined in the lawsuit by France’s Union of Jewish Students and other organizations.

Anti-Defamation League honors actress Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist Mayim Bialik, communications strategist Renee Fraser and former U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang all were selected as honorees for the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 18th annual Deborah Awards on April 26, which recognize women who are “unspoken heroes in a lot of ways,” said Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“The main criteria is that they meet the characteristics of the biblical Deborah — courageous, wise and having leadership qualities,” Susskind said. A committee of ADL lay leaders and donors chose Bialik, Fraser and Yang, all of whom, on top of their busy work lives, devote time to philanthropic endeavors.

Bialik stars on the CBS sitcom “Big Bang Theory” and made a name for herself as the title character on ’90s TV show “Blossom.” She also earned a doctorate in neuroscience and is the author of the recent book “Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way.”

Fraser, president and CEO of the advertising and public relations company Fraser Communications, works with United Way of Greater Los Angeles toward ending homelessness.

Yang is a partner at the legal firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. She’s also a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Bialik was an unusual choice for a Deborah Award, given that the recognition of entertainment figures by the ADL usually takes place during the agency’s other annual awards ceremony, the Entertainment Industry Awards Dinner.

But Bialik is “not a typical television star,” Susskind said. “She’s really a brilliant woman.”

From start-up nation to ‘scale-up’ nation

Most are accustomed to calling Israel a “start-up nation,” following the 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer titled as such. Jonathan Medved, however, is focused on the possibility of a “scale-up” nation.

“The next step is to scale up from start-ups to big global companies…to grow Israel’s companies is by focusing on solving big global problems,” says Medved, CEO of mobile software platform provider Vringo, Inc.

Medved—one of Israel’s leading serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who made aliyah in the 1990s and now lives in Jerusalem—spoke to the Israel Business Forum at a gathering high above Times Square in New York City earlier this month.

In Israel, he says, “The culture of risk, of immigrants, of informality, the discipline of the army, even tolerance for failure, creates an unprecedented, unequaled atmosphere. The world is starting to understand that Israel is the place to come to—outside of Silicon Valley—for technical start-ups.” Israel provides a “dense” center for innovation, according to Medved, who called the country “start-up central.”

Medved’s story is iconic in the world of high tech. Starting by working out of a garage in Jerusalem, this entrepreneur has co-founded more than 60 Israeli high-tech firms. He writes about Israeli technological developments and is a member of the board of Israel21c.  He speaks about Israel’s technological and economic contributions to America and the world in venues as diverse as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), CUFI (Christians United For Israel), and numerous industry conferences.

Noting “this bedrock of warmth and support” and “unshakable” alliance between Israel and America, Medved says the two nations are “incredibly productive and dynamic countries that lead the world in innovation and in technology.”

Medved says that when people are asked about how often they touch Israeli technology, some scratch their heads and say, “I don’t do much with Israeli technology.”

Wrong, says the Vringo CEO.

“Each and every one of us is touching Israeli technology every single day, dozens of times—in computers, instant messages, cell phones, voice mail, flash memory,” Medved says. “Israeli innovation is making the world we live in exciting and dynamic and changing reality… This great alliance between [America and Israel] doesn’t get enough attention. That’s what I am talking about tonight.”

“There is no single major American high tech company—whether it’s Cisco or Broadcom or Microsoft or Google or anybody—who doesn’t do just enormous work in Israel,” he continues. “Samsung, the Korean operation, is now in Israel focused on sourcing Israeli technology.”

Innovation starts early in the lives of Israelis, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) instills values of competition and selectivity. “Our kids start competing before the end of high school—not to get into an Ivy League school but to get into, excuse the phrase, an Ivy League unit,” says Medved. After such special programs, “they’re ready for bear,” he says.

“Our army is very entrepreneurial—very much part of our strategic thinking,” Medved says.

Israel is creating jobs in America, Medved explains, citing companies such as Given Imaging in Georgia, Amdocs in Missouri and Netafim and Bright Source in California. Medved says virtually no American high-tech company is without an Israeli component. Microsoft just opened two new Israeli facilities, in Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.

The next step for Israel, Medved reiterates, is to “go from start-up nation to the scale-up nation.”

“Companies of size are being built In Israel,” he says. “I think it’s a great thing that we are selling these companies. [Sales] serve as a conduit for future purchases on the international market. 

Medved notes that Israeli-developed products are appearing in unexpected places. Zoran chips, for example, are in virtually every consumer electronics product, and more Americans are taking medication produced by Teva Pharmaceuticals than that of any other producer in the country. He also highlights “unrivaled” Israeli water technology, including the reverse osmosis process invented at Ben-Gurion University.

“By 2014,” says Medved, “all drinking water in Israel will come from the sea.”

Medved admits, however, that “there are storm clouds” and problems to solve, such as the education dilemma in Israel—increasing numbers of students but no increase in faculty, underfunded universities, and a continuing brain drain among the most crucial.

JointMedia News Service asked Medved about investors’ reactions to political upheaval in the Middle East, as well as the impact of the possibilities of war or terrorist activity in Israel and nearby. He suggests that investors are discounting these risks.

“In technology, most investors are not thinking about it,” he says. “What’s crazy is that Israelis live with this…it’s weird, though Israel is perceived as unsafe, tourism numbers are through the roof. We have to do what we have to do to build the country. Investment builds psychological resilience.”

“It’s a great time in Israel,” he concludes. “Tourism is booming, the economic crisis appears past.”

Israeli female scientist is top young researcher

JERUSALEM — She’s young, smart and aims to help treat life-threatening diseases.

Naama Geva-Zatorsky, 34, is among a growing group of Israeli women gaining recognition for their contributions to scientific research.

The Weizmann Institute biologist was in Paris last month to accept the International UNESCO L’Oreal Prize for Women in Science. Dubbed “Europe’s top young researcher” by the prize committee, she received a two-year, $40,000 fellowship for her postdoctoral work at Harvard University.

The selection committee cited the “excellence and the originality of her work.”

Geva-Zatorsky’s research focuses on probiotics, which are commonly known as “good bacteria” and have the potential to treat a variety of diseases.

Geva-Zatorsky, who holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in systems biology, believes there is room for more research on the potential benefits of probiotics. 

Her lab work has focused on the “good” microbes that live in the human intestines and protect our bodies by stimulating the immune system. Geva-Zatorsky will use her award to continue investigating what leads the bacterial molecule, known as polysaccharide A (PSA), to react this way.  

“There are 10 times more bacteria than human cells in the body, and I’m learning how do we interact with them and what the impact is on our health,” she said in a phone interview from Brookline, Mass., where she has been living since September with her husband, Amnon Zatorsky, and their two sons, Yonatan, 5, and Uri, 2.  

Despite the growing popularity of probiotics in an array of products — think kefir, a dairy product made of goat’s milk and fermented grains, or the trendy tea-based drink kombucha — both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority say that most claims made about probiotic products are unproven.

“There’s really a lot more that can be studied,” she said, noting that researchers already know that probiotics can be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease and now are investigating whether microbacteria can inoculate multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

Additionally, Geva-Zatorsky said, certain bacteria can make humans develop more fat cells. Someday, she said, researchers may be able to create a pill to help obese people lose weight.

The same bacteria affect emotions, she said, and eventually may be used to treat depression.

Once her postdoctoral work is completed, Geva-Zatorsky plans to return to Israel to set up her own research team to probe how these bacteria can treat a myriad of diseases.

Weizmann biophysics professor Zvi Kam believes Geva-Zatorsky’s determination will carry her far. 

Noting that experiments are tedious and often fail, Kam said in an e-mail that the young scientist “never complained, never was let down, and never gave up. Her optimistic spirit and joy of doing science was never broken by the tough reality.”

Geva-Zatorsky’s success is unusual in Israel, given the dearth of women working in the fields of science and engineering. 

Despite Israel’s emphasis on research and development, a 2008 report by the European Commission on Gender Equality pointed out Israel’s low proportion of female researchers in higher education — 25 percent — compared to the 35 percent average found among European Union member countries. 

Those numbers combined with a highly publicized incident recently involving Channa Maayan, a Hebrew University professor who received an award but was told by Israel’s acting health minister, who is Charedi Orthodox, that a male would have to accept it for her. The incident outraged and re-energized women in the scientific community to speak out about their important role as researchers.

There are glimmers of light, however, for female scientific researchers. Geva-Zatorsky was among 10 women last year who received a Weizmann Institute of Science Women in Science Award. And she sees momentum at Israeli universities to increase the numbers of women in the field. 

She hopes that she can pave the way for others.

“I encourage women to be brave and ask questions,” Geva-Zatorsky said.

Geva-Zatorsky also said that gender bias alone is not the only reason that women are less inclined to do scientific research. 

In Israel, many believe that those who want to pursue academic careers should do research abroad, she said, where they can gain skills that will enable them to be better scientists at home.
Geva-Zatorsky said that’s more difficult for women, who are still expected to be the primary child rearers. 

The women who complete their doctorates are typically older than in other countries, she said, having first completed their military service and then started families. 

“This is why fellowships and awards that encourage women scientists to move are important, and also it helps if, mentally, people believe in us and that people would like us to go abroad and get new skills,” she said.

Geva-Zatorsky, who grew up in Moshav Ometz, a small cooperative village in central Israel, said her parents “nourished her curiosity and passion.”  

At 22, she arrived at Tel Aviv University and decided to study chemistry and biology.

For her doctorate, she studied how cancer cells respond to drugs and therapies. 

With a longtime passion for the arts — she studied ballet until she was 18 — Geva-Zatorsky also helped to organize an exhibition at Weizmann called “The Beauty of Science.” 

She praises her family as well as her husband for their strong support.

“They believed in me and pushed me forward,” she said. “There have been moments of self doubt, but they give me encouragement.”

Israeli-built robots shoot for U.S. competition

Forward Omri Casspi made the leap from Israel to the National Basketball Association in 2009, but the latest Israeli hoopsters seeking to compete on American soil aren’t human.

Earlier this month, several thousand spectators watched student-built robots from across Israel square off for two days on a custom-sized basketball court at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena.

Dozens of high school teams built their own robots for a chance to represent Israel in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship, to be held at St. Louis’s Edward Jones Convention Center from April 25-28. This year’s St. Louis-bound teams include Team Elysium from Maccabim-Reut-Modiin’s Mor High School, Team Orbit from Binyamina’s ORT High School, and Raptor Force Engineering from Jim Elliot High School in Lodi, Calif.

FIRST is a worldwide non-profit that encourages students to explore and develop their abilities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines in a fun and supportive environment. Founded in 1989 by technologist and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST currently has branches in five countries—Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico and the U.S.—with over 250,000 school-age children and 68,000 adult team mentors participating annually in competitive events.

Six weeks ahead of the regional final in Tel Aviv, 46 teams of high school students and their adult mentors were tasked with using their knowledge of science and engineering principles to build game-play robots. The student-built robots were required to have the following basketball-related capabilities: shooting free-throws; gathering rebounds to convert field goals; and attempting to balance between one and three robots on seesaws placed in the middle of the court.

During the season-ending playoffs, teams had to take things one step further and forge alliances with two partner teams—a process that resembled a schoolyard kickball draft.

Kamen—whose father, well-known American Jewish comic illustrator Jack Kamen, designed the FIRST logo—was a highly visible figure in this year’s regional competition in Israel. Wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, the younger Kamen served as a referee and an English-language game announcer during the two-day event.

Among the robots at the competition, one standout presence was a bright pink robot developed by an all-girls team called “Ladies FIRST,” from Beersheba’s Ulpana Amit religious high school. Sponsored by Beersheba Municipality and Ben-Gurion University’s jointly run INBAL Project (which encourages teenage girls to pursue studies and careers in science and engineering), the team of plucky young women from the Negev were excited to make the final round.

“We are the first and only all-girls team to the join the competition,” said team captain Tal-Or Wartzmann, amidst the raucous cheers of her teammates. “We girls set up the team through our own efforts. The girls came together, and we found corporate sponsors and got [Beersheba] city hall and Ben-Gurion University to join the effort.”

Not all of the fun belonged to the teenagers. Also attending the two-day event were local political figures and business leaders in both Israeli and American industry, including Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Bank Hapoalim Chairman Yair Serussi and FIRST Israel co-founder Josh Weston.

“The mayor views the scientific disciplines as an important field of study and [believes] that any initiative that succeeds in challenging the youth and developing their capacity for advanced thought is an interesting and welcome initiative,” Huldai’s office wrote in an email to JointMedia News Service.

Tel Aviv City Hall, Huldai added, is “pushing forward a strategic effort towards solidifying its standing as the Silicon Valley for firms outside of the United States.”

FIRST Israel certainly has appeared on the radar of young technology aficionados outside the country. Two U.S.-based teams from Christian high schools located in Lodi, Calif., and Marshall, Va., chose to compete in this year’s regional championship.

“Our team mentor has been talking about coming to this competition a couple years now and this is the first time we’ve actually had enough money to make the trip,” said 17-year-old Fresta Valley High School senior Christian Berryman. “We are, like, famous here because we are one of two teams from America. Everyone comes up and shakes our hands. It’s very cool!”

Opinion: When Torah meets science

Whoever said that women are not leaders in the Charedi world has never heard about the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT). The college, founded in 1969 as a scientific institution for Torah-observant Jews, has 3,800 students, about a third of whom are Charedim.

“It was very important to us that we open our doors to that world,” professor Noah Dana-Picard, who is president of the college, said to me earlier this week on one of his periodic visits to Los Angeles to help raise JCT’s profile. “They have unique talents because of their talmudic background, and we believe they can make major contributions to Israel in the scientific area.”

But guess which Charedim were first to start enrolling at JCT about 10 years ago to study subjects like engineering and computer science? That’s right — the women.

There’s a good reason for that. In the Charedi world, most women are already working, usually as teachers and assistants in nursery and day schools. They saw JCT as an Orthodox-friendly environment where they could upgrade their education and, eventually, get better-paying jobs.

Because the women were already going to Torah-observant schools during the day to teach, it wasn’t a big shift for them to go to a Torah-friendly institution like JCT to learn. Most of the men, however, studied Talmud during the day. Leaving these study halls represented a bigger lifestyle shift for them.

So the Charedi women led the way to JCT. Today, there are about 1,000 women enrolled at the college, studying everything from electro-optics engineering to business administration.

About 300 Charedi men, bless them, have followed. Because the college puts a major emphasis on Jewish studies, this has made it easier for Charedi men to leave their study halls. At JCT, male students study Talmud in the morning and science in the afternoon.

In the morning, they use their eyes as microscopes and their minds as computers to better understand talmudic ideas debated by our sages about 2,000 years ago; in the afternoon, they use real microscopes, laser-sensing instruments and sophisticated computer models to better understand how the human eye works or how to capture solar energy.

When Picard told me that one of the goals of JCT is to elevate scientific studies in the minds of the religious world, I suggested to him that he is also elevating Judaism in the eyes of the secular world. There’s nothing like a scientist with a yarmulke to make you feel good about both Torah and science.

And every male student at JCT wears a yarmulke.

The college is not very well known. Its profile is dwarfed by glittering names like Technion, Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute and Ben-Gurion University. But JCT is holding its own and contributing to Israel’s “Start-Up Nation” status. Graduates have started more than 60 high-tech firms, one of which was bought by Rupert Murdoch and was part of a recent $5 billion acquisition by Cisco Systems.

The original vision for JCT came from world-renowned physicist and talmudic scholar professor Ze’ev Lev, who saw no contradiction between scientific studies and Torah learning. His founding statement could have been written today:

“The institute I envision has as its raison d’être to educate students who see the synthesis of Jewish values and a profession as their way of life: to provide manpower for Israel’s developing high-tech industry, who will establish industries of their own and to produce industrial leaders strongly committed to Israel and the betterment of the Jewish people and the world.”

By creating a Torah-friendly scientific institute more than 40 years ago, Lev might have planted the seed to address one of Israel’s most vexing problems: what to do with a Charedi population of more than 1 million whose Talmud-driven lifestyle among its men is unsustainable and can no longer be supported by the government.

How Israel addresses this dilemma will help define the future identity of the country. If Israeli society can figure out how to attract the majority of Charedim into the work force while respecting their religious needs, and if the Charedim themselves can bend just enough to help make this happen, a whole new world of integration and economic growth might be possible.

But if the majority of Charedim refuse to bend and open their minds to the possibilities offered by the secular world, what is now a vexing problem will turn into a crisis.

The JCT, by integrating the values of Torah study and scientific learning, is doing its share to address this problem. It has answered a classic Jewish question — should I live in the real world or should I live in the Jewish world? — with a classic Jewish answer that the great sage Maimonides understood well: The Jewish way is to balance both.

Just ask the Charedi women who get their kids ready for school every morning and then take the bus to JCT to study electro-optics engineering.

Or the husbands who followed them.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Israeli-led team of scientists discovers longevity gene

A team of Israeli and U.S. scientists has discovered a gene that increases longevity in mammals.

The team, led by Dr. Haim Cohen of Bar-Ilan University’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, and including researchers from Hadassah Medical Center, the Hebrew University and Carnegie Mellon University, said the discovery increases the likelihood that similar activity can be found in a human gene. The results were published this week in the scientific journal Nature.

A gene from the Sirtuin family, SIR2, when activated by a low-calorie diet, was found to prolong life, according to a news release from Bar Ilan University.

Cohen and his team fed two groups of mice a high-fat diet containing 60 percent more fat calories than average. The mice with the SIR2 gene removed developed the diseases associated with aging, while the other mice remained healthy.

Preservation of the SIR2 family of genes during evolution indicates the importance of the genes in critical life processes. In each organism in which SIR2 has been found, including yeast and worms, the gene regulates lifespan, but this was yet to be proven in mammals. Last year, scientific literature carried many reports on the extent of the SIR2 gene’s involvement in the lifespan. More than 30 research groups debated the issue in the pages of Nature and another leading scientific journal, Science, but no final conclusion was reached.