Re­pair­ing the world

Avi Jorisch’s ‘Thou Shalt In­no­vate’ high­lights the Is­raeli in­ven­tions that are im­prov­ing the globe

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • AARON LEIBEL

With so much bad news for Jews and Is­raelis lately, it’s easy to get ex­cited about Thou Shalt In­no­vate: How Is­raeli in­ge­nu­ity Re­pairs the World. Sure, it’s hardly a jour­nal­is­tic ex­er­cise for Avi Jorisch to heap praise upon the in­no­va­tors, their cre­ations and the coun­try that pro­duced them. But maybe a cheerleadi­ng book is what we all need right now.

What­ever is get­ting you down, this book is the tonic, the pick-me-up that will put a smile on your face, for it tracks not only Is­raeli in­no­va­tion but those in­ven­tions that helped make the world a bet­ter place; it’s “Startup Na­tion” with a so­cial con­science.

Is­raeli suc­cesses in in­no­va­tion come from a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing “chutz­pah, oblig­a­tory mil­i­tary ser­vice, renowned univer­si­ties, smart big gov­ern­ment, a dearth of nat­u­ral re­sources and di­ver­sity,” writes Jorisch. But an­other driv­ing force is the Is­raeli and Jewish con­cept of tikkun olam, re­pair­ing the world by help­ing oth­ers, he notes. This clas­sic Jewish theme has been echoed time and again by Is­raeli lead­ers and has be­come part of the coun­try’s spir­i­tual DNA.

Jorisch, him­self an en­tre­pre­neur and Mideast ex­pert, tells the sto­ries of some of the Is­raelis whose in­no­va­tions helped not only their fel­low coun­try­men but also peo­ple around the world. The prod­ucts or pro­grams out­lined in this book are cer­tainly re­mark­able. Two of the most im­por­tant and im­pres­sive – drip ir­ri­ga­tion and the Iron Dome anti-mis­sile sys­tem – il­lus­trate well the in­no­va­tors’ strug­gle against the sta­tus quo.

When it came to ir­ri­ga­tion, many aca­demics said that the drip method wouldn’t work and would kill the plants, a for­mer CEO at Netafim, the Is­raeli com­pany that pro­duces drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems, re­called. For­tu­nately, Sim­cha Blass and later Rafi Me­houdar knew bet­ter and per­se­vered. It took many years and suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ments to bring this agri­cul­tural ad­vance to pro­duc­tion and into the world’s fields and or­chards, Jorisch writes. To­day, drip ir­ri­ga­tion is used suc­cess­fully to save wa­ter and in­crease pro­duc­tion not only in Is­rael but around the world.

Skep­ti­cism was even greater, both in the sci­en­tific and de­fense com­mu­ni­ties, when it came to pro­duc­ing an anti-mis­sile sys­tem. Then-prime min­is­ter Ehud Olmert was so du­bi­ous about the chances for suc­cess that he ini­tially re­fused to fund the project.

But, as the au­thor notes, with tens of thou­sands of mis­siles in the hands of Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah — the two ter­ror­ist groups sit­u­ated to the south and north of the Jewish state — life in Is­rael was threat­en­ing to be­come un­bear­able. Some­thing had to be done.

Danny Gold and Chanoch Levine led the way and the Iron Dome sys­tem was de­vel­oped in just five years. It has pre­vented count­less Is­raeli ca­su­al­ties and deaths as well as costly prop­erty dam­age. And the sys­tem it­self is rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive to pro­duce.

There is also Eli Beer, whose Hatza­lah – later, United Hatza­lah – set up a net­work of trained vol­un­teer Emer­gency Medical Tech­ni­cians and re­fit mo­tor­cy­cles as mini-am­bu­lances, able to get to emer­gen­cies much faster than tra­di­tional am­bu­lances.

“Think about every sin­gle pa­tient... like he’s your own mother or fa­ther,” Beer said. “Run to him like he’s your own son.”

Then, there is Dr. Amit Gof­fer, who, af­ter he be­came dis­abled from an ac­ci­dent, “was de­ter­mined to cre­ate a way for the dis­abled to re­gain a sense of au­ton­omy and dig­nity.”

He in­vented a de­vice, an ex­oskele­ton hug­ging users’ legs, which, along with crutches, helps them walk. His revo­lu­tion­ary ReWalk, even af­ter it worked, was met with great skep­ti­cism. When ex­perts viewed the sys­tem in use, they thought it was a hoax – it worked so well, that they of­ten be­lieved the per­son us­ing it was not hand­i­capped. Fi­nally, proven and ac­cepted, it has been ap­proved for sale in Europe and the US and is be­ing used by some 400 peo­ple.

Harry Zvi Ta­bor in­vented the dood shemesh, the so­lar-pow­ered wa­ter heater that adorns the roofs of most Is­raeli homes and apart­ment build­ings. An Is­raeli re­search cen­ter, Jorisch re­ports, found that those de­vices save the Jewish state 8% of its en­ergy use.

Among the other truly amaz­ing in­ven­tions that have im­proved life for peo­ple around the globe and are pro­filed in this book in­clude the first In­ter­net fire­wall to pro­tect data; the Emer­gency Ban­dage, which con­trols bleed­ing in trauma cases; and Pill­cam, a cam­era to be swal­lowed, which can pho­to­graph in­side the body. A to­tal of 15 in­no­va­tors and their work are spot­lighted in the book, but there also is a list of Is­rael’s 50 great­est con­tri­bu­tions to the world.

It’s not good to wal­low in self-praise, and Is­rael and Is­raelis – like every coun­try and peo­ple – need to fo­cus on self-im­prove­ment. But, every once in while, it’s also good to re­mem­ber and be in­spired by some re­mark­able peo­ple and their ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments.

Aaron Leibel is a for­mer ed­i­tor at The Jerusalem Post and Wash­ing­ton Jewish Week. His novel, Gen­er­a­tions: The Story of a Jewish Fam­ily, which spans 1,500 years and three con­ti­nents, is avail­able on­line.

(Baz Rat­ner/Reuters)

A MAN walks us­ing ReWalk, an elec­tronic ex­oskele­ton, at a devel­op­ment cen­ter in Haifa.

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