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.