I can’t believe it’s time for another Good News Friday installment, but I can’t argue with the calendar.
My first item for this week comes from the haredi town of Bnei Brak, but from the unlikely setting of the high-tech sector, where two haredi women have developed a microchip for use in the aerospace industry:
Two Bnei Brak graduates of Lustig Institute in Ramat Gan — a branch of the Jerusalem College of Technology that serves members of the haredi community — have developed a microchip for use in Israel’s aerospace industry.
The chip — which was developed by Tehiya Dayan and Lior Halevi — can perform multiple tasks while simultaneously synchronizing four additional programs. The operational use of the chip has been successfully tested, and the two women have received awards for their innovation. The Jerusalem College of Technology also honored the project as an outstanding development project.
The students took a three-month crash course in spacecraft technologies prior to their development of the software.
In a chic auditorium typically reserved for late-night concerts, Israel’s next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs are gathered. Though their vocation is modern, their appearance and lifestyle are distinctly traditional and they are seated separately — men to the left, woman to the right.
It’s a first for Israel, a high-tech conference designed specifically for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
They are a community long stigmatized for enjoying sweeping draft exemptions and raising large families on taxpayer-funded handouts. They are under ever-growing pressure to break out of their cloistered world of Torah study and get jobs.
In recent years they have indeed begun joining the work force, and some have found an unlikely home in the country’s booming high-tech industry.
That changing reality was illustrated by last week’s gathering of bearded men in black suits and women in head coverings and long dresses who came to network at a leading Jerusalem venture capital firm.
First of all, kol hakavod to the two young women who not only took the initiative and went on a crash course of advanced study, but then utilized their knowledge to invent an advanced microchip. The even betters news underlying this news item is how the haredi world is gradually opening up to modernity and getting involved in Israeli society. This is something that has been going on for some time, but it seems to be picking up pace. Long may this trend continue and develop for the good of all of Israeli society.
My next piece of good news will tie in to my 3rd item (but you’ll have to scroll down for that). An innovative Israeli company, EdenShield, has developed a product to protect crops from pests, not by killing the pests as is usually done, but by making the crops “invisible” to the pests:
EdenShield is designed to trick pests such as thrips, whiteflies, and tomato leafminer, in Israel and abroad. Edensheild’s formula is applied to greenhouse screens where it masks the odor of the crops inside and lowers insect attraction. The all natural, allegedly nontoxic bug repellent conceals the smell of plants and flowers – and possibly even people. It’s like putting a “nose clip” on bugs so they can’t smell and detect a potential host.
The natural extract comes from a bush that grows in Israel, the Sinai desert and Jordan, and is already being tested in Israeli greenhouses. These plants have evolved to survive in desert environments, so the plants eventually develop compounds that help them exist and survive in these kinds of environments. EdenShield Founder & CEO Yaniv Kitron, a chemical engineer, tells NoCamels: “This particular bush has been used for centuries by Bedouin in tea as a way to counter inflammation. [This is proof that] the plants we use are nontoxic. It has been used as medicine for centuries taken orally. So there are no safety hazards in using our product. Also it is not applied directly onto the plant”.
“The main focus at the moment is a net applied over greenhouses that camouflage or masks the crop fragrance,” Explains Kitron. According to him, pests quickly become resistant to pesticide, to the point that “it’s like pouring water on them,” he says.
The reason that the company focused on masking the entire greenhouses and not individual plants, according to the founders, is that the regulatory process for plant-applied chemicals is long and complicated – even for natural substances. Eventually, Kitron estimates that the extract will be refined and will be deemed strong and safe enough to spray directly onto plants.
“The initial greenhouse general market makes $30 billion in total”, Says Kitron. “We are looking to partner with a [strategic partner], a large chemical company, so that we can raise the funds that we need to be ready to begin sales in 2014”.
In addition to the utilization of their product in the field of agriculture, EdenShield is also testing the potency of the product for a humanitarian project: If it works against thrips that attack tomatoes, why couldn’t it protect people against malaria-carrying mosquitoes or kissing bugs in third world countries? The kissing bug transmits chagas – a parasite that can cause organ damage and eventually death. It kills 20,000 people a year, and Forbes has called it the new AIDS of the developing world.
Initially funded with money from Israel’s Chief Scientist’s Office and the Mofet Venture Accelerator in Kiryat Arba, where EdenShield is based, Kitron currently seeks $1.7 million to take his company from the incubator stage to a commercial product.
The Company intends to collaborate with greenhouse screen companies, and will license its product to pesticide companies.
This new product sounds like it will be an excellent investment besides being such a useful aid in agriculture. Kol hakavod to EdenShield and its CEO Yaniv Kitron for their initiative, research and hard work.
My third item for today is not quite the usual good news from the press. It’s simply that tonight is Tu B’Shvat, the 15th of Shvat, and the Jewish birthday of the Trees. As I wrote in last year’s post:
The halachic (legal) importance of the day was to know from which date to start counting in order to calculate when to give tithes, for example – different tithes are given in different days in a 7 year cycle, ending with the Shmita (fallow) year. Tu B’Shvat is used as the date for calculating the age of trees, especially fruit trees, and other plants in order to know when it is permissible to eat of their fruits, and for tithing purposes.
In Jewish tradition the day is a minor holiday, with no special rules and regulations and was almost unmarked in olden times since the Jewish people were expelled from the land of Israel into the Diaspora, around the year 70 CE. However, with the growth of Zionism and the re-establishment of a Jewish settlement in Israel, first under the Ottomans, and later under the British Mandate, the early Jewish pioneers decided to adopt Tu B’Shvat as a symbol of the renewal of the physical (as well as spiritual) reconnection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Equally as important, the day symbolized the creation of the “New Jew”, one who worked the land, farmed and produced his own crops and fruits.
One of the customs of Tu Bishvat, even in olden times in the Diaspora, is to eat either the 7 species of produce native to Israel, or to eat 15 different kinds of fruit to represent the 15th day of Shvat. The “shivat haminim” are listed in the Torah, Deuteronomy 8 v. 7-8:
כי ה’ אלוקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר. ארץ חיטה ושעורה וגפן ותאנה ורימון ארץ זית שמן ודבש.
For the L-rd your –d is bringing you to a good land, a land of rivers of water, fountains and deep wells coming out of the valley and mountain. A land of wheat and barley, and the vine and fig and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and honey (dates).
In Israel today, Tu B’Shvat is marked by ceremonies of tree-planting and other “green”-related events.
Traditionally, the first tree to blossom after the winter is the almond tree. In fact it’s name in Hebrew – שקדיה (Shkedia) – comes from the root ש-ק-ד which implies earliness. And indeed, bang on time, the almond tree across the road to our house has issued its first blossoms this week. (The attached picture is from last year).
Happy Birthday Trees! And חג שמח to all of us.
One last item as a bonus – today it is my 2nd blogging anniversary! In this last year I’ve written just over 300 blog posts, and my page views have been nigh on 100,000 this year. I would like to thank all of you, readers, commenters, critics, contributors, and those who share my posts on Facebook, Twitter, by email and on other social media. I also owe deep thanks to all those blogs and websites who link to me on a permanent basis. I couldn’t have done it without you.
May the next year be even more fruitful!
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!