I can’t quite believe it’s time once again for another Good News Friday post.
My first item for this week is the widely publicised news that the brilliant smartphone app Waze won the Best Overall Mobile App award at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week:
The Israeli social-media navigation app Waze won the prestigious prize for Best Overall Mobile App on Tuesday at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
On its Facebook page, Waze thanked its loyal followers: “This is a huge win for our community — thanks Wazers, for making us number 1!”
Waze earned massive advertising when Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’ successor at Apple, mentioned Waze as a possible replacement for Apple’s failed mapping application for the iPhone 5. Apple’s surprising move led to a significant increase in the number of Waze downloads.
By the end of 2012, some 36 million drivers worldwide were using Waze to navigate, covering a total of 9.66 billion kilometers (6 billion miles). Drivers who had downloaded the application shared 90 million reports on highway issues, police presence, speed cameras, congestion, accidents, pictures and map updates.
Waze offers the added advantage of social mapping, so that traffic congestion can be reported in real time by users on the roads. This allows other users to learn about traffic jams, road blocks and accidents, and shift their routes according to the guidance provided by other Waze users.
Speaking as a “directionally-challenged person” who has trouble finding my way out of a parking garage (seriously) I find Waze’s GPS application invaluable. I wouldn’t dare to drive to half the places I do if I didn’t have Waze installed on my phone. Additionally, and equally importantly, Waze has saved us many times from getting stuck in traffic jams by re-routing us in the middle of our journeys or suggesting alternative routes. I highly recommend it to anyone with a smartphone. Heartfelt congratulations to the Israeli creators and developers of Waze – Israeli innovation at its best.
The next item for today is the startling but excellent news that Israel’s water-shortage appears to be over. I am usually reluctant to report news of this nature for fear of arousing an ayin hara (the Evil Eye) on Israel, but the scientists and experts seem quite certain of their facts. Here’s David Horowitz’s interview with the head of the Israel Water Authority on how Israel beat the drought (thanks David):
In one of the most powerful TV ad campaigns, celebrities including singer Ninet Tayeb, model Bar Refaeli and actor Moshe Ivgy highlighted the “years of drought” and the “falling level of the Kinneret.” As they spoke plaintively to camera, their features started to crack and peel — like the country — for lack of moisture.
So compelling was this ad, so resonant its impact, I hadn’t actually realized it was no longer on the air. Alexander Kushnir put me straight. “We decided it simply wasn’t justified to alarm Israelis in this way any longer,” said Kushnir, who heads Israel’s Water Authority.
How so? Israelis don’t need to watch their water use any more? Isn’t this region one of the world’s most parched? Haven’t we been warned for years that the next Middle East war will be fought over water?
Kushnir’s answers: Yes, Israelis must still be wise with their water use. Yes, emphatically, this is a desert region, desperately short of natural water. And yes, we have indeed been worried for years about the possibility of water shortages provoking conflict.
But for Israel, for the foreseeable future, Kushnir says, the water crisis is over. And not because this happens to have been one of the wettest winters in years. Rather, he says, an insistent refusal to let the country be constrained by insufficient natural water sources — a refusal that dates back to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to build the National Water Carrier in the 1950s, the most significant infrastructure investment of Israel’s early years — led Israel first into large-scale water recycling, and over the past decade into major desalination projects. The result, as of early 2013, is that the Water Authority feels it can say with confidence that Israel has beaten the drought.
Speaking to The Times of Israel from the authority’s offices in Tel Aviv, Kushnir identifies that refusal to “rely on fate” as the key to a genuine strategic achievement — a rare, highly positive change in an age and a region where most of Israel’s challenges appear to be worsening, not receding, much less disappearing.
“How did we beat the water shortage? Because we said we would. We decided we would,” says Kushnir, a big man with a warm smile and a robust Russian accent. “And once you’ve made that decision, you build the tools to reduce your dependence. We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short. The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region. But we decided early on that we were developing a modern state. So we were required to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life.”
Read the whole interview. It is highly informative both for the technical explanations of how Israel overcame is water shortages, which were built-in problems due to our location in a semi-desert region; the climate, combined with cycles of drought; and a rapidly increasing population.
But what impressed me most about the whole interview was not just the technical prowess of Israel’s water scientists, but the politicians’ determination, as Kushnir says, (which I highlighted above):
“How did we beat the water shortage? Because we said we would. We decided we would,”
This simple sentence is what differentiates Israel from all the neighbouring countries in the entire region. Where our Arab neighbours fatalistically “rely on fate” (in Kushnir’s words) and expect the world to help them, and if not they blame everyone but themselves for their fate, Israel took matters into its own hands and made a pro-active decision to improve its lot.
The interview finishes on a bitter-sweet note:
“We know that geostrategic changes in the region can endanger our water sources,” Kushnir allows. “We certainly can’t afford to give up our natural resources.”
Treading delicately, Kushnir notes that, despite the new successes, the Dead Sea, for instance, is “missing billions of cubic meters.” One day, he muses, “Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel could potentially redirect the waters of the Litani River,” in Lebanon, to begin to address that challenge. “Of course, he adds, with magnificent understatement, “we would have to be in a situation of constructive dialogue.”
For all that Israel’s new water health is legitimately hailed as a remarkable achievement, that utopian vision — of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel engaged in “constructive dialogue” — would seem beyond the foreseeable ambitions of even the most skilled and optimistic of rainmakers.
As I have noted many times in the past, just imagine what a utopia this region could be if there were proper relations and dialogue between all our countries.
My final piece of good news for this week is on a purely local, almost personal level: the local branch (Kfar Ganim) of Ezra, the religious Zionist youth movement, finally got its new “snif” – club-house – after a mere 30 years of waiting. When our children first started going to Ezra on Shabbat afternoons, they had their meetings in the basement of the local school, causing a huge racket and disturbance for the poor neighbours living nearby. Every year at the annual “Shabbat Irgun” celebrations, a local dignitary from the religious council or the municipality would make a speech promising us that “next year” Ezra would have their new snif. And every year we would moan to each other that every year we hear the same empty promises.
About 10-15 years ago I attended a meeting with other involved parents of the group to discuss the much-vaunted new snif. We were shown a map of the area by one of the planners, and it showed the location of the new snif being right in the middle of an orange grove! I was stunned and amused, despite being assured that the orange groves would be coming down and a whole new neighbourhood was going to be built there. I had my serious doubts for close on a decade, and declared that the new snif would be ready either when I have grandchildren or when the Messiah arrives, whichever comes first.
Well, the Messiah has not come yet, but I definitely have several grandchildren (although none live nearby to benefit from the new snif). The orange groves (sadly) indeed came down and made way for a beautiful and flourishing new neighbourhood. My nephew, who wasn’t even born during the planning stages, is now going to be a youth leader in the coming year, so he will finally get to enjoy the fruits of all our efforts.
The dedication of the new snif, together with the Hachnasat Sefer Torah (bringing the Torah scroll from the shul of the old snif into the new one) was a wonderful celebration, with the Sefer Torah being danced all the way down the street under a Chuppah (wedding canopy) and into the building. The new snif was decorated with photos of past activities, balloons etc. and there was a fantastic atmosphere.
Yay Ezra Kfar Ganim!
Shabbat shalom everyone – and may Ezra enjoy its first meetings tomorrow in their new surroundings.