Once again we’ve had a week full of nastiness, so it’s great to be able to counteract the bad feeling with another Good News Friday post.
We start with an incredible Israeli development which could improve the lives of autistic people and their families: a new Israeli app that shatters the silence of autism:
Ola Mundo (“Hello World ” in Spanish) is an application that transmits instant messages using symbols for people whose speaking or writing ability is severely impaired. The technological breakthrough was developed by Ophir Harel, a Project Manager at an Israeli high tech firm who is also the father of a 10 -year-old autistic child, named Adam, Walla reports.
Harel created the application out of a profound sense of frustration: “I had no intention of developing an app. However two years ago, Adam’s therapy – which included speech and occupational therapy – wasn’t progressing. The few words Adam did say we had to coax out of him.” After researching possible alternative therapies for his son, Ophir realized that there was simply no solution for kids such as Adam who communicate primarily through the expression of emotions, Walla said.
Necessity being the mother of invention, Harel developed an application that allows children and adults who do not speak and write to communicate with the world around them by way of a new language comprised solely of symbols. Ola Mundo’s big leap forward is that its use is not dependent on proximity since the user of the application communicates by way of instant messaging.
According to Harel, parents are the driving force behind the growth of Ola Mundo. Therefore “…we invite parents to get involved as one community in shaping the future of our children, by way of the Ola Mundo platform,” he said.
What a clever invention! Kol hakavod to Ophir Harel for his initiative. Let us hope that this app will enable Ophir son and so many other children to communicate with their surroundings.
Staying with the bio-medical field, Hadassah Medical Center has developed a new test for the breast cancer gene:
Israeli researchers, led by Dr. Asher Salmon, then Senior Oncologist at the Hadassah Medical Center, developed a blood test that reveals it is possible to predict the presence of harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in otherwise healthy women using a novel technology called gene expression profiling. Women with a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a significantly increased risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer. For many of those at risk, the disease may develop at an early age.
“This novel technology aims to provide a layer of information regarding the cell functionality aspect of BRCA mutations that could greatly enhance the doctor’s ability to identify high-risk carriers,” explains Dr. Salmon. With gene expression profiling, researchers can search for genes that have the potential to distinguish healthy BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers from noncarriers.
The only other test available to detect these mutations is full gene sequencing; however, as Dr. Salmon points out, it is “expensive, time consuming and, in many cases, lacks clear and decisive information for making a clinical decision.” Many times, it cannot be determined if the mutation is neutral or harmful.
Once again, kol hakavod to Israel’s brilliant scientists and researchers who have invented a test that could potentially save thousands of lives.
And now for something completely different, Birthright broke a record last week as 1,600 participants arrived in one day!
The Taglit-Birthright Israel program has broken its own record: 39 groups, totaling 1,600 Jewish young adults from across the globe, landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday and were greeted with a special welcoming ceremony.
The ceremony was attended by Tourism Minister Uzi Landau and Taglit-Birthright CEO Gidi Mark, who met the 39 different groups hailing from Australia, Argentina, Russia, the United States, Germany and Canada.
The participants will join the list of over 350,000 previous program participants from 64 countries.
This is wonderful news both for the Birthright program and for Israel, since it has been proven that young people who have visited Israel through this program develop a much stronger connection both to Israel and to Judaism.
On a similar subject, 125 new immigrants from the West arrived in Israel with Nefesh b’Nefesh in order to enlist in the IDF:
Some 125 young Jews from the U.S. and Canada who will enlist in the Israel Defense Forces arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday on a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah flight.
The soon-to-be soldiers were joined on the charter flight from New York by 126 other new immigrants.
Again, wonderful news on the Aliya front. It is especially heartening to know that there are so many young Jews who are prepared to give up their comfortable lives in the free countries of the Western world in order to not only live in Israel, but to lay their lives on the line for their new country. Kol hakavod to all of them, and we wish them the greatest hatzlacha in their new future.
For a grand finale in the Aliya field, the Times of Israel has a nice report on the success of the Russian Aliya, two decades on:
Unlike other immigrant groups that moved en masse to Israel only to find themselves poor and socially marginalized, two decades on Russian aliyah is by many metrics a story of resounding success. The Russian influx has had a palpable impact on Israeli society, from the countless storefronts with signs in Cyrillic characters to the many Russian-speaking immigrants who have assumed critical roles in the highest echelons of Israeli politics.
Though many Soviet immigrants, especially older ones, still face poverty and significant cultural barriers, overall statistics show a community on the rise. According to a 2013 report by the Adva Center, an Israeli social policy think tank, 56 percent of Russian immigrants in 1992 were in the poorest third of Israeli society — below the poverty line or at risk of poverty. By 2010, the figure had dropped to 38 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of Russians in the upper third of Israeli earners grew from 10 to 27 percent.
“With any group of new immigrants in any country you won’t find such a huge success,” Natan Sharansky, the famous Soviet refusenik who now serves as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told JTA. “If you look at service in the army, at medicine and science, you can see how deeply it’s entering Israeli society.”
Russian success is all the more startling considering how ill-prepared Israel was to absorb them when they first arrived. At the time, stories abounded of highly trained Russian scientists forced to take jobs cleaning streets.
“They got here and they felt that there was no one who was caring for them,” said Betzalel Shif, a law professor who immigrated from Tashkent, a Soviet city in Uzbekistan, in 1971. “Thank God they understood how to survive in Russia and survive here.”
The best part of the story is right at the end, and it signifies the great success of this huge aliya:
“For a long time there will still be a difference between people without roots here and people who do have them and who know their rights,” said Tatarenko, the founder of the nonprofit Immigrants for a Successful Absorption. “Now we have the third generation, and they’re Israeli. I don’t see many differences between them and sabras.”
When I was a youngster in London I used to go to demonstrations at the Soviet Embassy every Sunday, demanding “Let my people go!”. One time I remarked to my best friend “What will Israel do if the Russians say, “OK, your people can go”. Where on earth will Israel put 3 million immigrants?”
Well, my question was answered. OK, there weren’t 3 million olim, “only” about 1 million. But the answer is here in this report.
I remember the 1990s, watching the Russian influx with astonishment at their huge numbers, yet with some concern at how Israel was going to manage to absorb them all. At first there indeed seemed to be a bottleneck with employment and housing, as the report explains. But within a relatively short time these problems appeared to resolve themselves. Read the whole report to understand how it happened.
It is an encouraging story for a nation plagued with self-doubts, but holds lessons too for how we should absorb our immigrants from other cultures. May all the waves of aliya be as successful as this Russian aliya!
With this fervent wish, I wish you all Shabbat shalom and may the next week be better than last week.