First the good news

This post is to make up for the missed Good News Friday installment last week. (I should note at this stage that this coming Friday too I won’t be publishing a Good News Friday post since it will be erev Tisha Be’Av, the eve of the Fast of the 9th of Av, the most sombre and sad day in the Jewish calendar.)

But for the moment, let’s at least start this week with some good news before the onslaught of bad news overwhelms us.

A busy bee at work pollinating flowers

Israeli bee-breeders are sending huge swarms of bumble-bees to Japan following the mass death of local hives (h/t RRW):

( Whole colonies of Israeli Bees are being sent from Israel to Japan to help farmers overcome the damage caused by the Japanese bees shortage, which has worsened due to the use of pesticides in rice fields.

The Bees making their way to Japan flew in airy hives, each including a fertile queen accompanied by fifty drones who takes care of all her needs.

Members of Bio-Bee, in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in northern Israel, some two miles south of Beit She’an, who nurture and ship the bees, take care of the queen and the workers to ensure comfortable, first class flight conditions. Each hive is equipped with a small bag of sugar water in a special drinking facility, a delicious alternative to airplane meals.

The bees make only one fast connection in Moscow, but do not enjoy duty free store privileges.


Upon their arrival in greenhouses across Japan, the Israeli bees get busy pollinating vegetable crops. Without bees, it is nearly impossible to raise some crops. And, contrary to what people think of Israelis, the Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu bees are renowned for their mild temperament and are not quick to sting, so farmers can work alongside them without fear.

Bio-Bee bumblebees do not produce honey, they only pollinate. They have been bred to carry out their work even when the weather gets cold, cloudy and rainy, when honey bees turn inactive and prefer to gather inside the hive.

What a wonderful and fascinating story! Kol hakavod to Bio-Bee for breeding this very useful and harmless insect, and kudos to Japan for recognizing Israeli excellence in this field. May the bumble-bees continue buzzing their way to greater cooperation between our countries.

From export to “import”, surely Aliya, immigration to Israel, classifies as our most important import? I mentioned in my last 2 Good News Friday posts about my cousins’ aliya. This week, a plane load of 221 American olim arrived in Israel to much jubilation and fanfare:

Professional lacrosse player Chase Clark was told that there are three keys to survival in Israel — realize that everyone else thinks their time is more important than yours; avoid the crazy drivers while crossing the road; and enjoy yourself as much as possible.

Clark, 25, was one of 221 Jews who moved to Israel on Monday via the 53rd charter flight organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit founded in 2002 to encourage and facilitate the aliyah process for Jews from North America and the United Kingdom. The organization is funded in part by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and private donations.

Professional lacrosse player Chase Clark at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York shortly before his flight to Israel, July 13, 2015. (Courtesy of Shahar Azran/Nefesh B’Nefesh/JTA)

For most of the passengers, who hailed from 14 states and Canada and ranged in age from 4 months to 90 years (Sue Tyler Friedman, grandmother of Knesset Member Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party), the flight was an epic mix of celebration, unease and hope for the future.

A Nefesh B’Nefesh flight is always bookended by two ceremonies — a measured one at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and a raucous celebratory one at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv. On Tuesday morning, the olim — the Hebrew word for “new immigrants — were greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters and some Israeli lawmakers, including Azaria and Oren Hazan of the Likud party.

“You are the answer to BDS,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, told the olim at the JFK ceremony, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that targets the Israeli economy. “You are the answer to anti-Semitism. You are the answer to those who would question the existence of the Jewish state.”

Read all the stories and reasons for Aliya given by the new immigrants. Each one is interesting in its own way. Here is one very moving one:

There were 32 families and 95 children on Monday’s flight, but of the 53 single adult olim, 12 of them will serve in the Israel Defense Forces shortly after they arrive. A former Marine, Elliot Joseph, who did not want to give his last name because of past positions in the military, is 29 and has passed the age of mandatory IDF service, but wants to join nonetheless.

After being injured in Afghanistan in his fourth tour of duty, Joseph took a trip to Israel and remembers feeling connected to the country on his first day.

“I remember watching a Holocaust survivor sitting in a restaurant in downtown Tel Aviv. He was speaking in German or Yiddish, and he was completely happy, satisfied with his life where it was at,” Joseph said. “I remember seeing that and thinking that after all the horrible things that I saw overseas, I knew that I, too, could be happy like that. It really gave me some hope.”

Note too the difference between the motives behind Western Aliya and that from East European and Third World countries:

Nefesh B’Nefesh cofounder Tony Gelbart said that immigration to Israel from North America is usually driven by wanting to be in Israel, as opposed to emigration from Europe, for which rising anti-Semitism is often the main impetus.

“The truth is, for [European Jews], they’re running away from something,” Gelbart said. “Nobody’s running away from America because of the blatant anti-Semitism there or, God forbid, something worse than that. This is something that they’re running to.”

Watch this video (h/t Hadassah) by Israel Channel 2 TV’s Sivan Rahav as she joins the Aliya flight and accompanies the Olim on their journey. It’s mainly in Hebrew but you can get the drift. Sivan echoes Tony Gelbart’s words above that American Jews make Aliya out of pure Zionism; they have a very comfortable easy existence as Jews in America, there is virtually no antisemitism, and life there is good. But these Jews want to come home, to be a part of Jewish history.

Kol hakavod to Nefesh b’Nefesh on their amazing and tireless efforts to promote Western Aliya. A huge Bruchim Haba’im to all the Olim. May you all have a successful klita (absorption) and may your new lives here in Israel be blessed with success and happiness.

Haredi combat soldiers in training

Since several of the Olim mention their wish to serve in the IDF, there is more good news on the IDF recruitment front: the soaring numbers of haredi combat soldiers:

One of the IDF’s best weapons is the growing number of Hareidi combat soldiers, which is making the army stronger physically and spiritually.

A new combat unit of Hareidi soldiers is being established in the Givati Brigade, whose national religious commander Ofer Winter was promoted last week to take over the Central Command and continue his successful program to integrate of Hareidim into the army, as the reported here Thursday.

Approximately 45 Hareidim from the ages of 18-21 already have been drafted for a new Tamar unit, and new positions are being opened for Hareidim in combat support units. The first Hareidi soldiers to operate bulldozers are expected to begin serving in four months.

In the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev, Hareidim will take combat support positions and be responsible for equipment for paratroopers.

This year, 2,226 Hareidim have enlisted in the IDF, and the number is expected to rise to 2,700 by next July. More than 100 Hareidi soldiers have passed tests, including hand-to-hand combat, to be accepted as combat soldiers in the Hareidi Netzach Yehuda infantry battalion.

An IDF officer told Haaretz that the new Givati company follows the model that IDF thinks is the best way to integrate Hareidi soldiers into the army. Instead of placing them in units with secular soldiers, where one group might dominate the other, the military thinks that all-Hareidi companies are the best model.

Additional Hareidi combat units are expected to open up in the coming years.

The motivation of Hareidi combat soldiers is extremely high, and the Netzach Yehuda has been praised several times for soldiers’ quick reactions that have prevented or minimized terrorist attacks.

The success of Hareidim as combat soldiers is ironical for the secular scoffers who for years have been accusing Hareidim of draft-dodging.

Yeshiva students often capture headlines when they are arrested for not reporting for the draft, but the hundreds of Hareidim enlisting as combat soldiers is nothing short of a quiet revolution in the army as well as in Israeli society.

This is excellent news on all levels: for the IDF, for the haredim who are beginning to integrate more into Israeli society, and for Israeli society itself which will surely benefit from all the talents of this once-isolated sector. Kol hakavod to the haredi soldiers for going against the grain of their own society, and for the IDF in initiating these special programs.

Adi Kushnir

One last item for today: a blind Israeli teenager has taught the Get Taxi smartphone app a lesson about accessibility:

Adi Kushnir is another iPhone-obsessed teen who likes to download apps and access the web.

But, there’s about a 50-50 chance that the Israeli teen will be able to use the cool new apps he downloads.

Kushnir has been blind since birth, and while Apple has made great strides in accessibility with its VoiceOver screen readers, companies and app developers still forget to bake in accessibility to their code so blind users like Kushnir can use them, he said in a phone call.

When Kushnir wanted to try Gett, the ride-hailing app that’s becoming popular in international markets, because “it sounded cool,” he found that the screen reader he uses couldn’t read anything in the app.

Kushnir reached out to the company — and surprisingly Gett responded.

“There are people who think blind people need special technology. No, we don’t,” Kushnir said in an interview with Business Insider. “We can use regular touchscreen phones today and the iPhone is a good example of that. Usually they just don’t pay attention to the accessibility APIs from Apple or anyone else and they skip it.”

In April, Gett brought Kushnir in to work with its team and to help revamp the app for both Android and iOS. Now if blind users enable the VoiceOver and TalkBack screen readers, they can use the full app’s functionality. Gett also updated their policies to explicitly allow dogs.

This wasn’t Kushnir’s first project with a tech company. The high-schooler taught himself how to code in his spare time and doesn’t have any plans to study computer science or become a developer after he graduates. He said he just wants to improve the world, which also includes the blind community.

“It’s not my mission to make the app accessible for these development companies,” Kushnir said. “It’s my mission to teach these companies how to make their app accessible from scratch. Not just that I make it accessible and the next version comes out and it breaks.”

While Kushnir is still helping Gett out in his spare time, he’s trying to teach other companies the same lesson. He is working with Freedom Scientific to make the Hebrew version of its screen reader for Windows

What an amazing and inspiring young man! Kol hakavod to Adi Kushnir on not letting his disability hinder him, and on the contrary, using his disability as the inspiration for making technology more accessible to the handicapped. We wish Adi continued success in inspiring others and in advancing the cause of the disabled.

On this note I wish you all shavua tov, and may these good news items cushion us from any bad news that we are likely to hear.

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8 Responses to First the good news

  1. Elise Ronan says:

    So Israel not only exports medical breakthroughs, it’s now exporting honeybees so the world can pollinate its fruits and veggies. Amazing…

    But just watch the Israel haters will come back and blame obesity on Israel. Now that food prices will go down bc of an abundance of crops and people eat more, it will be Israel’s fault that people eat too much and become obese. Just like they blame the obesity in Gaza on Israel.

    Israel can’t win for loosing….You think I’m just a little too cynical?

    • anneinpt says:

      I don’t think you’re being cynical at all Elise. I was going to say that no doubt we’ll be accused of a Zionist invasion or something. No, Israel can never win.

      • But of course, we evil Zionists actually caused the bee shortage in Japan, so they’d be forced to import our Super Spy Bees, to carry out industrial espionage in Japan. And it won’t stop there! Today – Japan. Tomorrow – the World!
        Heh heh! What a brilliant, dastardly plot 😉

  2. Reality says:

    What a great post to start off a depressing week.I cried my eyes out at the video of the Olim!Welcome and behatzlacha to each &every one of them.As for the bees? Brilliant!Maybe I’ll think twice before spraying them! Seriously what a good idea.I wonder if they saw the Bee story movie? As for that talented blind teenager,I think teens should run the world!They are so clever ,pure and uncontaminated with cynical hateful thoughts.At least the non Muslim ones are.Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.

  3. ShimonZ says:

    This was a very positive and encouraging post, Anne. Thank you very much.

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