Good News Friday

I can’t believe a week has gone by and my holiday is but a (not-so-distant) dream. But here we are again, time for a Good News Friday installment.


9 lone soldiers make Aliyah on the August 17 Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah flight from New York. (photo credit:SHAHAR AZRAN)

We’ll start with some wonderful Aliya news. A planeload of 232 American olim made Aliya this week, amongst whom were 59 young people arriving to serve in the IDF as lone soldiers:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a planeload of 232 immigrants from North America on Tuesday that he is proud of them for leaving behind the creature comforts of their previous homes to become a part of the Jewish state.

The immigrants arrived aboard a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya charter flight. They included 29 families with their 75 children as well as nine couples and 86 singles, including 59 who will be joining the IDF as lone soldiers, without close relatives in Israel.

“This land is your land,” Netanyahu told the immigrants in a videotaped message. “You have exercised your right to become active participants in Jewish history, making Israel stronger and yourselves stronger.

“Think about your fathers, grandfathers and the past 14 generations who hoped and prayed to come next year to Jerusalem,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky told the crowd. “You did it. You are part of history.”

Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post at the event that although he had greeted countless immigrants, he was still touched by every each planeload that comes.

“Every immigrant who arrives completes a 2,000-yearold journey,” he said. “Here we have the completion of 232 2000-year-old journeys, so it’s extra special.”

The new group of lone soldiers will join 850 others from the US, and 2,800 lone soldiers from around the world.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Friends of the IDF, cares for thousands of them through the Lone Soldiers Program, which offers guidance, and support during each stage of their service: pre-immigration, pre-recruitment, active military service, after release from the army, and during adjustment to civilian life.

The emotional highlight of the event came when Nefesh B’Nefesh founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass read an essay from Adina Karpoch, 19, from Atlanta, one of the lone soldiers who said she was inspired to make aliya by singer Idan Raichel’s music. Fass then invited Raichel to sing with his band to the immigrants.

Raichel told the crowd that although he was only committed to sing a couple songs, he would sing more because he was so proud of the new Israelis.

Just reading this story brings a happy and tearful smile to my face. When we tire of local politics, fear violence from our neighbours and get frustrated by international pressure, seeing the emotions and hearing about the feelings of the new Olim and admiring the self-sacrifice of the lone soldiers puts our whole experience back into its proper proportions and reminds us why we came here in the first place.

Kol hakavod to all the Olim, we wish you ברכה והצלחה, blessings and success on your new life in Israel.

Felix and Feiga Bandos who made Aliya in their 90s

Amongst the Olim this week were a rather different couple – the Bandos couple who are in their 90s, proving that it’s never too late to make Aliya!

Sixty-eight years ago, Felix and Feiga Bandos got married at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, at the time a displaced persons camp in Allied-occupied Germany.

Last Thursday, at the ages of 94 and 90, respectively, they have made a new home in Israel across the street from their daughter, Marilyn Broder, in the heavily English-speaking settlement of Efrat.

Felix, a Polish survivor of the Lodz Ghetto who later made his way across Europe in a hegira that took him to Soviet Russia, Italy, Germany, Sweden and finally America, had always wanted to make aliya.

Only 19 when he was incarcerated in the ghetto in 1940, he was still a young man when the war ended and he resolved to make his way to what was then Mandatory Palestine.

“Right after the war, I tried to go to Israel and it didn’t work out. I had some problems to get there, it wasn’t legal,” he recalled, describing how the Allied occupation authorities expelled him from Italy, where he sought transport to the Middle East.

“It didn’t work out too well,” he mused. “That’s why I ended up in Bergen-Belsen…I had no place to go right after the war.”

It was there that he met Feiga, a young survivor from Lithuania.

“I used to come here very often to visit grandchildren, my cousins, and my great-grandchildren. And I’m getting older,” he said.

Noting that his health is not the best and that traveling is getting harder, he said he “decided to come to Israel and stay in Israel for the rest of my life.”

Feiga agreed, saying she is very happy to be here.

“So far it looks to be okay. We have family to help us and bring us around. Thank God my daughter helps us out.”

Broder, however, takes no credit for their aliya.

“I helped them with the actual stuff, like packing up the stuff. They did their own aliya visas. When I saw they did that, I knew they were serious. I saw that this was something they really wanted to do. I helped them implement it, and this is all their own doing. I always dreamed and wanted them to come, and I’m thrilled that this was their initiative.”

“It’s been a dream of mine for the past 35 years that’s been finally fulfilled,” she added.

Watch this video clip of their arrival (via Evelyn):

What a wonderful heart-warming story! After all their trials and tribulations the Bandos family finally made it to Israel. I wish them many long years of good health and joy with their family in Efrat.

Moving now to Israel’s hi-tech sector, there is never a shortage of good news. How could there be when Israel is the 3rd most innovative country in the world according to the World Economic Forum!

Israel is the 3rd most innovative country in the world

The prestigious Wired Magazine also declared that “Tel Aviv is where the money is” and picked out Israel’s 10 hottest startups.

To illustrate Israel’s success in this field, 400 young science students from 70 countries gathered at Hebrew University:

The students came everywhere from Ecuador to China, including some from Muslim countries, and were hosted by the Foreign Ministry. The students were enthralled by Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus and by 15 Nobel Prize and Wolf Prize laureates from both Israel and abroad who explained how they had become scientists and what they had discovered. The conference organizers hope that the participants will act as “scientific ambassadors of goodwill” for Israel when they return home.

Among the initiators of the World Science Conference Israel (WSCI) was Prof. Roger Kornberg, the Stanford University biochemist and expert in structural biology who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2006 for his studies of the process by which genetic information from DNA is copied to RNA.

He is a frequent visitor to Israel with his closest collaborator and Israeli-born wife, Prof. Yahli Lorch, a Hebrew University graduate, Stanford geneticist and daughter of the late historian and Knesset clerk Netanel Lorch.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the Nobel Prize winners later in the day, and said the Jewish penchant for inquiry, for inquisitive minds, has been its key to survival, and is also its key to the future. The only way a small people like the Jews and a small state like Israel can “keep on beating the odds” is to “make our capabilities – scientific, economic, culture – more powerful, more successful.”

This is something Israel is currently doing in the field of cyber-security, which Netanyahu said will be a “growth engine for at least 50 years.”

The audience was entranced by the modesty of the three Israeli Nobel laureates as they described their humble family backgrounds and their individual realizations that they were “on to something” despite often facing skepticism from colleagues.

Israel’s Nobel Laureates

Those three Israeli laureates were Prof. Ada Yonath, a Weizmann Institute crystallographer (joint 2009 Chemistry Nobel laureate); Prof. Robert (Yisrael) Aumann (mathematician who conducted work on game theory and was the 2005 Economics laureate); and Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, a physician and biologist who shared the 2004 Nobel in Chemistry for work on ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation with his Technion mentor Prof. Avram Hershko and US colleague Prof. Irwin Rose.

What a wonderful meeting of minds! May all those young scientists go back to their countries bringing messages of goodwill from Israel.

The Valiber spoon to measure sweetness

One ingenious new invention from Israel is the Valiber spoon that measures the sweetness of the food you are eating – an invaluable aid for diabetics and dieters:

To reduce obesity and sugar levels, one possible answer is to increase people’s awareness of what is on their plates and in their beverages. Israeli startup Valiber has developed a spoon-like tool that measures the exact levels of sweetness found in drinks and foods. Valiber’s Val meter is called “the swizzle,” which includes a spoon and a corresponding mobile app that shows sweetness levels.

Valiber founder and CEO Yuval Klein took issue with the way we currently measure and describe sweetness: “One cup of coffee with two spoons of sugar might be good for one person, but is too sweet for another,” he tells NoCamels. And so, in 2013 Valiber began to develop the “Val” scale to quantify sweetness.

The Val scale is a method of measurement based on the sensitivity threshold of individuals, starting at zero, which means no sweetness. 1 Val (3.4 grams of white sugar) has been identified by Valiber’s team as the point at which people truly taste sweetness. A can of Coke, for example has a whopping 34 Vals, and a glass of orange juice contains 27 Vals.

How sweet is too sweet? 

With Valiber, consumers can easily learn exactly how much sugar is too much sugar, or the point at which adding more sugar really makes no difference. In other words, why add two teaspoons of sugar when one is enough for you? Pinpointing the desired level of sweetness can significantly lower the amount of sugar we consume, according to Valiber.

This really is a very clever idea. I hope the developers manage to find the necessary funds to fully develop and market the spoon.  I’m sure it will be a huge success.

Rotem the sand cat and her kittens

To conclude this week’s post I bring you a sweet little story from the Ramat Gan Safari Park. No, this does not include rampaging rhinos or awkward ostriches.   🙂  This time we are talking about the unexpected birth of baby sand cats, an animal that was thought to be extinct besides the one surviving couple – who didn’t like each other!

It’s just as well for the sand cat species that personal taste isn’t a prerequisite for procreation, it seems. Rotem, the only surviving sand cat at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, lost her mate a year ago and seemed rather repulsed by Kalahari, his replacement, a sand cat imported from Sweden last September.

Maybe he put a bag on his furry head, because three weeks ago, to the astonishment of Rotem’s keepers, she gave birth to three kittens, who have now started to totter on their tiny legs beyond the nest.

Sand cats are extremely endangered. Indigenous to Israel and Jordan, they are extinct in the region, though another sub-species may still exist in the desert wastes of North Africa. Of the local sand cat species, Felis margarita (also known as “dune cats”) only 200 remain – all in Europe’s zoos.

So, when Rotem’s original mate Sela died, the Safari people began combing the world’s zoos for a replacement and last September, chose the husky male Kalahari, 3, from Sweden.

It was not love at first sight.

“We had expected that after the two young cats had met and been exposed one to the other properly, they would take to one another, but they didn’t,” says Horowitz. When put together during the day, the cats neither locked lips, nor talons for that matter. “They didn’t engage in hostile actions – they didn’t expose fangs, for instance,” she says. “What happened is we put them together – and nothing happened. They would look at one another but kept it platonic.”

Finally, reluctant to ask Sweden if their cat had a problem, and despite being concerned about war in the wee hours, the keepers decided to leave the cats shut up in the same room for the night.

“We don’t normally do that with sand cats because they’re so rare, and if they fight they could badly hurt each other,” Horowitz explains.

Lo, they did notice that Rotem had grown rather rotund. And three weeks ago, the keepers arriving for their day shift saw three furballs in Rotem’s den. She is proving to be an excellent mother, they say.

Her mating with Sela of blessed memory had occurred in the cats’ open area, because they hadn’t been left alone for the night, so Rotem’s two previous pregnancies (after 60-69 day gestation) had been anticipated. Nobody had observed the union with Kalahari, but there aren’t many other options to explain the kittens.

All together now… Awww! 🙂

There is a gorgeous video of the sand-cats at the Guardian (yes, I know).

Mazal tov to the sand-cat family! May your family grow to many more sand-cats, which together with the latest Aliya statistics thus increase both our human and animal potential. 😀

With all that good news I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

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1 Response to Good News Friday

  1. Reality says:

    I 💘 this post!!Those sand cats are adorable.
    All that wonderful news about the new Olim.Vehatzlacha to all of them.I wish the lone soldiers the best of luck.Such motivation.As for the elderly couple!Amazing.Ad 120!
    Perhaps that sugar spoon could wean me off chocolate or just tell me that there are not sooooo many calories in a bar!
    Thank you for this post
    Shabbat Shalom

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